It hasn’t been many days since the legend of South African cricket, Graeme Smith was appointed as acting Director of Cricket for the board. He was announced officially as new Director of Cricket on 11th December, in a move which most fans heralded as the right direction for South African cricket given the tumultuous inconsistencies they suffered on the pitch as well as the corruption infested board. However, within that short time, Graeme Smith’s appointment by Cricket South Africa (CSA) has been deemed as unfit when looked at through the country’s racial-political lens.
Graeme, who led the South African team in a record 108 of the 117 Tests he played has been criticized by the Black African Cricket Clubs (BACC), a Gauteng-based pressure group for what he represents. Their chairperson NtsongoSibiya, said: “The director of cricket has a responsibility to develop everyone. I’m not sure what [Smith] understands about a kid in Soweto [a black city alongside Johannesburg] or in a rural area. I don’t think he understands those dynamics. Anyone who has the potential to play must be allowed to shine at the highest level, regardless of where they come from.”
For the BACC, the values and ideals that Smith represents and upholds aren’t good enough for the entire country and all of its communities. Smith grew up in an affluent household, as a ‘privileged white kid’ during the final few years of the Apartheid that forced a spear into the heart of South Africa’s social sphere for so many years. He had a very privileged education, given the fact that he attended King Edward VII School in Johannesburg, which has nurtured 25 official international players. In there, he had access to superior coaching that wasn’t available to typically black children, who are poorer.
“You’re dealing with a boy from a school that has produced 21 [sic] international cricketers, none of them a player of color,” Sibiya said. “If you tell me I must trust in the next generation of black African players without me and him sitting and talking about how do we – together – make sure that black African players can come through, we have a problem.
“If you were a black man and Graeme Smith becomes the director of cricket would you trust him to develop your son?”
Asked if the BACC’s problem was with Smith himself, Sibiya said: “I’m talking about the position, not Graeme Smith the man. We need a guy that will understand, not necessarily a black African – a guy who will understand a kid in Zwide.”
But it seems the BACC’s issue with Smith is indeed personal, as suggested by another member of the group, Lewis Manthata, who said: “If you had said had Adrian Birrell was the director of cricket, none of us would have an issue. Or Greg Hayes. They have, over time, a track record of producing cricketers.”
There is a lot of inconsistency to the matter, however, as both Adrian Birrell and Greg Hayes, who were pioneers in developing the game in the Eastern Cape of South Africa – a part of the nation historically famous for black cricket players for more than a century despite being suppressed by impoverishment, state subjugation, and its various cruel consequences- since the late 1980s and Birrell also served as second to Russell Domingo as assistant coach for the men’s senior national side.
However, both these men in question are white which renders the original argument that Graeme Smith is unfit for the job because of his color as completely inconsistent and even hypocritical.
After a two-hour meeting called by the Black African Cricket Clubs at the Wanderers, Sibiya and Manthata spoke to the media on 27th December. “Reposition black African cricket – to sit down and say where are we taking black African cricket?”.
This arrived very naturally given the South African cricket scene and the flurry of new appointments recently with Jacques Faul being appointed as the acting chief executive of the CSA while Smith’s former teammates Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis as head coach and batting consultant respectively. All of them are white despite more than 80% of the nation being populated by black Africans.
In a statement later on Friday, Smith was quoted as saying he had empathy for the anger emanating from black cricket circles: “I’m fully aware that in times of change in any organization there will be instances of uncertainty and distrust from members of certain groups. I’m also well aware that in South Africa it will take a lot for some members of the black community to put their trust in a white man of my background. I can assure them, however, that I fully intend to do my best to advance the transformation agenda of [CSA] and ensure that young black African players are given the opportunity that they deserve to reach the highest levels in all areas of the game.”
What further aggravates the scenario is the fact that the two most high-profile names that represent black people in Cricket South Africa, CSA chief executive Thabang Moroe and interim men’s team director Enoch Nkwe have been suspended and demoted to be a part of Mark Boucher’s team of assistants. Add to the fact that Temba Bavuma and Lungi Ngidi who are both Black African cricketers are missing the first Test against England in Centurion because of injuries and the matter snowballs into a big spectacle, drawing a lot of attention in the South African sporting community and highlights racial disparities.
There is a problem and it is real. Despite the sport being followed by more blacks than whites across the length and breadth of the country, only eight of their last 107 Test players since readmission have been Black Africans. This disparity is an embarrassment in the 21st century and South African cricket needs to look past the black and white to secure a colorful future.
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