Saturday 4 October 2014

Born this day ... Basil D'Oliveira

Basil D'Oliveira (1931-2011), "the" cricket legend, was born this day in 1931. He moved to England in the 1960s where he made his Test debut. In 1967, Peter le Roux, South Africa's interior minister, warned England not to choose D'Oliveira for their 1968 tour as he would not be admitted to the country (via).
"Our policy is clear. We will not allow mixed teams to play against our white teams here. If this player were chosen, he would not be allowed to come here. That is our policy. It is well known here and overseas." Peter le Roux, minister of the interior (via Gemmell, 2004)

South Africa's Prime Minister, John Vorster, repeated the warning. Basil D'Oliveira was excluded, a choice that was also described as "deeply suspicious" and a "dreadful mistake". When a bowler withdrew, D'Oliveira was called up in his place. Tensions rose, the tour was called off. South Africa was invited to tour in 1970, a tour that was cancelled due to enormous pressure and anti-apartheid activism such as the "Stop the Seventy Tour" campaign led by Peter Hain (via). South Africa's cricket "tradition" was in line with its government philosophy. Refusing D'Oliveira the permission to tour drew international attention to apartheid in sport and led to a sporting boycott (Gemmell, 2004). The so-called "D'Oliveira Affair" exposed South Africa to the world as the racist state it was and turned D'Oliveira into a symbol for everything that was wrong with apartheid. "No normal sport in an abnormal society" (via) meant that South African cricket remained isolated for the following 22 years (via).

Members of the 1971 England team that lost the Oval Test and with it the series, left:  Basil D Oliveira

"I was born in Cape Town of Indian-Portuguese heritage which at that time labelled me a ‘Cape Coloured’, one of South Africa’s four major racial groups defined under apartheid. This racial segregation determined every aspect of our lives then, even down to the cricket clubs you could play for. In those days the various groups had their own sides, although all except the whites would play each other in representative matches, where the atmosphere and competition would be needle sharp. (...)"

Basil D'Oliveira playing with children in a township.

"‘Cape Coloureds’ and Whites never really mixed but I’d become inquisitive about their style of play and facilities. Whenever possible I’d go to Newlands, Cape Town’s famous stadium, to watch the great white players in Test matches. We were segregated, of course, though my envy only ran to the skills that were on display on the field, not whether or not I was sitting by a white man.
Some people often wonder how we managed to put up with apartheid, but in truth we would have been very foolish to try to buck the system. We stayed where we were meant to because the government said so! To do otherwise brought consequences."

"During the 1950’s, cricket had a massive following amongst non white communities in South Africa, which empowered me to believe I could improve myself. By the time 1960 approached however, my enthusiasm was a little more jaded as there seemed little way in which I could make a name for myself in South African cricket circles. The thoughts of playing in England nagged away at me throughout the latter part of the fifties and in 1958 I bit the bullet and did something about it. (...)"

" (...) This began a dialogue between us which was sympathetic and encouraging but we always ended the same way, I wanted to play in England, he couldn’t convince English Clubs that a man who’d picked up wickets and scored many runs in Non-white South African cricket would be a good investment on soft English wickets. I wasn’t in the first flush of youth and I’d never experienced first-class cricket. It seemed like the story was over, however in February 1960 a letter came from John that changed my life. After two years of perseverance on his behalf he achieved the near impossible – a contract with Middleton in the Central Lancashire League for one season at the princely sum of £450.00."

"I was elated but this was soon dashed when I realised that I had to find £200.00 for my airfare and pay for my digs out of the other £250.00. On top of this my wife Naomi was pregnant with Damian, but it was her encouragement alongside three true friends, an Indian, Damoo Bansda nicknamed Benny; who was a sports writer and sent a list of my performances to World Sports magazine in England. My brother in law, Frank Brache and a Muslim friend, Ishmail Adams took up my cause and got me on that plane to England. They formed a committee to raise funds for my trip, which met with some opposition from Coloureds and Blacks who felt I should know my place in life…. I have many people to thank for getting me to England and one of those was Gerald Innes, a White, former first class cricketer who defied the apartheid laws and put on a game that raised £150 alone, he sadly died of cancer at the young age of 50 in 1982. It was wonderful to see him and his white team mates walking around the ground with buckets filled with coins just like Benny and all my coloured friends."

"How can I thank those people of all creeds and colours for defying apartheid laws to get me to England? If Gerald Innes and his white colleagues had been bigoted, they wouldn’t have been willing to help someone like me from the ‘Cape Coloured’ community, and I doubt my own intimate group of friends would have been able to get the money together in time. As pressure was placed on me to become more outspoken by militant groups of all varieties over the next few decades or I was pressed for a definitive anti-white statement, I would always think of those white people who had helped me so much. (...)"

Basil D'Oliveira shows his Order of the British Empire to his son Damian and wife Naomi, Buckingham Palace, London, October 29, 1969

"I am proud of my colour, of what I’ve achieved for myself and non-whites all over the world and I dearly love my fellow citizens of Cape Town. I often think back to those days in South Africa, when I was trying to break out of the social and sporting straitjacket imposed by the colour of my skin, however my wife Naomi, has often said that I went to England at exactly the right time, because she feels my determination then to succeed was overwhelming and that I might not have developed into the player I was if things had been easier. (...)"
Basil D'Oliveira (via)

Peter Hain, leader of the campaign to stop the South African tour ('Stop the 70's Tour'), talks to one of the demonstrators in the demo against against West Indian cricketer Gary Sobers and three of his Nottinghamshire team-mates, The Oval, London, May 20, 1970 (photo, text literally via). 

Anti-Apartheid Movement supporters asked spectators to boycott the Springboks v Glamorgan cricket match at St Helen’s, Swansea, 31 June 1965 (literally via).

This young anti-apartheid supporter was asking cricket fans to support an arms embargo against South Africa outside the St Helen’s cricket ground in Swansea in August 1965. Inside the ground the all-white South African cricket team was playing Glamorgan (literally via).

- Gemmell, J. (2004) The Politics of South African Cricket. London & New York: Routledge
- photos via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via (all photographs are copyrighted by their respective owners, see links)