Those without prejudice and superiority should have nothing to fear

By Neil Manthorp

There have been many mentions of “awkward and uncomfortable conversations” which need to take place within South African cricket, and also about “education and learning” which has to be absorbed if we are to overcome the racial schisms still shuddering through the game after all these years.

The best and most effective learning takes place amongst keen and willing students, however. Which is not to say that others should not be made to learn the hard way. If racial prejudice is taught to children rather then inherited, can it be unlearned later in life? Only with the most open of minds. Overt racism is easier to legislate against than the lazy, casual sort. Controversially, there is also the ‘innocent’ sort.

Right up until five years ago I, like the vast majority of the cricket world, referred to left arm wrist spinners as ‘Chinamen.’ On the last tour of Australia I had a conversation with the excellent Sydney Morning Herald sports writer, Andrew Wu, whose heritage is Chinese. When he told me he found the term offensive, I’m ashamed to say I thought he was joking. But he was deadly serious – and quite correct.

A couple of years ago the Wisden Almanack dispensed with the term after using it for the best part of 80 years. Yesterday I spoke to the editor, Lawrence Booth, the youngest and most progressive man ever to be appointed to the position in its 140-year history.

He told me: “Wisden dispensed with 'Chinaman' a couple of years ago after it was pointed out by an Australian cricket journalist of Chinese ethnicity that the term was regarded by his community as offensive. One or two people (whites, naturally) felt this was taking political correctness too far, but Wisden's view was that white people weren't in any position to tell other races how they should or shouldn't react to terminology that originated in another era. 'Chinaman' has long been a derogatory term, as even the most cursory Googling of its history will tell you. And when England's Walter Robbins was dismissed by the West Indies' Ellis Achong at Old Trafford in 1933, and said 'Fancy being done by a bloody Chinaman', you can be sure he wasn't paying his opponent a compliment. In fact, Wisden should probably have made the move to 'left-arm wrist-spinner' earlier than we did.”

That is education, that is learning. That is progress.

It is beyond optimistic to hope that some attitudes will change through dialogue alone and the truth, no doubt, is that some attitudes will never change. But by refusing to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear the bearers of those sad attitudes can be exposed and then expunged from the game at every level, from schools to clubs and upwards.

It makes perfect sense for CSA to establish a mini TRC at this time to exacerbate the healing process and investigate specific claims of bias and prejudice. Many will be hard to prove and will come down to one word or opinion against another, but Ashwell Prince’s claim that Khaya Zondo was selected in the Proteas’ ODI starting XI on the 2015 tour of India – but did not appear – need to be verified. Who was responsible for that decision, and why?

It was especially painful hearing Makhaya Ntini talking about his loneliness and isolation within the Proteas team. He spoke of sitting by himself at the back of the team bus after being shunned by his team mates in the breakfast room. It was a staggering revelation and one which stunned many of his former team-mates.

For three years I was on the same commentary team as Makhaya and we often shared a car between airports and venues. We both enjoyed each other’s company and still do. Confession time: I, too, avoided him at breakfast time. Makhaya starts every day at 100 miles an hour and I am not a morning person - the energy was overwhelming! Not everything is always as it seems.

On another occasion on tour the Proteas and travelling media were invited to a braai at the residence of an emigrated South African in Perth. When pork sausages were offered to us one white member of the tour party asked a black member: “Do you people eat pork?” It was astounding but was probably more socially awkward and culturally ignorant than racist but it was clear evidence of how education was lacking.

I am aware of many white South Africans feeling uncertain and even intimidated by the Black Lives Matter movement, and that is no bad thing. But if they do not have prejudice and superiority in their hearts, they should have nothing to fear.

If they believe in equal opportunity and status they should be welcoming and celebrating the chance show their support for such courageous young men as Lungi Ngidi and Andile Phehlukwayo.

This article first appeared in Business Day