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The Road to Exile

The Road to Exile

After many months of anticipation the World Cup in South Africa is upon us. The first group matches have been completed and the tournament is beginning to take shape. The long build up is forgotten. It seems to me that history, and recent history at that, has also been forgotten which, to someone whose childhood saw the landmark events that occurred as the 1960’s gave way to the 1970’s, seems unfortunate. Amongst those, mostly long deceased, who are rightly villified over South Africa’s past there are still more, some still with us, who deserve our respect and this feature is a reminder of how, as far as South Africa is concerned, the country got to where it is today.

The first white settlement in Southern Africa was established as long ago as 1652. Those earliest settlers were Dutch and it was from them that the Afrikaaner people originated. British settlers came too but did not arrive in significant numbers until the nineteenth century. There were tensions between the Afrikaaners and the British that eventually erupted into the two Boer Wars that were fought towards the end of Queen Victoria’s long reign. After a great deal of bloodshed the British were successful and increasing numbers of British immigrants began arriving after 1902, when the second conflict ended. By 1970 approximately 40% of white South Africans were English speaking.

Eight years after her victory in the second Boer War Britain granted South Africa independence with the passing of the Act of Union in 1910. This was the legislation which, while apartheid was still some way off, created legal racial discrimination in South Africa. The Act placed all whites on an equal footing, restricted those entitled to vote to adult white males and prevented non-whites entering Parliament. It was 1948, when the Afrikaaner Nationalists won control in an election, that the most contemptable injustices became enshrined in law. Legislation was introduced to provide for the separate development of white and non-white South Africans and apartheid was born.

When apartheid began in earnest the world was, perhaps, too busy recovering from the ravages of the Second World War to take as much notice as it might have done of what was happening in Southern Africa. Initially there was little condemnation and sporting competition in particular carried on much as it had done previously. By 1960 however the world had looked again at South Africa and did not like what it saw. In a sporting context the Reverend David Sheppard, a fine batsman who had considerable success at Test level with England in the 1950’s, refused to play against the 1960 South African tourists. In 1961 South Africa left the British Commonwealth and the ICC as well. In 1965 attitudes were still hardening – the “Voice of Cricket”, John Arlott, refused to commentate on the matches involving the South African touring team of that year.

It is not the purpose of this feature to explain in any detail the intricacies of the apartheid laws but their insidious nature is demonstrated particularly starkly in a sporting context, although, on this occasion, not by a cricketer (despite the D’Oliveira controversy being just around the corner), but by a golfer.

Sewsunker “Papwa” Sewgolum was of Indian origin. Apartheid prevented him from playing golf on white only golf courses but he was allowed to act as a caddy for white golfers and that was a way in which he would supplement his meagre income. Eventually, and illegally, Papwa demonstrated a shot to one of his clients with such consummate skill, despite the unconventional technique that to this day bears his name, that he was “discovered”. Papwa’s mentor took him to the 1960 Dutch Open which he won, and successfully defended in 1961. He won the tournament again in 1963. Back in South Africa, amidst much resistance, he was eventually allowed to compete in the previously white only Natal Open in 1963 which he won, thus becoming the first person of colour to win a professional golf tournament in South Africa. In 1965 the famous white South African golfer, Gary Player, was at the peak of his powers. Player had won all four of golf’s major championships and was the reigning US Open Champion, but he could not beat Papwa in the 1965 Natal Open.

Papwa’s victory in 1965 made headlines the world over, but not for golfing reasons. In 1963 there had not been a problem and, in the usual way, Papwa was handed his trophy at the outdoor prizegiving. In 1965 however it was raining hard. The prizegiving was moved indoors but, while Papwa’s fellow Indians could and did work in menial capacities inside the clubhouse, apartheid made it illegal for him to step inside to take part in the ceremony. Photographs of him receiving the trophy, through an open window in the pouring rain, while the whites sat snugly inside, caused an international outcry and sporting sanctions against the Republic began. Sadly it was Papwa who paid the price as in 1966 he was banned from all South African tournaments and, to effectively prevent him earning a living from his skills abroad, his passport was withdrawn. Papwa died from a heart attack, in difficult circumstances, in 1978. He was just 48 years of age.

