A bittersweet legacy from the brutalities of the apartheid years lingers in South African sport.
Only whites represented the republic until 1970 when the sporting world decided it could no longer tolerate the racial separation laws drafted to place all power in the hands of the non-black minority.
After the abolition of apartheid, South Africa were readmitted to international sport in 1992 and the task was now to introduce non-white players into the national side, the so-called transformation policy.
This year Andre Nel, a fiercely competitive pace bowler, was, to his obvious anger, left out of a cricket tour to India to fulfil the team’s quota of non-white players.
Charl Langeveldt, a mixed-race player chosen to replace Nel, opted out of the tour as a result of the ensuing tension and a black fast bowler Monde Zondeki went instead.
Both Nel and Zondeki are in Graeme Smith’s latest side who meet England in the first of a four-Test series from Thursday.
Hence the significance of Smith’s reply when he was asked about the composition of a side he believes will win their first series in England since 1965.
”I’ve never been involved in a team before where across the board everybody believes in each other’s ability to perform, where there are no doubts about anyone being there,” Smith said.
Smith, the national captain since 2003, has in effect admitted he is for the first time leading a side containing the best cricketers in his country.
There were no moral complexities about apartheid, which blighted South Africa for much of the 20th century. Yet, as two fascinating BBC television documentaries this year reveal, a malign doctrine threw up a genuine sporting hero while the post-apartheid years revealed an undoubted villain.
The first documentary, shown originally in 2004, concerns Basil D’Oliveira, who enjoyed a notable career for England after he was denied the opportunity to play for his native South Africa because of the colour of his skin.
In 1968, the year of student revolution, the crushing of the Prague spring and the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, cricket endured a revolution of its own.
D’Oliveira was originally left out of an England team to tour after scoring 158 against Australia on his recall to the Test side. After one of the original selections dropped out, he was included. South African prime minister John Vorster then said the team were now unacceptable, the tour was cancelled and the two nations were not to meet again until 1994.
The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), which then organised England touring parties, said D’Oliveira’s original omission was made purely on cricketing grounds.
However, the documentary entitled Not Cricket: The Basil D’Oliveira Conspiracy points out that Vorster was interned during World War II as a Nazi sympathiser and MCC president Arthur Gilligan had been a member of the British Union of Fascists during the 1930s. It added that a former Conservative prime minister Alec Douglas-Home, who advised the MCC, had met recently with Vorster in South Africa.
D’Oliveira, a man of immense dignity, was approached during that fateful year and offered large sums of money to make himself unavailable for the tour and instead coach in South Africa. Although at the time of the offer he was not in the Test side prior to his emotional Oval return, D’Oliveira refused.
The second documentary The Captain and the Bookmaker portrays former captain Hansie Cronje, the poster boy for the new rainbow nation, who had no hesitation in taking money, in his case for fixing matches.
Cronje first led his country in the 1993-1994 season when the transformation process was under way.
Shamefully, he offered money to two non-white players, Herschelle Gibbs and Henry Williams, a pair who would have been especially vulnerable and anxious to please their captain, to under-perform in a one-day international in India in 2000.
Cronje, who wore a wristband inscribed with the initials WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?), eventually admitted to the King Commission that he was guilty of match-fixing and was one of three international captains to get a life ban.
He died in an aircraft crash near George in 2002 and two years later was voted the 11th greatest South African of all time. Henrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid, was 12th. – Reuters