OPINION | Maynard Manyowa: CSA should send De Kock home for not taking the knee

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Quinton de Kock (L) and Temba Bavuma. (Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)
Quinton de Kock (L) and Temba Bavuma. (Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

By choosing not to kneel and not to play with the Proteas, Quinton de Kock missed a chance to show unity with his black teammates but to also rid Cricket South Africa's white players of permanent and perpetual suspicions of racism, writes Maynard Manyowa.

In the dusty desert of Dubai, the Proteas sent the West Indies in to bat, and despite a blistering half-century from Ervin Lewis, they put the Windies in a chokehold and did not let up. They restricted them to just 143, which they chased down without ever looking in danger of moving beyond second gear. 

But, not for the first time, race debates overshadowed what was a key match for South Africa, in a tight group and against a powerful star-studded West Indies team. Race debates certainly dampened a thoroughly professional display by a Proteas team with a long history of choking at the World Cup. 

Before the game, Cricket South Africa (CSA) announced that they had instructed all players to take the knee and show unity in the fight against racism. Quinton De Kock, South Africa's star player, reacted by refusing to play. The game went on without him, and his replacement, Reeza Hendricks set up the victory with a steady performance – way better than De Kock's own poor showing against Australia in the opening game.

No clarity from the Proteas

There are several layers to the entire symposium surrounding 'taking the knee'. It has never been clear where South Africa stands on the whole issue. At least not until Tuesday. South Africa's players have worn black armbands, raised fists, while some have taken the knee. 

In the opening game, all of Australia's players took the knee. It felt very odd, watching Australia, who did not field a single black player in their game against the Proteas, take the knee, while only South Africa's black players and Rassie Van der Dussen took the knee. It raised eyebrows the world over, and from that perspective, it is understandable why CSA stepped in. 

Cricketers, like all humans, have freedom of conscience, but sports people representing a country whose majority is black, impoverished, and marginalised ought to be sensitive towards who they represent. 

READ | Ben Winks: Why not kneel? How deep does 'rooigevaar' still run in the white South African psyche?

One ought to wonder what was going on in the minds of Kagiso Rabada, Temba Bavuma, Keshav Maharaj, Tabraiz Shamzi, Lungi Ngidi, and others, as Australians showed solidarity with racism that they encounter routinely, yet their own teammates couldn't be bothered at all?

South Africa is still reeling from violent riots, which resulted in racially motivated murders in Phoenix. Race relations are at their lowest point in a very long time (look away Gareth Cliff and IRR). Sport provides an opportunity to present a united front. This has been lost. Sportspeople ought to demonstrate that they empathise with their colleagues who come from demographic groups that have been marginalised.

A gesture 

I am under no illusions that taking the knee is gesture politics. It has no capacity to end endemic racism or change behaviours. I also firmly believe that 'cancel culture' – a tendency to react adversely to people who echo racist views or sympathise with racists - simply leads to more closet racists. But I also believe that global sports teams must at the least pretend to care about injustice and at best care about their teammates, and especially those of colour like Ngidi, who has already spoken out against racism within the sport. 

Secondly, it is impossible to turn a blind eye to what has transpired during public inquiries about racism in CSA. The coach, Mark Boucher, stands alleged in some parts of being racially insensitive. Star players from the past have been outed for racist language, undertones, and outright abuse. It may be world cup season, but CSA's ghosts are out of the bag, ripe and ready. Asking players to show unity would not only benefit black players but also rid the CSA's white players of permanent and perpetual suspicions of racism.

READ | Mandy Wiener: Its just not cricket but its also not just cricket

Only De Kock will know precisely why he refused to take the knee and ultimately pull out of the game, but in taking such a stance against 10 seconds of gesture that would have sat well with his teammates and been a starting point in CSA's battle to clean its image, he has thrown the entire team under the bus. It doesn't look good on him either. De Kock has celebrated milestones with rhino conservation solidarity messages in the past. Many will and have asked whether meaningless rhino gestures that will not stop poaching are more important than standing up for your teammates?

But someone once said to me, that, "all is well that ends well". South Africa won without De Kock. CSA should never allow another player to be above what is good for the team and good for the country. They have been down that road before with AB De Villiers. 

Quinton De Kock should have taken the knee, if not for Black Lives Matter, than for his own teammates who have voiced more than once that they are against racism. In not doing so, he cost the country a chance to present a united front and lay to bed perpetual allegations of racism. This is unforgivable. CSA should quietly put De Kock on a plane home, and make clear on their message that when it comes to racism, we cannot have a diversity of thought. 

- Maynard Manyowa is a journalist based in Manchester, England. You can follow him on Twitter - @iAmKudaMaynard

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