One only has to look at the way in which Kagiso Rabada grabbed headlines this week to appreciate the way in which South Africa has changed over the last two and a half decades.
Rabada, a South African cricketer who plays all formats of the game, was sanctioned by ICC match referee Jeff Crowe. Crowe gave him three demerit points and a fine of 50% of his match fee for an incident involving in the second Test at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth
The 22-year-old paceman was said to have made “inappropriate and deliberate physical contact” with Smith when the two players brushed shoulders. This incident took place after Rabada dismissed the right-hander lbw and screamed in celebration as he walked towards the batsman.
To counter the fine and the demerit points, Cricket South Africa enlisted the help of Advocate Dali Mpofu who managed to change the earlier judgement. Independent judicial commissioner Michael Heron QC of New Zealand said he was not “comfortably satisfied” that Rabada intended to make contact with Smith and found him not guilty of a Level 2 breach of the ICC code of conduct.
This is a big deal.
The fact that South Africa’s hope for winning a first home series against the mighty Aussies rests on the shoulders of a black player is testament to just how much the country has changed since The Proteas faced India back in 1991. Here, we were represented by a lily-white cricket team in their first tour after sporting isolation the world sanctioned because of apartheid. Rabada was not even born when Clive Rice led South Africa at the famed Eden Gardens in Calcutta,
But now here he is, KG, from high school prodigy to global superstar.
KG, as Rabada is affectionately called, illustrates a movement towards transformation in the sport. Some may argue that Rabada’s success is not a good example of the strength of transformation because his cricket talent was honed at St Stithians College – one of the country’s most expensive and well-known cricket schools.
When one makes this point, their analysis fails to consider South Africa’s sporting history. We have always had talent, but not representation. There were scores of extremely talented cricketers who never got to represent South Africa despite their tremendous talent because they were black. The most famous example is probably that of the late Basil d’Oliveira, a coloured player from the Cape who eventually played test cricket for England in the late 1969s because South Africa’s apartheid state prevented him from representing his country.
This is why KG representing South Africa, as a black player, in a historically very white sport, is worthy of a celebration.
There are other wins.
Cricket has progressed significantly compared to other historically white sporting codes such as rugby when it comes to their transformation scorecard.
The sport has managed to introduce the quality of opportunity provided to black children at school level through Hubs and Regional Performance Centres (RPC).
In South Africa, private and former Model-C schools produce over 80% of the nation’s cricket players. However, for every 20 white players there is an average of 3 Black African players.
Because of this imbalance, Cricket South Africa decided to get South African black communities to become more involved in the game through the establishment of the HUBs and RPC’s across the country’s nine provinces. The main goal of this is to develop and maintain effective cricketing structures from grassroots level right through to senior cricket.
As of March 2017, the Hubs and RPC’s cricket development programme boasted 58 clubs, 195 full-time coaches, over 4500 players, 464 feeder schools in townships and regional offices. It is good to note that this development programme is bearing fruit.
Black children across the country have been given the opportunity to fall in love with the sport. This is a strong and significant step towards transformation
For example, the Hammanskraal hub has already produced 24 provincial players, while their girls under 13 and under 19 teams won the 2016 school champion league. Hubs such as the Hammanskraal Hub are showing the necessity and importance of identifying and nurturing talent.
The Hubs and RPC programme is making sure that the opportunities that were made available to Rabada at St. Stithians are increasingly on offer to aspirant professional cricketers from the rural areas and township schools.
Once given the opportunity, those who shine are then selected for regional, provincial and eventually national age group and senior national teams.
Kgaudisa Molefe is one of these players.
Molefe, who was discovered at the Orange Farm Hub, represented South Africa at the U19 World Cup in New Zealand earlier this year.
He then attained a scholarship to attend Jeppe Boys, a prestigious cricket school, facilitated by the Gauteng Cricket Board and CSA.
Cricket SA Acting CEO Thanag Moroe believes that this approach will bear even more fruit. It shows that the RPC and Hubs programmes work, and we just have to push as hard as we can to unearth the young players like Kgaudi.
Moroe’s assertions are supported by the latest Eminent Persons Transformation Report. The annual EPG Report, produced by the National Department of Sport and Recreation, essentially audits South Africa’s progress in transforming the sporting landscape.
The report revealed that in the 2015/2016 financial year, cricket, rugby and netball all improved in getting more African, Coloured and Indian youngsters to play sport. More school children now get the opportunity to play sports once reserved for the privileged few.
It is possible then that in another 25 years there will be no need for a column such as this one. Rabada will have retired after leading South Africa to a maiden home series victory over The Baggy Greens. Yours truly might be in the grave and the fact that the next Proteas captain might be a boy from Orange Farm will matter little because wherever your birthplace, regardless of how deep your parents pockets may be – your dreams would come true.
Mosibodi Whitehead is a sports columnist and a sports presenter.