Makhaya Ntini, brother what a few weeks it was with the Lungi Ngidi saga and the support given to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement by 30 former Protea cricket players. If this campaign is to stop all racism and discrimination in sport and South Africa in general, you and the other signatories have my full support.
I hope you don’t mind that I call you, my brother Makhaya. You see, I’m one of your greatest fans. I was there when at Kingsmead you tormented the Pakistan batsmen with your pace. You fielded in between overs at the infamous Caste Corner. We urged you on by signing “Mkhaya Mkhaya Mkhaya is on fire, burn Pakistan burn”. Do you remember that day in the searing Durban summer sun? You had the mainly white crowd sitting at Caste Corner on their feet. That night my father-in-law phoned and said that he saw me on the television at the cricket and that I looked a bit worse for the wear suspecting that I had one too many. I blamed your cricket excellence for my sorry state of affairs!
I was in front of the television cheering madly, when in 2003, you became the first South African to take ten wickets at Lord’s. Your best performance, however, came when you took 13 wickets for 132 runs against the West Indies in the Port of Spain on 12 April 2005. Again I was cheering madly. Also when in 2006, you achieved the best bowling figures by a South African in an ODI, demolishing Australia with 6 wickets for 22 runs. I followed your career wherever you went and was sad the day you retired in 2011.
I listened to your subsequent interview on the SABC where you recalled that you often felt lonely throughout your international career. You remembered that you would run instead of using the team bus to commute between hotels and stadiums as your team-mates would often avoid sitting with you. This is sad indeed but hopefully; you never felt lonely on the cricket pitch as the thousands of fans of all colours cheered you on and applauded your achievements. Also, you can take solace in the fact that human social interaction is complicated at best – although playing for my schools 1st rugby XV, I was never part of the in-crowd and often sat by myself on the bus to the next match.
I’m writing to you as I see your name is first on the list of the signatures to the statement. As my hero, you are the best placed to address some of the questions I have about the statement and the unconditional support expressed for the BLM movement. Where can I start? I note that the statement includes that many white people cannot accept that black cricketers have proved that they are good enough to play at the highest level. This is a bit of a broad statement to make don’t you think? I’m an avid cricket fan and have noted first hand the admiration people of all backgrounds have for you and other cricket players of colour like “The Ash” Hassim Amla and many others that have followed in your esteemed footsteps.
Yes, there will always be a small minority that will take issue with everything. Still, by-en-large cricket followers are knowledgeable and supportive of cricket talent irrespective of the colour of the player. They, for example, know instinctively when the wool is being pulled over their eyes like at the 2015 Cricket World Cup when interference from above led to the in-form Kyle Abbot being dropped in favour of Vernon Philander in the semi-final against hosts New Zealand. Vernon as recent as February this year recalled that he knew something was amiss. I feel very sorry for him as it is not his fault that he was placed in this invidious position.
They also knew that every player in the 2019 Springbok team was there on merit irrespective of transformation, and supported the team wholeheartedly. Why therefore include in the statement that transformation is always rammed down the throats of national teams when they lose, but never when they win. Clearly, following transformation blindly in 2015 went badly wrong for the Proteas, whereas transformation coupled with merit in the victorious national rugby team yielded spectacular results on the world stage at the Rugby World Cup.
I do not doubt that many of the 30 signatories have experienced racism or discrimination during their career. This must be rooted out. I suggest that as the eminent former black national cricket player brother, you partner up with a renowned retired white national cricketer, perhaps somebody like Shaun Pollock, to form a committee. The committee can function under the chairpersonship of a retired judge. The committee will be a safe space to which any nationally representative cricket players can bring any allegations of racism or discrimination for investigation and resolution.
Brother, coming to BLM, I would be willing to come aboard the movement wholeheartedly, if somebody can explain to me what the movement stands for internationally but even more importantly locally. What is it aims and how do the 30 signatories that support BLM understand these aims? Is it to fight racism and discrimination against black people and to promote equal opportunities? If so, I don’t have any issue with the movement, and it will have my full support.
