South African Journal for Research in Sport, Physical Education and Recreation

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Die ware rede agter Niels Bukh se besoek aan Suid-Afrika in 1939

FJG Van Der Merwe


“Gymnastics and politics: Niels Bukh and male aesthetics” is an excellent work by
Hans Bonde (2006) and depicts the full and interesting life of Niels Bukh, creator of
the Danish Primary Gymnastics. On reading this fascinating book it becomes easy to
connect Bukh with Afrikaner nationalism, since the time period corresponds and
Bukh's goal was the creation of a “perfect body” and a “perfect human race” (p.83).
He was also highly active in right-wing Danish politics and was a Nazi supporter. As
the Afrikaners were anti-British and therefore pro-German, it was easy for Bonde to
create the impression that right-wing radicals in South African education circles
were behind the invitation to Bukh to visit the country with his team of gymnasts in
1939: “… providing the European population with a symbol of a pure white strong
physique” and “needed not to generate and lose its physical power in relation to the
‘inferior' races” (p.226). However, in-depth research reveals a somewhat different
picture. Although physical education was made compulsory in South African schools
in 1934, the period 1936-1939 was of great importance in the developmental history
of the subject. The poor white problem and the urbanisation after the First World
War left a large component of the European minority in a poor state of health. Apart
from this there was the poor performance record at the 1936 Olympic Games in
Berlin. In order to resolve this problem the government founded the National
Advisory Council for Physical Education in April 1938. One of its primary tasks was
to make propaganda for physical education in South Africa. As a result of this Bukh
and his team were invited to present his form of gymnastics across the entire country
and not only in the “regions dominated” by the Afrikaners (p.227).

Keywords: Niels Bukh; Danish gymnastics; Primary gymnastics; South African
physical education history.

South African Journal for Research in Sport, Physical Education and Recreation Vol. 30 (2) 2008: pp. 121-130
AJOL African Journals Online