TEN years ago this week, Basil D’Oliveira, one of the greatest cricketers never to play for his country, died, giving the game’s historians yet another opportunity to revisit one of the most disgraceful apartheid stories in a country full of disgraceful apartheid stories.
It was called the ‘D’Oliveira Affair’ – and it centred on a dignified, coloured man from the Bo-Kaap, in Cape Town, who had to go to England to follow his dream of playing cricket at the highest level.
Having been disqualified from representing the country of his birth because of the colour of his skin, fate manufactured a set of circumstances that presented him with the opportunity of playing for his adopted England, for its national side, the MCC, against South Africa’s Springboks.
It was a prospect that fired the imagination of black people throughout South Africa.
Equally, it filled the majority of the country’s white population with a ridiculous sense of horror.
And so, a coterie of apartheid supporters – from the highest level of government to administrators of the white cricket association, and to secret supporters of apartheid in the British government and the MCC, conspired to kill D’Oliveira’s dream.
This pack of human hyenas was prepared to do whatever it took to stop what they saw as an attack on white South Africa’s way of life.
Leading the secret campaign – from 13,000km away – against D’Oliveira’s selection was the SA Prime Minister, John Vorster.
Members of the conspiracy in South Africa included a lily-livered Sports Minister, Frank Waring, a clique of SA Cricket Association officials led by the openly pro-apartheid Arthur Coy, David Bursnall and Jack Cheetham.
In England, apartheid helpers included the former British Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home, the MCC treasurer, Gubby Allen, and its secretary Billy Griffith.
In his book, Basil D’Oliveira – Cricket and Conspiracy: The Untold Story, Peter Oborne wrote: ‘From the very beginning Vorster was clear that D’Oliveira would under no circumstances be admitted into South Africa as part of an England cricket team. It was one thing to admit, under great pressure and a long period of resistance, a handful of Maoris as part of the New Zealand rugby team. It was quite another to allow in Basil D’Oliveira, the coloured cricketing legend from the Bo-Kaap.’
Oborne wrote that Vorster, in playing a ‘double game’ had misled the British ambassador, Sir John Nicholls, shamelessly.
‘Nicholls, he wrote, ‘was duly taken in, and dispatched to the Foreign Office gullible bulletins preening himself about his special access to Vorster and assuring the British government of the South African government’s readiness to accept D’Oliveira.
‘In fact, the story was entirely different, and more sinister.’
Pointing out that the Vorster archives had been opened, Oborne wrote that it was now possible to put together a story that showed that Vorster ‘was not merely determined to block D’Oliveira from getting chosen for England,’ but that he was in fact the mastermind behind a plot to use secret pressure, bribery, and blackmail to achieve this aim.
Significantly, Oborne added that the SA Cricket Association was ‘to all intents and purposes an arm of the South African government and ‘was party to this intrigue’.
Bursnall, Cheetham and Coy were party to secret exchanges of letters with the Allen and Griffith of the MCC, and a Douglas-Home acting as an envoy for the British Government.
And Vorster, through all this, was kept in the loop – by Coy, described at various times by Oborne as ‘ebullient’ and as having acted ‘gleefully’ to certain developments in the saga.
What had also become clear was that Allen and Griffith ‘were effectively turning their back on the full MCC committee’
‘They were running, he wrote, ‘a private and unaccountable secret policy of their own.’
Meanwhile, in South Africa, Vorster opened at secret ‘security’ file on D’Oliveira.
Even when D’Oliveira lost form during the MCC’s tour of the West Indies, Vorster, encouraged by SACA, came to regard the MCC as a ‘dangerous left-wing body of subversives set upon choosing D’Oliveira at any cost, for naked political reasons.
It was around this time that he, together with Coy, devised a plan to bribe D’Oliveira to make himself unavailable for the South African tour…
This disgraceful act of criminality once again showed how closely Vorster and the SA Cricket Association worked together….