Guest Column

OPINION | Proteas: a coup d'état at the cost of transformation?

2020-01-16 14:52
 Proteas captain Faf du Plessis and spinner Keshav Maharaj.

Proteas captain Faf du Plessis and spinner Keshav Maharaj. (Gallo Images)

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It's clear, certainly, in their view, that race is not an issue and there is no place for politics (and by politics this means transformation) in cricket and certainly transformation should not be a key pillar in the long-term strategy of cricket in this country, writes Msingathi Sipuka and Ayanda Jam

The past decade and a half produced an elite group of South African cricketers who have registered their names in the annals of cricketing history as some of the best the country has produced.

Their cricketing feats have seen them take the Proteas to the very top of international cricket, with success endearing them to the nation.

Among those who constitute this generation of players are the likes of Jacques Kallis, who represented the Proteas between 1995 and 2014, Greame Smith, who represented and captained the Proteas between 2002 and 2014, and Mark Boucher who represented the Proteas between 1997 and 2012.

There are of course many other prominent players of this generation, including the likes of AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis emerging as key individuals and senior statesmen of the team towards the mid to latter part of the last decade.

This core group of players have come to be very powerful in the Proteas dressing room. Their performance and successes amplified their voices, granted them certain privileges and conferred an unspoken power when it came to the management of team.

The educated guess is that the "we" that both AB and Faf represent and talk of is this group of players, not in their individual capacities but in their collective form.

The collective form represents a culture, ethos and camaraderie in the team that was formed under the leadership of this powerful group of players and transmitted to new team members through an established system.

So, the "we" represents this institution of the Proteas team that has evolved into what it is today under Faf.

From the comments of Faf and AB that they do not see race in a largely race-based society one can start putting together the general outlook of the “we” who have controlled the dressing room for over a decade.

But there's more evidence that builds a picture of the views of this "we".

Remember Jacques Kallis' callous comments in 2016 when the then Minister of Sport announced he would veto any bid by the cricket, rugby, netball and athletics bodies to host multinational events as they had missed racial "transformation targets" designed to redress apartheid era inequalities?

Kallis took to social media telling the world he was embarrassed of being a South African because in his view the decision of the Minister was politics interfering in sport.

What was telling, was Kallis' lack of understanding on the transformative contribution of sport to South Africa's efforts of building a new national identity. His views effectively created a divide between politics and sport.

It exposed his limited world view and understanding of the history of sport and politics in South Africa, and one that is premised on privilege.

As for Smith, a former captain of the Proteas for over a decade, he had the gall to say that he still needs to get a "grip" on transformation as the Director of Cricket South Africa.

He was at the helm of the Proteas set up for more than 10 years, so we are well within our rights to ask what he was doing for a decade if he still needs to get a "grip" on transformation today.

What one is able to deduce from his statement is that transformation was not a priority for him and certainly not an issue that gave him sleepless nights during his time as captain.

From the above we are able to deduce the outlook of the main figures of the Proteas dressing room and by implication the culture they contributed to embedding in the team.

It's clear, certainly, in their view, that race is not an issue and there is no place for politics (and by politics this means transformation) in cricket and certainly transformation should not be a key pillar in the long-term strategy of cricket in this country.

Effectively that is the "we" of Faf, AB, Jacques, Boucher and Smith. It is an institutional "we".

The institution of the Proteas they rightly believe they took to the top of the world and falsely believe only they can take it back to where it belongs.

In his assessment of the current reality of South African cricket, Prof Chris Landsberg argues we are witnessing a classical coup d'état.

A well-established faction has effectively taken over the running of cricket in this country and the most dangerous thing about them is their views on transformation.

To add insult to injury, we have a board of South African cricket that is highly discredited, and by implication its voice is relatively weakened because they are at the mercy of the knights in shining armour who have come to save the game.

The board's weakened position means that they are in no position to take a firm stand and affirm their own policies of transformation.

They are in no position to negate the myth advanced by Smith, Boucher and Du Plessis that race and colour do not matter in the selection of players for the Proteas.

The national team is as bound to transformation policy and targets as much as the franchise system. Non-adherence to transformation policies and targets at a national level expedites the creation of a glass ceiling for black players in the country.

The recent run of poor performances by the Proteas has resulted in wholesale changes in CSA administration, including the introduction of the faction friendly Jacque Faul as interim CEO and the removal of the coaching staff that took the team to the World Cup and the tour to India.

Don’t be fooled, from the sidelines you may want to applaud this as a system that holds people accountable for poor results.

But what about one of the key members of the faction, the captain, Faf du Plessis?

Despite the poor performance of the team under him, his position as leader remains intact. It seems it is up to him to relinquish when he decides to go on retirement.

Remember when Pollock was sacked as captain after a similarly terrible showing of the team under his leadership in 2003? Well this certainly can’t happen to our dear Faf.

This is yet another demonstration of the well-orchestrated changes that have taken place in South African cricket which have sought to strengthen the hand of the "we" in the changing room and the boardroom.

What is striking about the outlook of the faction in charge today is that their views have a very strong resemblance with the ahistorical politics of the Democratic Alliance when it comes to the issue of transformation. A so-called equal opportunity scenario in a society of historical and contemporary inequalities.

Fixing South African cricket on a sustainable basis will take much more than getting the right batting or bowling coach or fitness coach.

At the core of it, the challenges run deep especially if you consider transformation as one of the critical pillars that the sport must be developed on.

In this regard, the role of Director of Cricket requires someone who is not just sensitive to transformation but a person who has a genuine will to see the face of cricket change.

One of the serious limitations that CSA and the cricketing fraternity in the country need to change is the over-reliance on the traditional and elite cricketing schools in the country as feeders of the system.

If one considers the black talent we talk about today, they all are products of elite schools in the country.

For example, Andile Phehlukwayo is a Glenwood product, Kagiso Rabada is from St Stithians, Themba Bavuma attended St David's, Khaya Zondo is from Westville Boys, while Lungi Ngidi hails from Hilton.

We need a system in cricket that does not reduce the rise of a Makhaya Ntini to a once in 20 to 30 year occurrence.

Until we are able to achieve this, we will forever confront the challenge we have now.

When one black batsman is dropped, we have no other in the system to replace him.

This requires a strategy that creates cricketing opportunities across the entire system and for this it will require a leadership of cricket that understands the nexus of politics, development and sport.

Unfortunately for all of us, the crop that has taken over does not have an appreciation for these issues nor the will for such change.

- Msingathi Sipuka and Ayanda Jam are former players who never made it past Sunday league but are great fans of the game.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.  

Read more on:    proteas  |  faf du plessis  |  graeme smith  |  transformation  |  cricket


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