SJN Hearings: Former Titans star Ethy Mbhalati says racial discrimination impacted his salary
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JOHANNESBURG – Ethy Mbhalati said he wouldn’t want his son to play cricket because he fears, racial discrimination is still prevalent in the sport in South Africa.
Mbhalati, testified at Cricket SA’s Social Justice and Nation Building hearings on Monday, telling ombudsman Adv Dumisa Ntsebeza and his assistants how he suffered racial discrimination throughout his career and how he felt, that the discrimination impact on his earnings.
“My son, loves cricket, and he wants to play, we play together at home, but I don’t want him to play because I don’t want him suffering the same kind of things I went through as a player. I believe that those things are still happening today,” said Mbhalati, who retired in 2016, after a 14 year long professional career, playing for Northerns and the Titans franchise.
Mbhalati went through various incidents of discrimination that he endured, including during a club fixture in Pretoria, when he was told that the only reason he was playing for the Titans was that he was black. Mbhalati said he was so upset that he left the field after complaining to the umpires and then his club side’s coach.
Eventually he was convinced to return to the field, and following a subsequent complaint heard by the Northerns Cricket Union, the player – who is white and who’s name was not mentioned on Monday – was sanctioned.
Some old wounds never truly heals,and bleed again at the slightest words. #SJNHEARINGS 🙏🏿— ethy mbhalati (@ethy81) July 16, 2021
Mbhalati also said he was struck on the back with a cellphone, thrown from the crowd during the 2013 RamSlam T20 final in Durban. Security at the time told him to ignore what happened.
Mbhalati’s testimony included a number of instances in which black players and white players travelled separately and were housed in separate hotel rooms during away games. “It became so normal for us; the white guys would all get into their combi when we were going to games, and all the black players would travel together in their own combi, we used to call ours the ‘darkie bus’. Sometimes you find that the white guys would even sit on top of their luggage in that white bus,” said Mbhalati.
That level of separation would include, how players would seat themselves together at meals.
“I would be the first player to get to breakfast, then a white player might come down too, and even though we are the only two people there, he would go and sit at a separate table and wait for the other white guys to join.”
On away trips, while white players might arrange social engagements with white players in the opposing team, black players were hardly ever invited. “You will be sitting in the changeroom the next day and you hear how nice the braai was and how nice the meat tasted and you ask yourself why you weren’t invited.”
The SJN project was established last year by Cricket SA after a call by Lungi Ngidi for the Proteas to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement, exposed an undercurrent of racism within South African cricket.
Mbhalati’s testimony also saw him slam the SA Cricketers Association – the players union – saying it was “impossible,” for that organisation to take up the fight against racial discrimination on behalf of black players. “Saca is not effective at ground level, which in my view is where most forms of discrimination occur. Saca only exists at national level and only serves the privileged,” said Mbhalati.
There are wounds that never show on the body,that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.#SJNHearings 🙏🏿— ethy mbhalati (@ethy81) July 13, 2021
Talking about the disparity in payment, he encountered over the course of his career, Mbhalati told the SJN, that when he raised the issue with Saca, he was told to go back to the CEO or coach at the union.
Mbhalati, said he never challenged his union about how much money he was being paid, even though, he found out that younger players were earning more. “It was a case of if you challenged it, you might lose that money. And I had a family that I was looking after, putting my siblings through school.”
It was only when Matthew Maynard, an Englishman who coached the Titans between 2011 and 2013, took up his plight that Mbhalati understood that he deserved to be paid more. “He asked me why I was getting (so little) money. I never asked, because if you did, that would be the end of you.
“But I was very glad for Matthew Maynard. He said (my salary) was wrong and even asked how much I wanted. He negotiated for me and I went from R300 000 to R400 000,” said Mbhalati. “I played very well that season, if it wasn’t for him I would not have got that amount of money.”