In Support of Cricket SA’s Historical Cleansing

By Dougie Oakes

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I NEVER saw Eric Petersen play – but what I read about him made him one of my favourite cricketers.

Apartheid robbed Petersen of a bag-load of test caps – just as it robbed Owen Williams … Cecil Abrahams … Saait Magiet … Des February … Dik Abed … Lobo Abed and a long list of others from performing at the highest level.

Perhaps it even robbed me of reaching my full potential as a cricketer.

I mention this after having read Gary Lemke’s latest column (with a headline that starts with “Cricket SA’s historical cleansing”).

Call me a hard bastard if you like, but I don’t really care all that much that the batting and bowling records of Peter Pollock, Mike Proctor, Graeme Pollock, Eddie Barlow and a few other apartheid-era players do not form part of Cricket South Africa’s records.

At least they got to represent South Africa (courtesy of white countries such as England, Australia and New Zealand) – unlike Petersen, Williams, the Abeds and the others.

Am I being unfair?

I don’t think so. Today I tried to compile a list of sacrifices made by white sportsmen and women immediately after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison – and just prior to South Africa’s re-entry into international sport.

And guess what? I couldn’t think of one….

But, to be honest, I wasn’t surprised. I had already tried this little exercise before – in 1992, after the veil of sporting isolation had been lifted, and a South African cricket team, captained by Clive Rice, went jetting off to India.

Even though I was flushed with the taste of true freedom, I still managed to wonder what Rice and company had done to be rewarded so extravagantly … but only for a second or two.

Hey, we were all rainbow-nation-mad in those days, weren’t we?

And so, together with a host of others of my hue, I let newly respectable and still predominantly white sports teams ride into Madras, Mumbai, Melbourne, Barcelona and Bridgetown, Barbados on my back.

And the 20-million-rand question I ask myself, even now, is – for what?

Today, 15 years (or thereabouts) on, I’ve heard nothing but whinging and whining from large numbers of that community whose players and athletes I (through my willingness to forgive) helped to turn into respectable members of the world’s family of sportsmen and women.

They whinge every time a black player gets picked for a national side.

“Quota, quota,” they whine, simply because the player happens to be black. “Don’t rush him,” they caution when a 25-year-old black player is mentioned as a candidate for a national side.

But their tune changes dramatically when a 19-year-old white player bursts onto the scene: “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough,” they coo in perfect harmony.

Otherwise, it’s whinge, whinge, whine, whine….

They want the whole of South Africa to pay godlike homage to their former greats; and yet, they don’t know – and, in fact, have hardly ever made an effort to find out – about the former greats of the black communities.

Having said that, there are some white players today who have put back something into South African sport, who are committed to this country – and to them I say: “Thanks, peace and respect, brothers and sisters.”

But Gary Lemke worries me….

He does not seem to realize that the readership of the Cape Argus sports pages does not only consist of people who, in pre-democracy days, played and watched games at Newlands and an assortment of other grounds that were once out of bounds to a large proportion of the population of the Western Cape.

The fact is a large proportion of the population of this beautiful province played and watched sport on cabbage-patch fields – and worse. And yet, we had real heroes in those days – men and women who were not only good at playing, (for the love of the game) but who were also prepared to do their bit to fight the evil system of apartheid.

Here’s a test for Lemke: Name two black players who played cricket at the time Ali Bacher’s Springboks were whitewashing the Aussies in 1970?

I bet he will ask his cricket writer for the answer – but then again, he might not even be interested.

I would like to make one thing clear: I fully agree that South Africa produced many great white cricketers during the apartheid era.

But please, please let no one try to tell me that that the majority of these players were like innocent virgins of the political system of that time.

To say that would be rubbish….

A few years ago, I had the privilege to do research on what proved to be an excellent cricket book, More Than A Game by a local journalist, Mogamad Allie. Some of things I discovered were quite sobering – even to a cynic like me.

For instance, I would never have dreamed that I would find a newspaper clip in which Peter Pollock (Shaun’s father) would lambaste anti-apartheid demonstrators as “communists”.

And then there was that photograph of Springbok captain Trevor Goddard, MCC skipper MJK Smith and South African Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd. They looked far too chummy-chummy to be anything but contented with the cricketing setup in South Africa.

What was the reply of officials when anti-apartheid administrator Hassan Howa came knocking and asking: “Please let us play with you. We’ll even strip in our cars.”?

They said: “No!”

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop at this point.

Some people who read this article will slate me for waving the race card.

All I can say to that is: I don’t believe that all the people who voted for apartheid for so many years are spending their days waiting for the opportunity to swear in Afrikaans at South African cricketers at the WACA in Perth – or going to Jani Allen get-togethers in the US Mid-West.

I acknowledge though (with a certain amount of amazement, I must confess) that a number of former National Party brown noses have reinvented themselves as anti-racists.

But, if they believe they can pull off the impossible, good for them (and my deepest sympathies for the gullible).

In fact, I am particularly interested in being given an idiot’s guide lesson by them on how to be a “non-racist”….


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