I was only a teenager when I first travelled to Australia in the 1960s to take part in the Fed Cup, the largest team competition in women’s tennis. At that stage I had already beaten some of the world’s best and I was eager to show what I could do.
I arrived totally unprepared for the world.
We were protested against as we took to the court. Protesters shouted: “Go home, South Africa!” They threw plastic bags with mealie meal inside but they couldn’t reach us in the middle of the court.
It was very disturbing; I was very young; I didn’t know what was going on. I was a young girl, getting a lot of ill will from people who didn’t even know me.
You must understand that I was an Afrikaans girl who had not been exposed to the outside world. I grew up in an Afrikaans environment. You were protected: you went to school and you came home. It wasn’t like today, where you have cellphones and Instagram and Facebook, so one knows what’s happening.
Then you go overseas and suddenly you’re in this wide world. You look into people’s faces and you realise that there are things going on. I didn’t realise what existed in my own country. It’s not an excuse but you don’t know what’s happening.
When I got home I went to my uncle and I said: “I need to know what is what. You have to explain everything. If my life is going to be tennis then I have to be prepared.”
It was at that moment I decided everybody has the right to play sport, and to dedicate much of my life to developing the game to the benefit of all South Africans. — Annette du Plooy, tennis coach and former player, as told to Luke Feltham