Charl, where’s your courage, broer?

By Dougie Oakes

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LAST week, as the debate over cricket quotas gathered momentum, Gary Lemke, the sports editor of the Cape Argus praised swing bowler Charl Langeveldt’s decision to withdraw from the Proteas side to tour India because “he (Langeveldt) didn’t want to be a quota player”.

Lemke went on to suggest (tongue in cheek, I hope) that “They” should erect a statue in Langeveldt’s honour outside the gates of Newlands, and “every other cricket ground in the country”.

It should remind officials and politicians that quotas in sport is a damaging system that’s been abused by officials.”

He didn’t say who “They” might be, but it doesn’t really matter….

There’s a three-letter word we use on the Cape Flats to express a short, sharp reaction to something we strongly disagree with.

That word would be my response to Lemke’s sentiments – and to those of Mike Greenaway of the Mercury and Rodney Hartman of the Star, who took a similar tack to that of their colleague.

What gives me the right to have to have a knees-and-knuckles go at some of the country’s top sports writers?

I can think of a couple of reasons, actually.

I am a black South African who grew up under the cosh of apartheid. I have a writing background too, having reported extensively on sport during the dark days of the PW Botha regime.

During my stint as a sportswriter, I argued then – as I am arguing now – that our view of the world is determined by our life experiences.

I have NOT forgotten that apartheid laughed in my face – and in the faces of tens of thousands of my generation and the generation before that … and even before that … when we dreamed of representing our country at cricket, football, rugby and a range of other sports.

I have NOT forgotten that apartheid determined that I had to go to a school with no sports facilities and that I had to live in a neighbourhood in which the cricket pitch was Seven Oaks Road or Ashford Road, or Chatham Road – and that the stumps were a couple of Bashews’ soft drink boxes.

And for those who will respond to this by saying: “Oh for Heaven’s sake, stop living in the past, consider this….

Much of the past continues to trouble us. Every day I am reminded how much we still need to do to finally destroy the legacy of apartheid. Just recently, for instance, I was taken on a drive along a stretch of Khayelitsha railway track that passed through kilometre after kilometre of informal houses. I found it inconceivable that so many thousands of people are still being forced to live in such stinking squalor – 14 years after the end of apartheid.

I was left wondering about how many inhabitants from these areas had the time to even think beyond everyday survival – and about matters such as sport.

I see the effects of unemployment on a daily basis. And like many concerned South Africans, I am deeply troubled by a drug culture among our youth, which seems to be spiralling out of control.

These problems are tearing apart families in predominantly black areas. And yet, there are black sportsmen and women who have risen above these obstacles, who have gone beyond simply dreaming – to doing … and becoming skillful practitioners of their craft, who have become role models for tens of thousands of their compatriots.

And so forgive me for wanting to curse whenever I hear the disparaging comments about “quotas” from the smug ranks of the “always been advantaged” – or about the strident shouts of “reverse racism” from a corps of sportswriters, who should really try to learn about the bigger picture (because there is one).

Over the past few years, at one or other time, Mkhaya Ntini, Breyton Paulse, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Herschelle Gibbs, Ashwell Prince – and now, Charl Langeveldt, have all been dubbed quota players.

What I would like to know is how do these people define a quota player? And what qualifications do they have to make such determinations?

As someone who’s been there and done most of that, I’d like to offer some advice to Langeveldt….

I would like to start by asking him: “Where is your courage, Broer?

And then I would like to tell him to take a few moments to delve into the history of the broader community, the community that spawned and shaped him. He will discover that many people made great sacrifices – to enable him and others like him to play sport at the highest level.

I would especially like to urge him not to pee on the legacy of Hassan Howa, the administrator who dedicated his life to the ideal of non-racial cricket.

And I would like to remind him of the contribution made by cricketers such as Saait Magiet, Rushdi Magiet, Desmond February, Owen Williams, Eric Petersen, Lefty Adams and a host of others. I would like him to remember that these players were prepared to sacrifice their own careers for the attainment of a future non-racial South Africa.

Langeveldt – and every other black player in the Proteas side (or those knocking on the door of the national team) – owe these past generations of players and administrators a massive debt of gratitude.

It is the duty of the present crop of black cricketers to remember their roots … it is their duty not to be ashamed of where they come from … it is their duty to grab the opportunities that are being created for them …and it is their duty to keep the door open for others to walk through.

I would like to say to Langeveldt: “You’re a good cricketer – so forget the snide remarks of people who know a lot less about sport and life than they (or even you) think.

Get yourself a thicker skin and make yourself available to play for your country, dammit. And when you are chosen, greet your selection with pride.

By the way, your pal Andre Nel has been a pretty average performer on the sub-continent (and I’m not counting the matches against the Bangladeshis, because even I would fancy my chances against them).

I’m sure that you will agree that an overall return of 8/426 on two trips to Pakistan and one to Sri Lanka, could never be described as being worthy of automatic selection.”

One final thing: I’ve always believed that the anti-apartheid sports groupings gave up far too much too quickly when apartheid collapsed in the early 1990s.

I always felt that a “too nice” approach towards old guard administrators (and those who followed in their footsteps) would give them the opportunity to continue determining the national sports agenda. And so it has proved.

Perhaps the time has arrived for some winds of change….


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