How The SJN Got Here, And Where It Goes Now

Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - How the SJN got here, and where it goes now. After initially declining to, Quinton de Kock too took the knee

How The SJN Got Here, And Where It Goes NowAfter initially declining to, Quinton de Kock too took the knee

“See that gas station,” a cab driver quipped with a rightward cue of his head as he guided his taxi down a street in Kingston, Jamaica. “It belongs to Michael Holding.” It was April 7, 1992, and we were on our way to Sabina Park, where South Africa's inaugural series in a majority black country – besides the one they considered their own – was about to start.

South Africa had broken their brown duck on their tour to India five months earlier, their first official international cricket since 1970, and their first ever against opposition who did not field an all-white XI. Shockingly, and even though Kepler Wessels' team had, by the time they arrived in the Caribbean, been to a World Cup – another first for South Africa – apartheid was still the law of their land.

Twenty-nine years on that is no longer the case. But Holding is still fuelling things. In 1992, five years after he had retired as a member of the game's pre-eminent attack, he was firing up engines. In 2021, he is helping to power the global conversation on racism. And anti-racism. His book, “Why We Kneel, How We Rise”, was published in June – 11 months after he had spoken, live on television in Southampton during what has become cricket's most important rain delay, through hot tears: “I remember my school days. I was never taught anything good about black people.”

Holding no longer owns a garage and he announced his retirement from commentary in September. But he was on screen again on Friday as the last speaker in the 35 days of the CSA's Social Justice and Nation-Building (SJN) hearings: “The quota system…I have heard that used on so many occasions when referring to South African cricketers of colour; that they are only there because the regulations say they have to be there. They are never given full credit for their abilities.”

Holding spoke to Dumisa Ntsebeza, the SJN ombud. Some will struggle to see the point of two black people talking to each other about being black in a world held hostage by whiteness. But these are not any two people.

Ntsebeza is due to submit his report, which will likely include recommendations on what to do about racism in the game in South Africa, by the end of November. A veteran senior counsel who worked on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he is in a unique position to change cricket's relationship with issues of race, which it clearly needs to do.

Holding is a 1.92-metre tall tower of integrity. What he says carries great power, but how he says it is important. As is the fact of who is doing the saying. For the unfortunates who claim not to see colour, Holding is an example of excellence. In the real world, he is an example of black excellence. He is his own best argument against the ancient myth that black and brown people are inferior to whites. And, with the rise and spread of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, he is hopeful that the evil lie is on its way to becoming a shibboleth. “People are coming together and recognising that the world needs fixing,” he told Ntsebeza.

That was three days after Quinton de Kock refused to play in South Africa's T20 WC match against West Indies in Dubai rather than take a knee, as the players had been instructed to do by CSA. And a day after De Kock apologised and changed his mind: he would kneel, after all.

You wonder what Holding would make of all that. In June he told the UK Press Association: “If you don't support it, if you don't kneel, I know where you stand. You can't just sit back and say ‘I'm not racist'. You have to point out racism and speak up against it.”

That players from, of all countries, South Africa should have to be compelled to take a knee – that some of them won't embrace the globally recognised symbol of opposition to racism voluntarily – is a national embarrassment. It should be a source of shame among those players.

“Taking the knee and BLM is not supposed to separate people; it is supposed to bring people together,” Dale Steyn said on Tuesday. “Quinton de Kock missing a game not just through his own mindset but through a kind of forced way of doing things is not what we want in world cricket. That's not what we want in the world. We don't want to see people missing out on things. This movement is not about that. This movement is about bringing people together and having a better understanding of things, not pushing people away and ridiculing them.”

Some will say Steyn is trying to whitesplain BLM, including to people who are black and brown. But at least there is nuance in his view, an attempt to consider the bigger picture and not focus on isolated, partisan shards of the whole. Others will wonder why Steyn's comment – made to a group of Sri Lankan reporters at the T20 WC, where he is commentating – hasn't been published until now. Maybe, in Sri Lanka's, this was not news.

But it would seem to be in India, where one website posited the theory that De Kock “didn't take a knee because a majority of whites in South Africa, half-a-million, are dispossessed. In Pretoria alone, there are 80 white squatter camps. In today's South Africa, whites are the blacks of yesterday, hidden from our view.” None of this is true anywhere near true. Worse, it is damagingly wrong and fuels a dangerous narrative.

“Someone has to draw a line somewhere – there's so much crime, there have been so many farm murders,” was the meaning that a white trader at a market in Cape Town gave to De Kock's refusal. That, mind, after De Kock had kneeled in the match against Sri Lanka in Sharjah on Saturday. And after he had said he felt taking a knee was an empty gesture that he hadn't thought he needed to perform because: “For me, black lives have mattered since I was born. Not just because there was an international movement.” As for the truth about homicide, 21,022 people were murdered in South Africa from April 2018 to March 2019. Only 57 of all South Africa's murder victims in 2019 were farmers.

But, in the internet age, untruth and ugliness is more easily spread than ever before. Last month, fast food giants Nando's cancelled their five-year sponsorship of an online radio show hosted by Gareth Cliff, a South African self-confessed “shock jock”, in the wake of the outrage that followed him telling a black guest on the programme that her experiences of racism were “anecdotal” and “unimportant”. The company's action was widely welcomed. But few asked why Nando's had involved themselves with a figure who has been going out of his way to offend people for far longer than five years, especially as most of the company's clients are black and brown.

This is the poisoned water in which South Africans swim. That includes representative teams. Are they drinking it? The view from the men's dressing room would suggest not. “We've had time to have long, hard conversations, and it's been really good getting to understand things,” Anrich Nortje told Cricbuzz. “I don't think we're ever going to be done speaking to each other on this topic. We're going to go on and on and on. Everyone has learnt. Everyone has been able to be honest in the environment we've created. There's been a lot of things said in a safe space where we can express our feelings.”

Outside of that bubble, different rules apply: “The media have been trying to make things up or trying to get people talking about certain aspects when those issues haven't been raised in the team. Someone will write something about what they see and people will harp on that, and it becomes a topic of discussion. But we've been getting along really well in the team. We had our first culture camp in Skukuza in August last year, and we've kept on building.”

If Nortje wants to offer his teammates a lighter view on these weighty topics, here's a line from another Caribbean cab driver; this one in St Kitts during the 2007 World Cup: “And over there, on the beach in 1492, the Amerindians discovered Christopher Columbus.”

Get the joke, and we're getting somewhere.

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