/ 6 February 2013

Opinion: The white man’s burden

Former cricketer Barry Richards.
Former cricketer Barry Richards.

It doesn’t often happen, but today is one of those days when the bad news has some hysterically funny moments. For example, there’s nothing remotely amusing in the sad story of the two police officers shot and wounded by four gunmen near the Joe Slovo offramp on the M2 highway in Jo'burg. But there’s one paragraph in the story which is so quintessentially South African, so deliciously of the Jo'burg zeitgeist, that I couldn’t help but guffaw.

Here it is, from the Star: “A man who has lived under the Joe Slovo off-ramp bridge for the past two years, making a living collecting and selling scrap, said this was the first crime incident he had witnessed.” Ha ha! It’s priceless reporting. Finally, we have journalists who treat unfortunates living under a bridge in the same way they treat middle-class people living in Sandton. The really funny thing, of course, is that, for the purposes of the story, it’s apparently safer living under a bridge than in a gated community. Maybe the paranoid monied class should consider moving. It’s absurd.

But not as absurd as the statement by ex-cricketer and current moron, Barry Richards, that he is a victim of apartheid. According to Sport24 (so a pinch of salt might be in order here), Richards said: “They keep talking about disadvantaged people – no-one’s more disadvantaged than Graeme [Pollock] and me. We couldn’t have Test cricket and we’re not recognised now.”

It’s so true. While the likes of Nelson Mandela were swanning around living the island life for 27 years with their pina coladas and stuff, the unfortunate Richards was forced to travel the world as a migrant labourer, playing cricket in England and Australia. While the jolly youths of Soweto were having fun being shot at and destroying their futures for the sake of a principle, poor Richards was condemned to play cricket for Natal – Natal!

While the lucky black folk of South Africa were allowed to lead lives of untrammeled pleasure, without the stress of having to vote, own businesses, or manage unruly mining staff, victims like Richards had to endure the soul-destroying ignominy of being voted South Africa’s Player of the Year in 1968. Player of the Year! Yes, he was called the P-word! Often to his face! An insult that no black player ever had to endure under apartheid. Richards was also voted Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1969. Oh, the inhumanity.

And you’d think that this so-called freedom of democracy would have ended the terrible suffering of people like Barry Richards, and Graeme Pollock, but no – as with so many things under the ANC, this too has proved a false promise. In 2000, Pollock was actually voted South Africa’s Cricketer of the Century, yet another reminder of the cursed affirmative action that drove poor Kevin Pietersen into exile in England.

There’s a serious issue to Richards’ lunacy, of course, which is the question of whether we should be recognising sportsmen and women who appeared for South Africa in apartheid-era teams. And I can understand that white sportspeople are a little miffed that some liberal idiots, who probably can’t even throw a ball straight, mistakenly believe that freeing a people from oppression is more important than who scored a try against the New Zealand Cavaliers. But telling us that “no-one” is more disadvantaged than you is not really going to convince anyone of the justice of your cause.

There’s a guy living under a bridge, watching two police officers get shot. And you think you’re a tragic victim of apartheid because the trophy room in your house is missing a couple of South African blazers? Dude, get a life. People like you have become the white man's burden.


Subsequent to the publication of this column, Barry Richard mailed me with the following:

"Quite right Chris, my quote should have said 'in a cricketing sense no one more disadvantaged' – quite right to point it out ~sorry! Barry Richards"

This does defuse somewhat the anger of my column. I still believe that sportsmen have a skewed sense of priorities, but I’m proud of South Africans that can acknowledge mistakes and move on, without resorting to anger or name-calling (yes, yes, I know, I should learn that trick). I was one of those sad cases who stopped watching the Proteas after Hansie Cronje. Today, I think I can start again, since sportsmanship obviously still means something to some ex-players. I won’t change anything in the column but this new info might make Richards’s fans a little happier.

Chris Roper is the editor of the Mail & Guardian Online. Follow him on Twitter @chrisroper