Racist issues continue in South Africa cricket 29 years after readmission

By Mo AllieBBC Africa
South African cricketer Lungi Ngidi in action
Lungi Ngidi in action was voted South Africa's men's One Day International and T20 Cricketer-of-the-Year

It is 29 years since South Africa was readmitted to international cricket with the country's apartheid regime coming to an end - but issues of racism are still a problem in the sport.

The latest flashpoint surrounds current international Lungi Ngidi, who was criticised on social media by white former players for supporting the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

Many black former South Africa internationals have come out publicly in support of Ngidi, who was named the country's men's one-day international and T20 cricketer of the year last weekend.

On Thursday, Ngidi's team-mate Rassie van der Dussen posted his support in Afrikaans on social media.

"I support BLM, I am against all murders - physical, character and cultural murder," Van der Dussen said.

"I support equal opportunities for all. Because I support BLM doesn't mean that I support violence or Marxism.

"I refuse to be labelled by people - Viva Africa!"

Rassie van der Dussen, Lungi Ngidi (centre) and Imran Tahir celebrate a wicket for South Africa
Rassie van der Dussen, Lungi Ngidi (centre) and Imran Tahir celebrate a wicket for South Africa at the 2019 Cricket World Cup

On Wednesday, Hashim Amla, one of South Africa's greatest batsmen, joined many of his fellow black cricketers in their backing of Ngidi.

"Many of us, including myself, have borne the brunt of these delusions and have crazy stories to tell which is why it makes it even more admirable to see exceptional youngsters like Lungi Ngidi doing his bit to represent us all," Amla posted on Instagram.

"Thank you brother and all those who stand up for just causes in their own way - publicly and privately.

"There are oppressed people here in this country and the world over, of all colours and walks of life, cricket included.

"However the darker skinned people have had the worst of it. Some may convince themselves otherwise but you have to ask yourself - are those who know the same as those who don't know?"

What was said?

Ngidi, 24, was criticized by former Proteas players Pat Symcox, Boeta Dippenaar and Brian McMillan after he called on his international team-mates to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

"I definitely think once we get back to playing that it's something we have to address as a team, and as a nation as well," Ngidi said.

Former South Africa cricketer Pat Symcox
Former South Africa cricketer Pat Symcox retired from international cricket in 1999

"We have a past that is also very difficult in terms of racial discrimination."

Former international Symcox responded to Ngidi's comments on social media.

"What nonsense is this? He must take his own stand if he wishes," Symcox wrote.

"Stop trying to get the Proteas involved in his belief.

"Now when Ngidi has his next meal, perhaps he should rather consider supporting the farmers of South Africa who are under pressure right now. A cause worth supporting."

Dippenaar, another ex-international, described the Black Lives Matter movement "as nothing more than a leftist political movement".

Both Symcox and Dippenaar have since tried to clarify their initial comments.

"To clear up the issue - I too support @NgidiLungi stance of eradicating all forms of racism in sport," Symcox posted a week ago.

"My own grassroots work, done weekly, attempts to ensure all get a fair chance. I also believe that ALL Lives matter and right now farmers are critical to us."

Dippenaar has said he is happy to apologise to Ngidi if he has misunderstood him but stands by his views about BLM.

Support for Ngidi

Ngidi's comments prompted several black former players to share their own experiences of racial discrimination within South Africa's national and provincial cricket set-ups.

"The system is broken and has been for some time in our beloved South Africa," Ashwell Prince, who played 62 Tests and 52 one-day internationals for South Africa, posted on Twitter.

"Black player drinks too much on a flight, it's all over the media. White player urinates over the balcony of a team hotel with several onlookers, it's swept under the carpet.

"How's it all going to fix itself? I don't have the answers. But it will require tough, honest, uncomfortable conversation."

Lungi Ngidi (fifth from the left) was part of the South Africa team at the 2019 Cricket World Cup in England
Lungi Ngidi (fifth from the left) was part of the South Africa team at the 2019 Cricket World Cup in England

Cricket South Africa (CSA) and the South Africa Cricketers Association (Saca) have since come out in support of BLM.

"As a national sporting body representing more than 56 million South Africans and with the privileged position of owning a platform as large as we do, it is of vital importance that we use our voice to educate and listen to others on topics involving all forms of discrimination," CSA acting chief executive Jacques Faul said in a statement.

His comments followed Tuesday's open letter to the media that was signed by 31 black former cricketers, including Prince, Vernon Philander, Herschelle Gibbs, JP Duminy and Makhaya Ntini.

"Given South Africa's well-known past, black cricketers have borne the brunt of subtle and overt racist behaviour for many years, including from some colleagues," they said in the letter.

"Consequently, there is a need to understand how white privilege feeds into the perpetuation of these old attitudes and assumptions.

"Our attitude, mistakenly, we now believe, has always been to say: 'These are teething problems, and that these will be resolved if we are patient.'

"But after almost three decades of cricket unity, the views expressed from one side of the racial divide are still very much part of our lives, and we now believe: Teething problems cannot be allowed to continue for this long."

Cricket is set to resume in South Africa on Saturday, Nelson Mandela Day, with a novel Solidarity Cup match behind closed doors in Pretoria that will see three teams of eight players each competing in the same match.

There is uncertainty around South Africa's next international appearance - they are scheduled to play India on 24 October at the T20 World Cup in Australia but that event seems likely to be postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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