The South African Government’s attitude to mixed sport within the country was set out by their Prime Minister, B J Vorster, in April 1967. He stated unequivocally that the policy inside the country was that there would be no mixed competition irrespective of how good the participants were. He went on “In respect of this principle we are not prepared to compromise, we are not prepared to negotiate, and we are not prepared to make any concessions”.

In the same speech Vorster went on to say “The demand has been put to us that our Springbok team would not be welcomed unless it included members of all racial groups. If that demand is made a condition of the continuation of sporting relations, I say we are not prepared to meet it because it is our affair and ours alone”. At this stage, April 1967, it was however conceded by Vorster that, provided there had been no political interference calculated to harm relationships between countries or between groups inside the Republic, that mixed teams from abroad would be accepted.

As far as cricket was concerned it was the D’Oliveira affair that was to be the major stumbling block. D’Oliveira’s story is well known. He was a Cape Coloured and a cricketer who carried all before him in non-white South African cricket in the 1950’s. With assistance from, amongst others, John Arlott, he came to England in 1960 to take up a professional contract with Middleton of the Central Lancashire League. By 1965, a five year residential qualification completed, he made his First Class debut for Worcestershire. He had an outstanding season for the Midland County as they retained the County Championship they had won the year before for the first time and, by 1966, he was playing Test cricket for England against the West Indies.

By 1968 D’Oliveira had however lost his Test place. He did not enjoy a particularly good tour of the West Indies in 1967/68 and was dropped after England’s defeat in the first Ashes Test of the following summer. Despite what would appear to be a perfectly sound case on purely cricketing grounds there were many who felt he had been dropped for political reasons. As far back as January 1967 the Labour Sports Minister, Denis Howell, had told an exultant House of Commons that the 1968/69 trip to South Africa would not take place if there were any moves to ban him.

Curiously, in view of the apparent assurances given by Vorster in April 1967, and which are referred to above, at the same time as Howell was making his speech the South African Minister of the Interior, Piet Le Roux, had said “We will not allow mixed teams to play against our white teams over here. If this player is chosen, he would not be allowed to come here. Our policy is well known here and overseas”. Perhaps Vorster’s words, uttered three months later, were intended as a sop to those outside the Cape who sympathised with his Government’s views – certainly they turned out to be empty ones.

It was cloak and dagger from then on. Most indications initially seemed to be that D’Oliveira would be allowed into South Africa if selected although, with the Ashes series in full swing, Lord Cobham, the former President of the MCC, was asked to visit Vorster while travelling in South Africa. He reported back to the MCC that the indication that he had received was that if D’Oliveira were selected then the tour would probably not go ahead. Vorster had clearly changed his mind or, more likely, felt he was in a stronger position the nearer the tour became.

There were other machinations going on as some tried to persuade D’Oliveira to make himself available for selection for South Africa rather than England. Others tried to, effectively, sign him up to do something else so he would make himself unavailable for either side. To the plotters frustration D’Oliveira refused to do or say anything that might compromise his prospects of being selected to play for his adopted country.

There must have been many that hoped that with his Test place had gone any prospect of D’Oliveira being selected for the tour. He remained out of the selectors’ thoughts for the rest of the summer and his opportunity to stake a claim seemed to have gone when he was left out of the team for the fifth and final Test. In the event however the Northamptonshire batsman, Roger Prideaux, was unwell and D’Oliveira was a late call up to replace him. There was some good fortune along the way but D’Oliveira scored 158 in the England first innings and a substantial victory to square the series meant that he was right back in contention for a place in the touring party.

Despite a ringing endorsement from the man who was to be captain, Colin Cowdrey, D’Oliveira was not selected. In a move that reeked of indecisiveness when one of the party, Tom Cartwright, subsequently withdrew through injury D’Oliveira was then selected. Taken at face value this move simply did not make sense. D’Oliveira was a front line batsman and occasionally effective medium pace bowler whereas Cartwright was the opposite. The logical replacement for Cartwright would have been Essex all rounder Barry Knight who had replaced D’Oliveira in the side for the second test against Australia. Knight was a decent fast medium bowler and useful batsman and much more a like for like replacement for Cartwright. Crucially however Knight had, towards the end of the 1968 summer, been the subject of a somewhat lurid article in a Sunday newspaper giving details of his broken marriage, bankrupt business and fragile state of mind which, ultimately, the selectors quite justifiably felt ruled him out.

