Johannesburg - What do you do when someone you love and respect is accused of the cardinal sins of our time – racism and gender based violence?
Do you defend them and tell the world about the person you know or do you look at the allegations objectively to determine a conclusion? Do you blindly believe the accuser, the victim, no matter what?
The veteran journalist and cricket writer Lungani Zama found himself having to explain his friend, the Proteas batsman wicket keeper, Quinton De Kock, whom many South Africans now believe is a racist. This, for his refusal to bend the knee when Cricket South Africa made it mandatory at the T-20 World Cup currently underway in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
It is understood De Kock and other players only found out about the directive in the bus on their way to the ground ahead of their match with the West Indies on Tuesday. Until now the stance of the senior men’s side has been for each individual to decide their gesture in the fight against racism – the black players bar none have all taken the knee whilst some white players have raised a fist and others have stood to attention when the national anthem is played. The only white player who has taken the knee from the get-go was Rassie Van Der Dussen.
By Cricket South Africa’s own admission, after well over a year of discussions the Proteas were unable to reach consensus on the issue. When the team faced Australia last Saturday, the administrators could no longer stomach what they saw as a display of disunity – the optics were simply no longer tolerable. And so the board issued an edict that forthwith all the players would have to take the knee.
Graeme Smith, Marc Boucher and Temba Bavuma were duly informed to tell the team. What they told the players is where the controversy apparently began. The directive was communicated to the players on a bus ride from their Abu Dhabi hotel on the way to the stadium. Sources close to the team say it was allegedly also made clear to them in no uncertain terms that any refusal to do so would become a labour issue – ie a termination of their contracts. De Kock refused and the proverbial nasties hit the fan.
It is easy to see why so many South Africans were angered. If Quinton De Kock wears pink for cancer or black armbands to honour deceased greats of the game or to oppose GBV when required, hell, he has even made the sign to save the rhinos, why object to a universally accepted gesture to fight racism? If he has learned the words of the national anthem and wears the appropriate kit when representing his country, why would he have difficulty with this one?
His explanation did not satisfy every question. He declared his own mixed heritage and the diversity of his family and told us black lives have mattered to him since the day he was born. His objection was to the order by CSA just hours before a crucial game. He was also worried that the gesture has become a token and presumably some of the players who complied did not do so out of sincerity but to save their careers. “I won’t lie I was shocked that we were told on the way to an important match that there was an instruction we had to follow or a perceived ‘or else’. I don’t think I was the only one,” he said in a statement released on Thursday morning.
Is it not rather like objecting to kissing the bride because the priest told you to do so – on principle? Does that make any sense?
Still for those who know him, De Kock is not a racist. Poll all the black players who play and work with him and they will tell you that he has done more to enhance their lives in the team than anyone else, swears Zama. He told me on the radio of an incident when a new black cameraman travelled with the team for the first time and retired to his hotel room after work too scared to fraternise with the celebrities, when who but De Kock and his wife, six packs in hand, knocked on his door to spend time with him, knowing how overwhelmed the chap must have been.
But the sexual predator doesn’t always hide from the bushes ready to pounce and slit the throat of his victims. What is more likely is an inappropriate touch or an uncomfortable word, a moment laced with innuendo and double entendre. At all times perpetrators – the really clever ones – make sure they have plausible deniability.
So similarly, can you really vouch for someone’s lack of racism? Can you really be sure? Should it not be their choices and actions, consistently over time that put the matter beyond any doubt?