In the long shadow cast by the legacy of South Africa’s system of racial apartheid the fetid stench of racism permeates the body politic. Cricket South Africa and the South African national team are not immune.
It is with South Africa’s history of apartheid in mind that we must evaluate Quinton de Kock’s position in the side. After CSA issued a directive that all players must take a knee to protest racism, De Kock withdrew from the side.
This is not, as some will say, a complex issue. Taking the knee is a simple and unambiguous protest against racial hatred and disparity. If De Kock will not kneel alongside his teammates, white and of colour, he has no place in any future South African side.
Taking the knee as a gesture of anti-racism was started by Colin Kaepernick, an astoundingly talented athlete hounded out of NFL for daring to challenge white supremacy, to protest the endless string of murders of African Americans by US police.
After the murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin in 2020, taking the knee became a simple means to express solidarity with people of colour and demand justice for Floyd’s family and a stand against racism.
Following waves of protests, the gesture was adopted by athletes around the world. For players of colour it was a way to make themselves heard at the very moment when people couldn’t look away, and for their white teammates it was a way to express unity and solidarity. Of course not everyone took the knee, and those who did were often booed.
Racism is real. It is the fools in crowds making monkey noises. It is the disproportionate rates of arrest and imprisonment. It is George Floyd screaming for his mother as a white police officer pushes his knee ever deeper into his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
Earlier in the year Cricket South Africa’s Social Justice and Nation Building Project hearings publicised the reality of life in the national cricket team. Black players and players of colour were routinely belittled, humiliated and passed over because of their race.
At the hearings Paul Adams revealed that a clique of senior white players who effectively controlled the side would sing a song about him in which he was nicknamed “brown s***”.
Roger Telemachus spoke of a similar ‘big five’ who would “control selection. They control everything”. Harrowingly Telemachus recounted the story, confirmed by Adams, of a well-known coach who painted a black player’s face white as a punishment for dirty boots.
Loots Bosman put South Africa’s infamous choking down to poor team culture, by which he meant racial division. He said it was clear white players did not want players of colour in the team and that “it breaks you. Inside”.
Ashwell Prince was damning too, saying the Proteas were never a unified team. He testified that after the loss at the 2007 World Cup the white players blamed the quota system. He said, “What was said was that the black players, the coloured players, the Indian players, the non-white players, they were the problem in our cricket.
Issues with racism in the senior playing group persisted. Khaya Zondo detailed how he was left out of the 2015 World Cup game against India, which former selector Hussein Manack said violated selection policy, in favour of Dean Elgar and David Miller. Manack said the decision was racially motivated.
Mark Boucher, now national coach, has apologised for racist behaviour while in the team, including singing the song directed at Paul Adams. Graeme Smith, now director of crcket, and AB de Villiers have been implicated and are yet to respond.
Regardless of De Kock’s personal motivation for not taking the knee and possible ignorance of the realities of racism and racial violence, he cannot have missed the rolling coverage of the Social Justice and Nation Building Project hearings.
Still, De Kock has consistently refused to act in solidarity with his teammates. Temba Bavuma, South Africa’s captain at the World T20, has said the national team’s culture is undergoing a rebuild that is still in its infancy.
Bavuma was magnanimous after their game against the West Indies, which they won comfortably, and said he respected De Kock’s decision and his convictions, though he also made clear that De Kock would have to live with the consequences.
But it was a striking image to have De Kock on the bench while his teammates, white players and players of colour, knelt with their West Indian colleagues and cousins. Rather than acting as one with his teammates, De Kock was alone.
When someone tells you they are hurting, as people of colour are doing when they kneel, you listen and seek to help because they are human. If De Kock won’t listen to his teammates, if he doesn’t respect them and their experiences, then he has no place in the side no matter his talent.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Quinton de Kock has since released a statement. You can read about it here.