Episode 31: South African cricket and the poisoned legacy of apartheid

Cricket authors (and obsessives) Peter Oborne and Richard Heller launched a podcast early in 2020 to help deprived listeners endure a world without cricket. They’re no longer deprived of cricket, but still chat regularly about cricket topics with different guests each week – cricket writers, players, administrators and fans – hoping to keep a good line and length but with occasional wides into other subjects.

As England’s tour of South Africa gets under way, the two latest guests of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller on their cricket-themed podcast offer deep insight into South African cricket past and present. Mo Allie, of the BBC Africa service has reported on South African sport for many years and is the author of More Than A Game, telling many heroic stories of South Africa’s non-white cricketers in times of racial segregation. Cricket historian and analyst Arunabha Sengupta has written Apartheid – A Point To Cover, the story of South African cricket to 1970 and of the successful Stop The 70 Tour campaign.


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Mike Atherton delivers an appeal for the MCC Foundation. For a week from 1 December donations will be doubled in value, and will help to give cricketing experience and access to coaching for disadvantaged boys and girls.  See https://donate.thebiggive.org.uk/campaign/a051r00001eojcBAAQ

Mo explains the turmoil in South Africa’s cricket administration which almost caused the cancellation of England’s tour. He and Arunabha also analyse the bitter conflicts within South Africa over taking the knee in support of BlackLivesMatter. They have their roots in the poisoned legacy of apartheid, which created inequalities and imbalances in South African society which will take generations to eradicate, in the present violence which engulfs the country, and in a failure, not only in South Africa, to shake off cultural attitudes and racial myths formed in colonial times. Mo conveys the shock in South Africa when Makaya Ntini, the “poster boy” for its newly integrated cricket, revealed the loneliness he experienced in the team through enduring racism. He reveals that white players who took the knee earlier this year received death threats.

Arunabha shows how racial segregation was embedded in South African cricket long before it was formalized and developed under apartheid, citing particularly the case of Krom Hendricks, a brilliant pace bowler of mixed race, denied international selection as far back as 1894 at the behest of Cecil Rhodes. He was the first of many non-white cricketers excluded  by a “100 per cent white” quota system. Mo gives moving personal testimony of the losses experienced by his family through waves of discriminatory laws, especially from enforced removals, and of what it was  like for him to grow up under apartheid. Many non-white people, not only in sport, had to go overseas to get a career, and the talents of millions more were lost to the world.

Arunabha traces the impact of exclusion from international cricket and sport generally on the image and self-confidence of a sports-crazed nation, and how Nelson Mandela later saw integrated sport as an agent of change. He cites Mike Procter and Clive Rice on the effect of playing in multi-racial English county cricket in taking South African players out of their “white bubble.”

Mo expresses deep worry about the shortage of selfless capable leaders not only in South African cricket but in other sectors. Racial quotas and stereotypes are too often blamed for failures. The “rainbow nation” may be dissolving as communities retreat into their own laagers and compete for scarce resources in a deeply troubled economy. However, both he and Arunabha see signs of positivity and hope, not least in the public efforts to promote inclusion through cricket by former cricketers such as Lance Klusener, Paul Adams, and especially Gary Kirsten, who is developing the talents of disadvantaged young players at his cricket academy. They also cite the successes of South African women in cricket and other sports and the efforts led by Professor André Odendaal (a future guest) to recapture the lost history of non-white players and make the nation aware of its full sporting legacy.

Peter Oborne & Richard Heller

Peter Oborne has been the chief political commentator for the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, a maker of several documentaries and written and broadcast for many different media. He is the author of a biography of Basil D’Oliveira and of Wounded Tiger, a history of Pakistan cricket, both of which won major awards.

Richard Heller was a long-serving humorous columnist on The Mail on Sunday and more briefly, on The Times. He worked in the movie business in the United States and the UK, including a brief engagement on a motion picture called Cycle Sluts Versus The Zombie Ghouls. He is the author of two cricket-themed novels A Tale of Ten Wickets and The Network. He appeared in two Mastermind finals: in the first his special subject was the life of Sir Gary Sobers.

Oborne & Heller cricketing partnership

Jointly, he and Peter produced White On Green, celebrating the drama of Pakistan cricket, including the true story of the team which lost a first-class match by an innings and 851 runs.

Peter and Richard have played cricket with and against each other for a variety of social sides, including Parliament’s team, the Lords and Commons, and in over twenty countries including India, Pakistan, the United States, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, France, Greece, Australia, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Morocco.

The Podcast is produced by Bridget Osborne and James Willcocks at The Chiswick Calendar.

Listen to more episodes of Oborne & Heller

See also: Episode 30: John Cleese shares his lifelong love of cricket

See also: Episode 29: Jill Rutter on watching cricket with Prime Ministers and others

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