With D’Oliveira selected the 1968/69 tour was indeed doomed. The South African Government refused to admit him to the country. Equally the MCC refused to be dictated to on matters of team selection and that was that. The next flashpoint was to be the next South African visit to England which was scheduled for the summer of 1970.

England’s visitors in 1969 were New Zealand and West Indies and they were not unduly stretched in recording 2-0 victories in the two three Test series. Initially few noticed, as the season concluded, the fixture list for 1970 being published showing a full five Test series against South Africa who, in the traditional way, were also due to play all of the counties. The controversy did not really begin until Mr Howell, still Minister for Sport, said on television in October 1969 that the South Africans “should stay away from Britain”. On the same evening the President of the South African Cricket Association, former captain Jack Cheetham, made it clear that South Africa would be touring. Amidst these powerful exchanges Billy Griffith, Secretary of the MCC said, somewhat naively and not for the last time, that more good would be done by maintaining sporting links than cutting them.

Cricket had a glimpse of what might follow during that winter of 1969/70 when the South African Rugby Union side toured. There was widespread trouble, protests and arrests and by mid December nearly seventy Police Officers had been injured. Cricket wanted the 1970 tour to go ahead if for no other reason than the counties needed the income, but by now it was clear that any potential profit would be wiped out by the policing and other security costs that would be involved. Despite this the Cricket Council confirmed again on 27 November 1969 that the tour would be going ahead.

There was a two day meeting of the Test and County Cricket Board fixed for 10 and 11 December 1969. The Cricket Council’s decision was endorsed. In response Cheetham announced that future South African teams would be selected “on merit” and “irrespective of colour considerations”. These were meaningless words. There were, at that stage, no coloured cricketers good enough to gain selection and everyone knew that the Government would not have permitted it even if there were.

Events then began to take a turn quite outside the experience of the cricketing authorities in England. Overnight on 19/20 January 1970 there was a co-ordinated action which saw anti-apartheid attacks made on a dozen county grounds up and down the country. Sports Minister Howell and Home Secretary Jim Callaghan continued to try and put pressure on the authorities, but after a visit from a South African delegation the tour was confirmed once again albeit on a shortened basis of just 12 matches. South Africa duly went on to announce their selected squad. It was a 14 man party under the captaincy of Ali Bacher. Unsurprisingly all were white.

His Home Secretary and Sports Minister having failed in their mission the Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, went on television on 16 April 1970 expressing the view that the MCC had made “a very ill judged decision” in inviting the South Africans. He went on to, seemingly, invite further problems for the cricketing authorities by saying “Everyone should be free to demonstrate against apartheid – I hope people will feel free to do so”. Wilson did say that such protests should not be violent but his words were clearly intended to fan the flames.

Various threats were made and the TCCB took the remarkable step of writing to players informing them that those who played for England or who appeared against the tourists for those county sides whose fixtures remained would have their lives insured for GBP15,000. Lancashire’s two overseas players, Clive Lloyd and Farokh Engineer, were two of those who had been threatened with violence if they played for the Red Rose County in their proposed match against the tourists.

On 14 May 1970 the Government tried again and a debate took place in the House of Commons on the subject of the tour. Howell spoke passionately once again against the tour. He stressed four vital questions that needed to be considered. Those were firstly the effect of the proposed tour on racial harmony, secondly questions of law and order, thirdly the implications for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games and finally the long term interests of sport in general. Home Secretary Callaghan supported his Sports Minister and others made pleas in the cause of cancellation. There were still a few who supported the tour and trotted out the usual justifications amongst them the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Reginald Maudling, who came out with the simply breathtaking argument “It is a positive gain to encourage people to come here and play games with us so that they are able to see the freedom and tolerance in this country. Let them learn from our system, a system that is based on merit”.

