IS IT TIME TO KICK OUT QUOTAS?
I want to tell a story – and then I want to fire a question at all those who love sport, and our tragic, beautiful country….
In October 2019, Matthew Kleinveldt scored 175 in a provincial franchise match for the Western Cape Cobras against the Dolphins – and he probably would have thought, ‘Great, this should cement my place in the team – for a while, at least.’
If these were his thoughts, he was wrong.
For two reasons: the one, the Proteas were back from an overseas tour, making its players eligible for franchise selection – and two, as usual, in terms of Cricket South Africa’s transformation policy, there had to be, as they described it, three ‘African Black’ players in every franchise team.
Cobras coach Ashwell Prince refused to drop Kleinveldt – and found himself hauled before a disciplinary committee.
As Prince explained it, Matthew’s father, Jonny, a brilliant cricketer in the Sacos-affiliated SA Cricket Board fold, couldn’t represent his country during the apartheid era because he was deemed not white enough.
And now, by a cruel twist, in a different age, an age supposedly of ‘democracy’, Jonny’s son was expected to be given another dose of apartheid poison – because now he was deemed not black enough.
Sometimes rules are made that result in unforeseen, and ugly, consequences.
So, here are my questions….
Is it not time to drop ‘quota’, or rules that hold selectors to tallies such as three blacks, one-and-a-quarter Indians and two coloureds, bah-blah-blah…?
Is it not ridiculous that coaches or selectors are required to sit down with a calculator when choosing a team?
Is there not a better way of ensuring that everyone has a fair chance in sport – and life?
Yes, yes, yes – I think so.
Firstly, I think there are enough excellent black players available to pick team without having to resort to using calculators to ensure everyone is treated fairly.
Secondly, I have a major problem with racial categories being thrown around so glibly in sport and, indeed, in every aspect of South African lives.
A few years ago, I spoke about this very aspect in an interview with the cleric and former UDF activist Allan Boesak.
He blamed the ‘Father of South African Democracy’, Nelson Mandela for the situation we find ourselves in today – almost three decades into ‘democracy’.
‘When Mandela came out of prison, he reintroduced the language of racial categorization,’ Boesak argued.
‘He spoke openly about whites, coloured and Indians. But even more problematical was his response to black consciousness in an essay in a book compiled by another Struggle veteran, Mac Maharaj.
‘In that essay, Mandela took issue with black consciousness – and with the black consciousness contention that race is a deceitful category that has no scientific basis, and that it is a political and social construct,” Boesak pointed out.
‘Arising from this, therefore, is that it is one’s humanity that counts more than the question of race or ethnicity, or any of that.’
But, he said, Mandela disagreed.
‘Instead, he made the stunning statement that one could not deny the reality of the texture of your hair, the shape of your nose or the colour of your skin.’
Boesak said when Mandela introduced racial categorization, it became the language of the ANC.
‘I thought this was a serious mistake. I felt it would lead us to a space in which the whole issue of social cohesion and non-racialism would be called into question,’ he said.
It has led to a situation where there is an ugly differentiation between (and I use these definitions advisedly) ‘black African’, ‘Indian’ and ‘coloured’.
The South African Government has let down black, predominantly poor people, badly. They have handled control, with sleight of hand, to those who controlled sport – not only cricket – during the apartheid era.
In the book, ‘Pitch Battles – Sport, Racism and Resistance by Peter Hain and Andre Odendaal, I set out my views on rugby (but which could easily have applied to cricket, as well).
‘Veteran South African activist-journalist, Dougie Oakes, had an uncomfortable, grounded verdict,’ the authors said.
‘He saw the now multiracial rugby establishment as “culpable” in that they have collaborated repeatedly with national and provincial governments throughout the country in pretending that all South Africans have equal opportunities on the country’s sports fields.
‘Today, more than ever, Oakes said, ‘entry into the game for black players is still a carefully managed and white-controlled process. Players from the townships with aspirations of playing at the highest level have to squeeze their way through a narrow pipeline of elite rugby-playing schools like [Siya] Kolisi [the Springbok captain] did.
‘To put it bluntly, if they don’t get into a Bishops, a SACS, a Paul Roos, a Grey College, or a few other top schools, they will not play top-grade rugby.
‘What have the various arms of government done to improve life in the townships? What has the SA Rugby Union done to develop the game in these townships? The answer is, in capital letters, NOTHING.
‘To speak of transformation is stretching the truth. Rugby in South Africa has NOT transformed [and here you can add cricket too].
What has happened is that the small groups of black players who have made it to the highest levels of the game, for which they should be praised for their talent and tenacity, have been ASSIMILATED in what has been described by officials, without a hint of irony, into a ‘Springbok culture’. And this ‘Springbok culture’ is essentially a white Afrikaner, and suspiciously, a pre-1994 culture, give or take a tweak or two.
I’m not surprised that so many stories of racism have emerged in cricket. If you perform a similar exercise in rugby, you’ll hear the same stories. To me, quotas and transformation are cheap exercises used by the government to weasel out of their duty to deliver on the promises they made (and continue to make) to those who have voted for them.
What so many of us are waiting for, to begin with, is government action against spatial apartheid, concrete moves towards land expropriation, and equal education.
If they do this, maybe then then we’ll see, at least a reduction, in the arrogance that is still so prevalent in the attitudes of so many who can’t forget how good apartheid was to them, their parents and their grandparents.