TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
IT’S January 22, 1901 and social media platforms in SA are feverish with the kind of fuss that crashes servers and causes collisions between ox wagons whose drivers are holding the reins with only one hand because the other is clutching a piece of 3G-enabled telegraph wire.
The dots and dashes pulsing through the wire reveal that the dominant hashtag is “#OnsMaIsDood”, typically posted after strings of emoticons in increasing states of jubilation.
“Ma” is Queen Victoria, and she is indeed dead. In a country that has been at war with its colonisers for more than a year and will be for more than another year, this is wonderful news.
Almost 114 years on, much has changed but plenty has not.
Modern South Africans are unlikely to celebrate the death of Queen Elizabeth like the Boer guerrillas who danced around campfires gleefully singing, “Ons ma is dood.”
But, as that sensible Brit George Orwell told us, “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play, it is bound up with hatred and jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all the rules and sadistic pleasure in unnecessary violence. In other words it is war minus the shooting.”
Orwell wrote that in 1941, when the world was caught up in another war – in which Britain and SA fought on the same side.
Once peace was restored in 1945 we could get back to that other conflict, the one without the shooting, the fee-fi-fo-fum fight in which nothing like the smell of a colonising Englishman (or Scot, Welshman or Irishman so inclined) stirs the blood of the colonised quite so readily.
Can you smell them? Of course you can: England are here, and that makes South Africans edgy with ancient and abiding anger.
As South Africans, we live with Australian arrogance because they tend to be able to do what they brag about being able to do.
We don’t quite get the Indians – and that goes just as much for South Africans of Indian heritage – but lately many of us have been persuaded that this generation are cheats who don’t have the confidence to fight fair.
We used to be in awe of West Indians, but not now that they have gone to seed.
The rest we don’t care about. New Zealand or Pakistan will dish out a snotklap every so often, and particularly when there is plenty at stake in limited overs tournaments. But they have left with us lasting impressions of mediocrity and inconsistency.
Which leaves England. The country that gave the world the game also stole too many of those countries. That is not a fair exchange, even though rugby and football sweeten the deal.
British colonialism’s legacy in SA is complicated by the racial oppression it did nothing to stop and in fact fostered. It is difficult to imagine apartheid taking hold as brutally as it did without the support of the Brits, who needed a middle class to crack the whip over an underclass who had been forced off their land and into the mines.
As much as we tell ourselves all that is in the long gone past and that sport is no place for such dark thoughts, our emotional history won’t allow us to sweep it all away so easily.
How could we when the crippling effects colonialism has had on countries like ours remain painfully, viscerally real?
Alistair Cook’s men are here to play cricket and nothing more. At least, that’s what they would like to think.
They should know that things are not that simple when viewed from the other side of the barbed wire on the front line. They should know, if they don’t already, that Orwell was right. They should know that, somewhere inside us, the war rages still.