OPINION | Cricket highlighting the importance of white voices supporting Black Lives Matter

Graeme Smith, Makhaya Ntini and Francois Pienaar take the knee for the Black Lives Matter movement
Graeme Smith, Makhaya Ntini and Francois Pienaar take the knee for the Black Lives Matter movement
Lee Warren/Gallo Images

When Springbok captain Siya Kolisi posted a video message to his Instagram account on Sunday, lending his voice to the Black Lives Matter movement, he said that he had been silent on the issue for this long because, "to me it's about more than sport". 

Few at the highest levels of South African sport can claim to have experienced the lasting impacts of South Africa's systemic racism and how it has manifested into exclusion and disadvantage in the way that Kolisi has. 

His inspirational story of overcoming the tallest of odds is well-documented, but because of what he has achieved despite those obstacles, when he talks, we listen. 

"I felt my life didn't matter when I was a kid growing up in the townships. This debate has been about everyday life for me," Kolisi says. 

Now 29 and with the world at his feet, Kolisi also spoke about how he had felt "stupid" when he attended Grey High School on a scholarship, but then fell behind his classmates because of his struggles with the English language. 

That feeling of exclusion was something that Kolisi says reared its head again in 2013 when he was part of the Springbok set-up for the first time. 

"Everything was done in Afrikaans. The calls were in Afrikaans and I couldn't speak it. It affected me, I felt stupid again," he says.

"My culture just wasn't there. I didn't feel like I was representing my country, it felt as if I wasn't valued enough and that I should just be grateful being there."

"I didn't feel like I was representing my country." That line, in itself, is as telling as anything else and it speaks to an environment created at the highest level of South African sport that was not inclusive. 

Kolisi's powerful message further highlights the divides that have existed in South African sport and society based on race and decades of oppression. 

Black Lives Matter is not exclusive to police brutality in America.

In the South African context, it is an acknowledgement that black people of all ages and generations have been excluded and have lived a different reality to white South Africans. In the sporting world and elsewhere, to deny that is to expose one's own ignorance. 

Internationally, we have seen superstars from the English Premier League to Formula One voicing their support for Black Lives Matter. 

That stance, through a question posed to Proteas fast bowler Lungi Ngidi, finally found its way to South Africa and, since then, the majority of the country's professional sporting community - with the exception of a few nauseatingly blinkered individuals - has stood behind the movement. 

Cricket South Africa (CSA) was placed under immediate pressure after 30 former Proteas - all players of colour - signed a letter highlighting racism in their game. 

Taking a stand

Since then, several high-profile cricketers have come forward with their stories and experiences of racism and exclusion. These experiences may be unique to the individuals sharing them, but they are united in their importance in shining a spotlight on issues of division and racism. 

On Saturday, CSA hosted the Solidarity Cup at SuperSport Park at Centurion where the country's top cricketers played a unique exhibition match that was South Africa's first televised live sport since the national coronavirus lockdown was first enforced in March. 

CSA used their platform before the match to make their position clear as all players, team staff and match officials took a knee of solidarity in support of Black Lives Matter. 

It was a moving and symbolic display of the unity - Makhaya Ntini and Graeme Smith were side by side - that is needed in treating this issue with the seriousness it deserves. 

In the build-up to the Solidarity Cup, there were also heartfelt messages of support from the likes of Dwaine Pretorius, Rassie van der Dussen, Faf du Plessis and Smith himself. After the match, AB de Villiers also spoke to the day being about so much more than cricket. 

CSA's acting CEO Jacques Faul, along with South African Cricketers' Association CEO Andrew Breetzke, have also acknowledged that the problem of players feeling excluded because of their race still exists in South African cricket. Breetzke believes that the structures at CSA and SACA need to be revisited in this regard to ensure that that, moving forward, this doesn't keep happening. 

Black lives must matter. 

The voices of the black sporting community must be heard during this time and they must fully expose the prejudices that have operated in South African sport. 

What has been refreshing on the cricket front, though, is the white voices that have been added to this conversation. If there is an acceptance from white South Africa that this issue is real and one that requires urgent attention, then steps in the right direction towards healing can be taken. 

White players acknowledging that Black Lives Matter presents exactly the united front that the Solidarity Cup sought to portray.

I do not understand the anger

The movement seeks to rectify a system that has seen the black population treated unfairly. For that reason, white South Africans must acknowledge their role in this fight.

In acknowledging the issues and in lending support to black members of the sporting community, white South Africa can play a crucially important role in not only being part of the solution, but also in exposing those who remain part of the problem. 

I cannot understand why so many are angered when a player like Andile Phehlukwayo celebrates taking a wicket by lifting his shirt and revealing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt. I understand why that might make a white South African feel uncomfortable, but I do not understand the anger. That such anger still exists, though, is a glaring example of how far some mindsets still need to be shifted. 

CSA has a responsibility to all involved in the game to address these issues. There will be more stories to follow that paint unpleasant pictures of the past and CSA will have its work to do, but the organisation must be applauded for its initial reaction to this storm. 

Cricket has heard the cries. 

Lloyd Burnard is a senior writer at Sport24, an award-winning sports journalist and former sports editor of The Witness newspaper.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24. 

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