On this day, 64 years ago, Ludwig Japhet, the ‘father of rugby league’ in South Africa died in a Johannesburg Nursing Home following two operations earlier. The 67 year old businessman, was born in 1890 in Hoopstad in the Orange Free State, one of four siblings and the son of Phillip Japhet who came to South Africa in 1874. He received his education in Hamburg, Germany and was an old boy of Marist Brothers College in Johannesburg where he matriculated at the age of 15 years.
A lawyer by profession, he specialised in divorce and road accident cases. As a boxing promoter, he worked for the legalization of boxing. To this end, he prepared a draft bill, which was passed by the National Assembly during the 1920s. In 1927, he initiated the establishment of the Transvaal National Sporting Club who went on to promote the first world boxing title fight in South Africa between Petey Sarron and Freddie Miller in 1937.
This organisation, of which he was the Chairman and Life-President, also promoted the first rugby league match in South Africa between a French and English team during 1957, shortly before his untimely passing. Japhet was also a Johannesburg City Councillor for three years during the 1920s. In this capacity, he served on the Parks & Estates Committee that deals with Council properties including playing venues and strongly opposed the denial of these facilities to professional sports bodies. Such an action, in his view, was tantamount to depriving citizens of their lawful rights.
As far as rugby league was concerned, he believe that there was enough space for the two codes, union and league, to co-exist.
During his lifetime, he had a membership of the Johannesburg Examining Board and honorary legal advisor of the Transvaal Automobile Club.
According to the Rand Daily Mail, he was also “a connoisseur of the arts, a gourmet, a raconteur and a man-about-the-tables at the leading nightclubs”. In 1947, Japhet published wrote two books, the first a book of epigrams was titled “Over Coffee and Liqueurs”, and the second titled “What Every Motorist Should Know About the Law”.
At the time of his death, he was married to Gisela and was the father of two children, Denise and Lance; and resided at 35 Currie Street, Oaklands, Johannesburg. He was also survived by his three sisters, Lily, Hedie and Dolly.
By Hendrik Snyders