It was less than three weeks before the tourists were due to arrive but the tide was turning. Almost straight away after the Commons debate South Africa became the first nation ever to be expelled from the Olympic movement and public opinion was greatly influenced by that. The Archbishop of Canterbury expressed his opposition and it was made known that the Queen, personally, was opposed to the tour and that if it did take place there would be no Royal visit to Lords. The West Indies Board of Control added their voice to the clamour as did the Race Relations Board. Next, on 18 May 1970, a further meeting of the Cricket Council was held which continued deep into the night. Despite everything the verdict was that the tour should continue. That announcement was made the following day and, two days later on 21 May, the Cricket Council were at the Home Office having been “invited” to attend a meeting with Mr Callaghan. Finally Callaghan, in a scene that had there been a less momentous subject matter must surely have been one that could have formed the basis for an episode of “Yes, Prime Minister”, “requested” again that the Council withdraw their invitation to the South African Cricket Association. The cancellation came the following day. The Cricket Council issued a statement explaining the nature of the request received from the Government and stating that “With deep regret the Council were of the opinion that they had no alternative but to accede to this request”.

The England Football Team were engaged in the summer of 1970 defending, in Mexico, the World Cup they had won so famously in 1966. The cricketing authorities rapidly arranged a series of five matches to be played between England and what was styled as a Rest of the World Eleven. The Rest’s side contained five of the men selected for the South African touring party and some excellent cricket was played in a series which, not surprisingly in view of the strength of their side, the Rest won by four matches to one. At the time the matches were given Test status although that has subsequently been rescinded.

For South African sport the end was in sight. International opposition to apartheid was becoming overwhelming and their last hope was that the invitation to send a touring party to Australia in 1971/72 would not be withdrawn. The South African Cricket Association knew that if the tour was to go ahead then something would have to change and they sought permission from the Government to select the two leading non-white cricketers for the touring party. Inevitably the request was turned down and the players realised that their international careers were almost over.

As a last throw of the dice the players themselves decided to make a public demonstration in support of their Association. The stage chosen was Newlands where, as part of the tenth anniversary celebrations of the founding of the Republic, a match was to be played between the Currie Cup Champions, Transvaal, and a Rest of South Africa side. The touring team for Australia was due to be announced at the end of the game. The initial plan had been to simply boycott the match but ultimately a rather different tack was taken. The Transvaal side batted first and it fell to Mike Procter to open the bowling for the Rest. Procter sent down the first delivery of the match to Barry Richards who took a comfortable single from it. Immediately the single was completed all of the players headed straight back to the pavilion leaving both umpires and the large crowd confused. What the players then did was to hand a statement to the press box after which they returned to the middle and the game continued. The statement simply said: “We cricketers feel that the time has come for an expression of our views. We fully support the South African Cricket Association’s application to include non-whites on the tour to Australia if good enough and, furthermore, subscribe to merit being the only criteria on the cricket field”.

At the game’s conclusion the touring party was duly announced and consisted of 15 players, all of them white. The South Africans had beaten Australia 4-0 in their previous encounter at home in 1969/70 and the team selected for Australia was by some distance the finest that South Africa had ever had. Inevitably, in the light of prevailing international opinion, the invitation to tour was withdrawn by Australia and the tour did not take place. The likes of Graeme Pollock, Barry Richards, Mike Procter and Eddie Barlow never played Test cricket again. Vintcent Van Der Bijl and Clive Rice never did play a Test match.

Twenty years later, after much controversy, change and seismic political upheaval a new, multi-racial South Africa, began to play international sport again. A further twenty years on and the new South Africa is playing host to the greatest global sporting event there is – surely the most compelling evidence there can be that unarmed protest can, and does, bring about fundamental change in people’s lives.


Martin, you are a great writer.

Comment by Pratters | 12:00am GMT 16 June 2010

Very good – thank you for writing it. The tragic story of their non-white golfer was particularly enlightening.

Comment by wpdavid | 12:00am GMT 17 June 2010

As a sort of sequel, the book Return of the Prodigal by (iirc) Colin Bryson, about the first year of South Africa’s return to international cricket, is quite a good read.

Comment by stumpski | 12:00am GMT 20 June 2010

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