by Hannes Wessels
As somebody who loves the game of cricket and a keen supporter of the South African team, who yearns to enjoy sport unsullied by political agendas, it was with dismay that I watched Graeme Smith, Faf du Plessis and AB De Villiers elect to go down on one knee and pay homage to the Black Lives Matter Movement which is presently burning down American cities. Not because I don’t care about black lives because I do, but because I also care about other forms of human life, and I don’t know why these gentlemen lacked the gumption to make that point before succumbing to the pressures brought by politicians who, judging by the way they govern, do not command the respect of many over whom they rule, as compassionate humanitarians.
With all this controversy raging, it has come as a further blow to read of CSA’s (Cricket South Africa’s) most recent decrees regarding the future composition of the management and coaching staff. Acting Chief Executive Kugandire Govender has announced that her board has committed to Sports Minister Nathi Mtetwa to henceforth hire only ‘black’ consultants and coaches. ‘Black’ to include Indians, Coloureds and Africans; so basically everyone has a chance except people blighted with pale skins. Included on the list of nominees for key positions is one individual who is on a fraud charge and another up for assault. Whether Graeme Smith can now rise from his bended knee and do his job under these circumstances remains to be seen. It looks like his preferred choices which include all-time great Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Paul Harris must step aside, and he will have to accept a team preferred by his political masters. But what this latest ‘transformational’ move proves is that nobody seems to learn anything from past mistakes.
From a strictly cricketing perspective, one would have thought, the recent history of Zimbabwe cricket would have been instructive for Ms. Govender and her associates. Post 1980 when the country re-entered the world sporting arena the game was run by a small team of dedicated administrators, with Messrs. Alwyn Pichanick and Dave Ellman-Brown at the helm. These good men spent months of their own time making presentations to the ICC. They paid their own way to meeting after meeting in London and spent hundreds of hours working for the cause with no financial reward at all. They spent time away from their legal and accountancy firms, which lost them income, for the benefit of the sport and the country. Thanks to them, their small staff, committed coaches and a highly competitive team, test status was acquired, significant revenue started to flow and the cricketing coffers filled. The team’s performance against the best teams in world cricket boosted national morale across the racial spectrum, filled grounds with large, fun-filled crowds and grew the game rapidly in the black community. But success was unacceptable to the people in power. With the game on an upward trajectory, the ‘old guard’ were elbowed aside in the interests of ‘transformation’ and replaced by people with strong political backing, who were there for no other reason than to enrich themselves. Problems involving mismanagement and misappropriation of funds began to emerge almost immediately, leading eventually to a player revolt in 2005 led by captain Tatenda Taibu, calling for the resignation of Zimbabwe Cricket Chairman Peter Chingoka and Managing Director Ozias Bvute. Thanks to the Indian and Pakistani representatives on the ICC their unscrupulous conduct was condoned at the highest level and this continued until July 2019 when the game was in ruins and the country was suspended from international competition.
In the context of South Africa, in general terms, this decision is made against a backdrop of a country in dire straits. A lamentable situation almost entirely due to the same mindset being applied at every level in the public sector and, under duress, increasingly in the private sector, where people are put in positions of importance, despite being ill-qualified to serve, simply because they have the right skin colour. As a result, every SOE (State Owned Enterprise) is insolvent, most municipalities and provincial authorities are dysfunctional, and a bloated, incompetent bureaucracy has bankrupted the country.
From a legal perspective, the fact that this decision flies full in the face of a constitution which explicitly states that no South African should be discriminated against based on the colour of their skin seems to matter little these days. By some accounts there is more racially discriminatory legislation on the statute books today than there was during apartheid, so this is just another bump along a rocky road that seems to be leading to failure at every level.
Just where the Peter Hains of the world are today I’m not sure but I remember well the international outrage that led to South Africa’s ousting from international sporting competition and yet today hardly a squeak of protest. I have little doubt the ICC Charter prohibits membership of countries that practice racial discrimination, but those provisions almost certainly do not apply here. After all, as we now know, racism only exists when white Europeans are the perpetrators, under no circumstances does it apply when they are the victims.