A bizarre piece of news came out of the Fairest Cape recently. It was reported that the Cape Cobras, the Cape Town-based franchise cricket side, was being ‘investigated’ for not meeting transformation requirements in their XI.

The transformation requirements for franchise sides in South Africa are that six of the playing XI be ‘players of colour’, with at least three being ‘black African’.

However, the Cape Cobras, captained by former Proteas batsman Ashwell Prince, failed to meet this requirement; only two black Africans were in the playing XI (including Thando Ntini, the son of Proteas fast-bowling legend Makhaya Ntini). However, the team had exceeded the required total number of ‘players of colour’, with seven of the eleven players not being white. The Cobras had submitted a letter to the sport’s governing body, Cricket South Africa (CSA), to explain that they would be deviating from the ‘administrative’ conditions. This is apparently CSA Newspeak for ‘racial edicts’.

Now, let us not pretend that black, Indian, and coloured South Africans were not excluded from playing for South Africa, or, because of the policy of apartheid (and other racial barriers prior to that) were not prevented from reaching their full potential, sporting or otherwise.

Between 1889 (when South Africa played its first Test match) and 1970 (when South Africa was banned from playing international cricket), only one person who was not white ever played for South Africa – Buck Llewellyn. Black, coloured, and Indian South Africans were systematically excluded from playing at the highest level, from Krom Hendricks in the 1800s and Basil D’Oliviera, who became an England legend in the 1960s and 1970s, to Khaya Majola, who carried the flag for black cricket at the tail end of apartheid.

Once apartheid ended it was imperative that black, coloured, and Indian South Africans were given opportunities previously denied to them. Along with grassroots development, more blunt tools, such as quotas in age-group and provincial sides, were necessary. However, one must ask whether brute-force quotas at professional level are still necessary, considering the great progress that has been made in diversifying cricket since South Africa’s readmittance into international cricket.

Quotas are not only enforced at professional level or in representative provincial teams that play at various age-group levels. In a bizarre piece of attempted social engineering, even club sides that play in their respective province’s top leagues are expected to meet a quota of a certain number of players of colour. People who play amateur cricket recreationally should not be forced to meet racial edicts from CSA; it is bizarre and demeaning.

This is a classic case of not seeing the wood for the trees. One has only to step out of our South Africa-centric bubble to see how bizarre these diktats from CSA are. But do not think that it is only cricket that is affected by this. Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi has said he will consider implementing racial quotas for every sector to ensure ‘transformation’. Of course, this has been welcomed by the chattering classes. Those who have raised the alarm about such a dangerous policy are dismissed as reactionaries and racists.

There is no doubt that quotas have their place at the lower levels of the sport as a means of encouraging the participation of those who were once excluded on racial grounds. But it must be asked how having blunt quotas at the professional level will help players from the more than 90% of public schools that do not have a cricket pitch?

And is a black player automatically disadvantaged? Let us consider, here, the case of Dewald Pretorius and Kagiso Rabada, both fast bowlers who have played Test cricket for South Africa. While Rabada is still in the fairly early stages of what is already a phenomenal career, Pretorius was not as lucky. He played a handful of Tests for South Africa in the early part of the century, with his greatest moment probably being bowling Justin Langer off an inside edge, when Langer’s great Australian side was at the height of its powers.

What is the relevance of these two? Well, Rabada is privileged; his father is a doctor and his mother a lawyer, and he attended St Stithian’s College, one of Johannesburg’s leading private schools. Conversely, Pretorius spent much of his youth in an orphanage, having lost his father at a young age. His mother remarried an abusive man, and, when he died, Pretorius and his brother were sent to a children’s home. When Pretorius finished school, not having many options, he went to the Free State Cricket Union and asked for a job. They found him a place with the ground staff, which offered him the chance to practise his cricket, and eventually he succeeded in breaking into the Proteas’ side.

If we consider the background of each of these individuals, Rabada and Pretorius, it is clear who is advantaged and who is disadvantaged. Both of these men had to work extremely hard to play for South Africa. Test caps aren’t handed out for fun, (and Rabada is one of the leading players in the world today: something that doesn’t happen without great dedication and focus). But it is clear which of these two faced greater challenges in becoming a South African Test cricketer.

This shows the folly of using brute-force quotas like those mandated by Cricket South Africa. While skin colour is still a great predictor of whether someone is disadvantaged in this country, it is by no means a foolproof measure, as Kagiso Rabada himself shows. And when it comes down to it, assuming that black people are disadvantaged simply because of their melanin levels is actually racist.

Using quotas at professional level is unnecessary today. They simply reinforce racial thinking 25 years after the end of apartheid and demean those who are affected by them. If CSA (and the government) are serious about transformation, then it is at the grassroots that they need to make a start. For cricket, this means giving children who want to play the game the opportunity to do so, and that means ensuring schools have cricket pitches. And if the government wants true, sustainable transformation across society, the same principle must apply. Only by fixing the dismal state of our schools and giving South African children the start they need in life can we aspire to a South Africa where transformation is sustainable and leads to a prosperous country that works for all who live in it.

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