Why transformation matters more than anything else

Sunday Times


Can you see the future? © Getty Images


TAKE another look at the picture used to illustrate this article. If you see a barefoot kid in shorts about to swing himself off his feet while four of his mates, three of them also barefoot, two also in shorts, watch with varying degrees of interest, you won’t like much about the rest of what, if you choose to, you are about to read.

But if you see three black kids and a white kid engaged in an equal opportunity to play cricket, the full picture should start to come into focus.

This is about race. In South Africa, everything always has been about race and everything still is and will be for the rest of our lifetimes and the lifetimes of several succeeding generations.

That is not depressing or unfortunate or regrettable. It simply is. What else did we expect?

People who say they don’t see race are doomed to allow, unwittingly or not, the mistakes of the past to be repeated.

Recognising that should be easy. The hard part is fixing it. You won’t find many answers here. Or anywhere else. The bitter truth is they do not exist.

If administrators knew how to make national teams look like the nation they would have made that happen.

And not only administrators: nobody knows how to make things right without undermining everybody involved.

Transformation can be like pornography – we know it when we see it. But, unlike pornography, true and just transformation is hard to find.

“The very fact that there is a need to set certain targets indicates that the system has not been working optimally to achieve representivity,” Cricket South Africa (CSA) president Chris Nenzani was quoted as saying in statement issued after the organisation’s annual meeting in Johannesburg last Saturday.

Now that CSA have admitted to failing in this vital area how does the game in this country get its happy ending?

“Whatever the policies in place let’s look at the quality of the players and let’s talk about that,” Ashwell Prince, a powerful symbol of what happens when transformation works, said.

Prince is right. But we can have that conversation only if the players emerge to have their quality discussed.

And for that to happen we need to talk about the policies.

Rushdie Magiet has been doing just that for much of his 73 years, first as a player then as an administrator, which included serving as South Africa’s convenor of selectors.

It was in that role that he picked Prince along with Herschelle Gibbs, Paul Adams and Makhaya Ntini to play against Australia in February and March, 2002.

“I couldn’t walk around the ground,” Magiet said. “People would swear at me: ‘What the fuck are you doing with this team?’.”

Fourteen years on people do their swearing in the relative safety of the glow of their braai fires.

The braver among them vent their disapproval on social media.

So Linda Zondi, the current convenor of selectors, is probably safe from being verbally abused by spectators.

But he shouldn’t be fooled that he is a popular man around certain braai fires.

Neither is sports minister Fikile Mbalula, who is holding federations’ feet to the fire for their agreement that 60% of national teams will be of colour.

“The minister is absolutely correct,” Magiet said. “Maybe cricket is not strong enough to effect the change that is required.

“I looked for support like that when I was convenor. I called a meeting – the minister (Ngconde Balfour) was there, Graham Ford and Shaun Pollock (South Africa’s coach and captain) were there, (CSA president) Percy Sonn was there.

“I came away completely disillusioned. It’s not that they didn’t want to support me. It was that they didn’t want to be controversial.”

Whatever Mbalula’s motives and faults, and he has more than a few, an aversion to creating controversy is not among them.

What do Mbalula’s detractors want? All together now: merit selection.

Which is what, exactly?

“Your idea of merit and somebody’s else’s idea of merit could be completely different,” Magiet said. “It’s a matter of opinion.”

For Gordon Templeton, a former chair of the Soweto Cricket Club and a former Gauteng Cricket Board (GCB) board member who currently serves on the GCB’s commercial, marketing and stadium sub-committee and is a member of Black African Cricket Clubs, merit has been headed off at the pass.

“There has been a concerted effort to kill grassroots development in cricket over the years,” Templeton said.

“You will have elite players like Temba Bavuma, Kagiso Rabada, Eddie Leie and Aaron Phangiso come through. You can’t kill that.

“You can’t stop the middle class from coming up, as parents like Dr. and Mrs. Rabada (the parents of Kagiso Rabada) and many others will and can afford to send their children to private and/or traditional cricket schools. You can’t kill that.

“But you can stop players from disadvantaged communities coming up from grassroots level, and that’s what has happened.

“Funding at affiliates has diminished substantially as far as sufficient coaches to provide quality coaching at every age group is concerned.

“Coaches who produced many of the age group and professional players of colour that we are now seeing coming through have been taken by schools in the suburbs where their remuneration affords them a living wage.”

But Templeton also offered an answer.

“Perhaps the focus should be on channeling the surpluses declared and the reserves accumulating interest in investment accounts towards creating township cricket schools that will in their own right play competitively against the traditional cricket schools.

“We would be creating a broader base of talent to select from and then the natural progression through the system to having elite cricket players will materialise. It’s all about the quality of opportunity.”

It is. Now take still another look at those kids in the picture. Can you see the future?


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