CAPE TOWN – There was hardly a murmur from the general SA sporting public and fraternity following the death of Saait Magiet on July 17.
Who’s that, you may ask? Well, that is exactly the problem I have.
It is the reason why there are so many ‘Cape Crusaders’ and All Black supporters in Cape Town.
It is also the reason why there are still sports lovers in this country who hope that the Proteas and Springboks lose.
Why? Because those communities have not been made to feel part of the supposedly democratic, non-racial sporting administrations that we currently have – particularly in rugby and cricket.
Even the usually on-the-ball Cricket South Africa dropped a catch following Magiet’s passing at the age of 66, due to a heart attack in Malaysia.
The Proteas played the second Test against Sri Lanka in Colombo on July 20, just three days after the death of Magiet.
Yet CSA didn’t instruct the Proteas to honour Magiet – the best South African all-rounder of his era (1970s and 80s), and captain of the non-racial SA Cricket Board – by wearing black armbands at the Sinhalese Sports Club.
The Proteas actually did wear black armbands in Colombo, but that was for spinner Tabraiz Shamsi’s father, who passed away recently.
But surely Magiet should’ve been acknowledged as well?
In 2013, following the deaths of apartheid-era Springbok cricketers Neil Adcock and Peter van der Merwe, the Proteas team also didn’t wear black armbands.
Proteas team manager Mohammed Moosajee explained to Cricinfo at the time: “The player policy is that they will consider wearing black armbands if someone who is close to the team and management from a family perspective, or someone who has been involved in CSA, especially post-unity, dies.
“If you open it up further than that, you’ve got to remember the sensitivities on both sides. With sensitivities on both sides, whom do you say yes to?”
Is that the right way to go about it, especially when it comes to black players who were denied an opportunity to represent their country due to the colour of their skin? I’m not so sure…
And that, unfortunately, has been the story of non-racial sport since readmission and unity – the story of ‘black cricket’ not being told.
When I interviewed Rushdi Magiet, another sporting stalwart and Saait’s older brother, he made an interesting comment of the negotiations that led to South Africa being readmitted to international cricket in 1991.
That was followed by the short ODI tour to India, where the SA team were led by Clive Rice.
Of course, none of the players from the SA Cricket Board made the all-white 14-man squad – although Western Province’s Faiek Davids and Hussein Manack of Transvaal were taken along as “development players”.
“In 1990, it was different (compared to previous discussions around unity), 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 (as a unified cricket body),” Rushdi said.
“We should just have been stronger in our negotiations.”
And those concessions made in the unity talks by Krish Mackerdhuj’s SA Cricket Board to the SA Cricket Union run by Geoff Dakin are still being felt today.
Despite the ongoing push for transformation in cricket, and some significant strides being made, it is still difficult for a child from a township or underprivileged background to make it to the top.
Some of those exceptions who have – such as Makhaya Ntini, Herschelle Gibbs, Hashim Amla and Kagiso Rabada – got there by attending top cricket schools.
But true unity in cricket should’ve started all the way back in 1991, where the top players from the SACB fold should’ve been given equal opportunities to represent their province and country under the new United Cricket Board of South Africa.
And heroes from the past, such as Saait Magiet, Basil D’Oliveira, Ben Malamba, Eric and Khaya Majola, Abduragmaan ‘Lefty’ Adams, Vincent Barnes, Frank Roro and others should’ve been given a proper place in the history of South African cricket.
In fact, only three black cricketers made a Cricket SA ‘Cricketers of the Century’ top-10 list in 2000: D’Oliveira, Roro and Eric Petersen, with Graeme Pollock chosen as the SA Cricketer of the Century.
Advocate Norman Arendse feels that in his opinion, Magiet was second only to Basil D’Oliveira as a cricketer in SACB history – high praise indeed.
But how accurate was that top 10, considering the infrastructure, resources and opportunities that ‘white cricket’ had?
What can and should be done is to continually tell the stories and celebrate the greats of yesteryear – of all races, and not just one – to inspire future generations.
And please, don’t tell people in those communities to “get over it and move on”, as here we are in 2018 still having to enforce quotas and targets in our sports teams for black players to get a fair chance.
In response to a question about telling these stories, Arendse – a Cricket SA board member – said: “As Cricket South Africa, we have for quite a few years now made a conscious effort to recognise the contributions of people like Saait.
“Of course he was honoured by President Mbeki a few years ago, so that hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“At our recent indaba, we again focused on our history of cricket, because it’s so important for us to know where we come from, and where we are going to.
“But in terms of profile, I think we can do a lot more by profiling people like Saait and Lefty and Rushdi, and many others. Faiek Davids, all these guys who were here today.
“But there’s not even a magazine programme on SuperSport. There seems to be a bias towards men and women who played during those Struggle years in Gauteng, in the Joburg area.
“But we forget that there are other greats. I know some of them contacted Rushdi – Mustapha Khan, Yusuf Garda from Lenasia – all great people that people don’t know about.
“Those involved in the administration of the game, we try our best to keep their name alive, their spirit alive, their contributions alive – because it was so important.
“And they actually drive us. I’m involved in cricket and football because I am trying to make my contribution.”
Thousands of people linked to the historically non-racial sporting groups of the past attended Saait Magiet’s funeral last Sunday, July 22.
And to their credit, the Western Province Cricket Association will be hosting a tribute to Magiet at Newlands on Tuesday evening.
But these are sections of the cricket fraternity who were well aware of the legend that is Saait Magiet.
It’s time the rest of South Africa got to know who he was too, and others like him...
* Ashfak Mohamed is the Digital Sports Editor at Independent Media.@ashfakmohamed