Or is the aims that of the often violent BLM movement that we saw recently in the United States? The same BLM movement for which one of its founders and leaders admitted publicly recently that they aim to promote Marxists aims? The same organization whose goals include the destruction of the Western family structure. If it’s not them then who then is driving the irrational demands to “defund the police” in the USA? And their counterpart in Britain who is calling for the abolition of prisons, who have declared that unemployment is violence and that the Coronavirus is racist? Hopefully, these are not the aims of the local BLM movement?
Brother also, how does one explain the intolerance often displayed by the BLM movement? You are either with us, or you are racist is the mantra often put forward. If somebody, for example, dares argue that All Lives Matter they are shouted down and accused of being insensitive to black voices. Or even worst people are shot and killed for claiming All Lives Matter like what happened to Jessica Whitaker in the USA a few weeks ago.
Also, even just putting forward a suggestion that might make the slogan more inclusive and therefore more broadly acceptable to people of all backgrounds leads to accusations of racism and not listening to black voices. This happened to me recently when on Facebook, I merely suggested that it perhaps should be changed to read BlackLivesMatterToo.
Having said that I do appreciate the need to at this stage focus on Black Lives Matter. Like Faf du Plessis said so eloquently recently All Lives don’t Matter Until Black Lives Matter. Even so, there is no reason to brand people that argue that All Lives Matter is more appropriate as people that deny the existence of racism or even worst racists. Unfortunately, this is what happened in some circles to Boeta Dippenaar and Rudi Steyn recently, which I find problematic as they also have the right to voice their opinions.
Arguing that at this stage Black Lives Matter should be the focus and not All Lives Matter, however, opens the door to contend, like Boeta Dippenaar that Rudi Steyn did, that farm murders should also be a particular concern at the moment in the South African context. Those worried about farm murders are often told that no all murders should be of concern. Does this not sound a bit like the argument that All Lives Matter and not just Black Lives? I hope you do see the contradiction brother because trust me the brutal nature of farm murders of both farm owners, their families and workers are of great concern to the community I grew up in. I hope that you and the other signatories will see your way open to sometime in the future condemn all murders but specifically farm murders. Such a gesture would do a great deal to heal the divisions in our wounded society.
Lastly, I would like to find out who the audience is of the Black Lives Matter movement? That is, whose behaviour towards black people is it aiming to change. Obviously, it is white people but should the concern for Black Lives not also be aimed at our current government? A government under which watch inequality since 1994 increased, a government under which rampant corruption has taken root, a government that did not show much care for a black life when Colins Khoza was killed in Alexandra at the beginning of the lockdown.
A government that is often failing its citizens and whose mismanagement of the economy has led to untold misery even before the lockdown for many black households. My white vote or voice does not count for much. A stance by the 30 signatories saying to the government that they must get their house in order will, however, be a powerful message to drive urgently needed governance and economic reforms and bolster President Ramaphosa against the detractors in his party.
Black Lives Matter should also take issue with the high incidence of violent crime in the black community and the impact it has on the social fibre of these communities. It, therefore, need to speak out publicly against criminal elements and implore the government to improve policing and the justice system urgently.
To conclude, all sportswomen and men representing our beautiful country have a specific obligation to fight any form of discrimination in sport. The African National Congress representative to the United Nations in 1971 put is so well when he said, and I quote:
“The moral position is absolutely clear. Human beings should not be willing partners in perpetuating a system of racial discrimination. Sportsmen have a special duty in this regard in that they should be first to insist that merit, and merit alone, be the criterion for selecting teams for representative sport.”
I trust that you and the other signatories support the notion that merit and merit alone, should be the primary criteria for representing South Africa in sport at representative level. The 2019 Springbok team showed that it could be done without negating any of the transformation imperatives.
Brother, I apologize for the rather long message and laying so many questions at your feet. I do, however, know that you have the interest of all South Africans at heart and that you will engage seriously with the issues that I raised herein together with your co-signatories. I don’t expect answers but just an appreciation that sometimes there are two sides to a story. This has always been my life philosophy.
It would, however, assist if the aims of the BLM could be clarified especially as it pertains to the South African context and who its message is aimed at. Also, whether the local movement shares some or all of the goals of the movement internationally as espoused in the USA and the UK.
I would like to wish you well in all your future endeavours.
Your greatest cricket admirer