CAPE TOWN – Saait Magiet has been lauded by many of his peers and supporters of non-racial sport during apartheid.
But there will be many South Africans who may not even have heard of the name Saait Magiet, let alone know what a world-class cricketer (and quality rugby player) he had been, following his death at the age of 66 while on holiday in Malaysia last week.
Magiet, who suffered a heart attack and was laid to rest in Constantia on Sunday – with the janazah (funeral) attended by thousands of people – was a top-class all-rounder, say his teammates and opponents alike.
Some have likened him to Ian Botham and Garfield Sobers – regarded as the best all-rounders in history – as he was a hard-hitting batsman and devastating swing bowler, and also due to his ability to contribute with the bat and the ball in pressure situations.
From the early 1970s to after unity in 1991, Magiet played for Primrose Cricket Club, Western Province and the SA Cricket Board teams, captaining the national side in 1987 and 1991.
Two men who were closest to him were his brothers Mogamat and Rushdi – the former Proteas selection convenor.
Chatting to them after Saait had been buried at the Spaanchemat River Muslim Cemetery in Constantia, you get a sense of sadness and happiness.
Sadness, because their beloved sibling is gone. Perhaps also because he never got the opportunity to showcase his remarkable talents on the world stage.
Happiness, because of the fond memories they have of him – on and off the sports field.
“For the past six months now, Saait and his wife came to visit me three times a week, and we enjoyed every minute that we were together, like we did all our lives,” Mogamat tells IOL Sport.
“Saait will be missed. Every day when he was in Malaysia, he was in the water and would tell his wife: ‘Nazli, take a photo and send it to Mogamat! Send it to Mogamat!’
“He lived his life to the fullest. Really. Unassuming. Life was easy for him. Very passionate about his cricket, rugby and his family. He lived for his family. But he never took life seriously, took everything in his stride.
“One woman said to me this morning: ‘I never knew Saait was so famous.’ And that was his wife’s son-in-law’s mother. ‘He was then so plat oppie grond (down-to-earth)’. But that was the humility that my brother had.
“Of course (his death is sad), it’s something that we can’t deny. And it is something that Allah our Maker has ordained, if He decides that was the time for Saait to go.
“We all have to go. That’s one thing we can’t run away from – we can run away from a scrum, or wherever… It’s a sadness, but also it gives us joy that he has made a mark in society.”
On the field, Mogamat said Saait was a formidable figure with bat and ball. “He could swing the ball. He was in the style of Botham, man – when they needed runs, he would score, and the same with the wickets. He had the same action as Jeff Thomson of Australia. His run-up was smooth…
“I want to make a comment: We played United, and Salie Green said ‘Hey, you can’t bowl, man’ to Saait. ‘You can’t hurt me’. Saait bowled a 10-ball over – when it was still eight-ball overs. I think he bowled a 12-ball over – and every ball, he hit Salie! Salie was purple right around!
“When we practised, I also said one night to him: ‘Saait, jy kan my nie raak boul nie’ (You can’t hit me with the ball). After the fourth ball, I said ‘Okay, I’m taking it back!’”
Saait Magiet had superb bowling figures in non-racial cricket under the auspices of the SA Cricket Board. In 67 matches, he took 171 wickets at an average of 12.99, and scored 2 650 runs at 29.12.
He was so good that the white SA Cricket Association (later the SA Cricket Union) were keen to see him in action in a “mixed” team at the Wanderers, as they tried to get “normal cricket” going and negotiated with SA Cricket Board president Rachid Varachia.
The Magiets, though, were having none of it.
“We also had Varachia, trying to get Saait to play. I chased him away, several times – out of our dressing room in Joburg as well. I told him ‘You are not wanted in this dressing room’ because he tried to recruit the players over to the other side.
“That is our life, it was our life. We stood by our principles. We come from Livingstone – a strong school, principled school, politically very strong. We all learned from it, and we will never give up. Never.”
Was it ever difficult to say no to go to the “other side”?
“It wasn’t difficult for us to say no. We believed that that situation wasn’t good enough. I can tell you in 1975, the fixtures were all drawn up to go over (to play against the white SA Cricket Association teams), and I said to Hassan Howa: Not on your bloody life!
“You can have your officials, but you are not going to have the players. And the chairman of Green Point at the time turned blood-red – almost as if to say, ‘There goes my whole vision’.
“In 1990, it was different, as Nelson (Mandela) promised us that we would never go back to the apartheid system. So on that basis, I think we sort of half-agreed to play.
“We should just have been stronger in our negotiations. But you must understand that in the last 10 years, our cricket went down just like that – because they grabbed all our top players, and we had no spectators anymore.
“So, we were in a very bad state – not Province so much, but Eastern Province, Natal and Transvaal, they were very weak.”
Unity in cricket in 1991 came too late for Saait Magiet, but even at the age of 40, he made one of the big hitters of the “other side” sit up and take notice.
“He was an amazing cricketer, and in actual fact, an amazing ball-player, as he was a very good rugby player too. There was always something special coming from Saait – tremendous catches,” says Rushdi.
“He played for Primrose first team (after unity), with Adrian Kuiper. They played together.
“I remember one game at Tygers’ field, Saait and Adrian batted together. Saait hit about three or four sixes over the tennis courts there – Adrian couldn’t believe it and said he had never seen something like that. Saait scored a hundred that day. He still enjoyed the last few seasons (at Primrose).
“Saait wasn’t a guy who trained a lot, but he was an amazingly fit person – naturally strong person. Very easygoing, very quiet, didn’t say much… it runs in my family. He was a very strong person inside. Very determined on the field. You would feel his tackle.”