TELFORD VICE, Bulawayo
IT said plenty about the strange state of SA cricket that on the same day that Kagiso Rabada became the undisputed champion of Cricket SA’s (CSA) annual awards, the suits revealed that race quotas in national teams were to be formalised.
On Tuesday morning CSA said they would “introduce targets for all the national teams”. This was old news, not least because they admitted on April 18 last year that the selectors followed “transformation guidelines which require the panel to consider, on merit, the election of at least four players of colour in the starting XI”.
On Tuesday evening Rabada walked away with a record six prizes of the eight he was eligible to win, including the Cricketer of the Year trophy.
Rabada is black African. He is also the best thing to happen to cricket in this country in years.
Rabada’s blackness is as indisputable as his quality as a cricketer. He is, in both senses, the real deal.
But, as the son of a doctor and an alumnus of an exclusive school, he is unarguably a product of the middle class.
So Makhaya Ntini, whose talent was spotted by development officials in the dirt-poor, cricket-rich Eastern Cape village of Mdingi, and Rabada might as well be from different worlds.
Ntini’s success was an example of cricket’s transformation system working as it should. Rabada’s is an example of South Africa becoming a better, fairer place for blacks. In that sense their contrasting experience represents progress.
But these truths must give all who dare to wade into the race debate in SA sport pause for thought.
Which factors that have made Rabada the player he is and will, considering he is only 21, make him even better in years to come matter more than others?
Rabada probably doesn’t remember a time when SA wasn’t a democracy. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know what it means to be black in a country in some ways more starkly divided along racial lines than it was in 1994, especially as he plays a game that many of his white compatriots consider their cultural property.
Happily, Rabada doesn’t know what it feels like to be slurred as a player who is thought to have been given his place in a team because of quotas or “targets” or whatever it is the suits try to call them.
Even more happily, Rabada is part of a family who have been able to give him the opportunities he needed to take important steps towards fulfilling his potential.
Most happily, he took those steps with his own two feet.
But what is CSA saying by lumping one young player with all this adulation, even if all those baubles are laden more marketing than meaning?
Are we to believe that black players have to be as good as Rabada to make it? That players even slightly older than his 21 years, regardless of race, have little chance of being as successful? Or that SA’s reserves of excellence have run so low that hardly anyone besides Rabada deserves the all that limelight?
As long as Rabada remains as good as he is, few will make serious attempts to answer those questions.
But while we’re at it here’s another, and it is perhaps the most important – why is Rabada regarded as a freak who couldn’t possibly achieve what he has so early in his career and so spectacularly without some kind of undue help? The same shadow has dogged Caster Semenya, albeit far more unfairly.
Rabada is as good as he is black, a truth that should be accepted by the public and CSA alike and not used as a hiding place for prejudice and insecurity.
It really is that simple. And that complicated.