The story of SA’s black cricketers

24 July 2003

“The Story of an African Game”, the first book to cover in detail the history and experiences of black African cricketers in South Africa, was launched in Pretoria this week.

Drawing on rare 19th century African-language newspaper sources, family photo albums and extensive interviews, author Professor Andre Odendaal provides an intimate account of a rich cricketing culture that began with the establishment of the first black mission school cricket sides and clubs in the 1850s.

Odendaal demonstrates, through colourful stories and vivid photographs, that the game has been played with passion and commitment by black South Africans in inter-town tournaments, village games and national bodies for well over 100 years in a parallel, but largely hidden, tradition to that of their white counterparts.

The publication, commissioned by the United Cricket Board of SA, is dedicated to the late Khaya Majola, who served as the UCB’s director of amateur cricket before his death in 2000.

In the book, the story of the Majola family emerges as a vivid example of the deep commitments and unshakeable sense of community that sustained African sport during the apartheid years, and of a family who have continued to serve cricket with commitment since unity.

Foreword by Mandela
In his foreword to the 370-page coffee-table book, former President Nelson Mandela writes: “During the apartheid era, black people were deliberately erased from history, and their experiences were negated. Now, as we enjoy the benefits of a hard-fought democracy, it is important to correct these exclusions. This book, focusing on one small aspect of our national life, shows how big they have been.”

Odendaal “corrects these exclusions” in intricate detail, demonstrating a clear understanding of cricket’s effect on black society for over a century. He traces the game through mission schools like Loveday and Healdtown right through to its contribution to the resistance to apartheid and the creation of unity towards the end of the 20th century.

Spanning 150 years, “The Story of an African Game” tells the stories of a previously hidden tradition which stretched the boundaries imposed by an oppressive society.

Odendaal played first-class cricket in South Africa and England in the 1980s, and was the only white first-class cricketer to join the non-racial South African Cricket Board during the apartheid years. He received a Presidential Sport Award from President Thabo Mbeki in March.

An honorary professor in history and heritage studies at the University of the Western Cape, Odendaal started reading the first isiXhosa newspaper, Imvo Zabantsundu – published in the 1840s – when he was studying for his PhD on the early history of black politics.

That is when he came across an Imvo editorial arguing that white South Africans needed to realise that blacks were “rough diamonds” that could become as polished as anybody else in playing cricket, and in all other aspects of life, if given the chance.

Odendaal said it was wonderful to be able to celebrate the country’s richness in cricket talent, and the possibilities and potential for the future.

Untold stories
Receiving the first copy of the book from UCB CEO Gerald Majola this week, Sport and Recreation Minister Ngconde Balfour said: “Despite the major strides made by the game of cricket, there remained a vacuum of untold stories – until now … The book lays to rest the myths that blacks have no real culture or tradition of cricket and rugby.”

Balfour said the book captured the glory, the struggles and the heartache of the country’s unheralded black cricketers.

“It is an inspiring story that will both enthrall and inform. In a real sense, it restores and cements the dignity and pride of generations of cricketers who were denied the opportunity to play the game they loved in circumstances that others took for granted.”

The book, published by David Philip, will be available in bookshops countrywide from early August. The book’s official launch will be celebrated in the Eastern Cape on Heritage Day, 24 September 2003.

SouthAfrica.info reporter

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