Race, 18 years after apartheid officially ended in South Africa, still holds an essential place within the discourse of this country. If you do not live in South Africa and suggest otherwise, you are being ignorant of where race is in the current South African story.
Hence why, whenever race, politics and sport are mixed, many sports lovers get rather prickly, saying politics (read race) and sport must not mix.
Being a former politics student myself, I am of the view that politics is inseparable from day-to-day life, and by extension, sport. In a world of interconnectedness, to suggest that politics and sport are separate entities that co-exist beyond each other is naive.
This perhaps helps put the current plight of Proteas “reserve” wicketkeeper Thami Tsolekile in perspective. When Mark Boucher’s career was ended through a freak injury in his first tour match on the Proteas tour of England this year (2012), many names were thrown about as to who might replace Boucher in the Test line-up.
Many media pundits thought Dane Vilas, from the Cape Cobras (formerly Western Province, based in Cape Town) would get the nod. However, it was Tsolekile who convenor of selectors Andrew Hudson appeared to anoint as the next man to wear the gloves for South Africa.
While Tsolekile has said since that he didn’t expect to play in England or Australia, he was told that he would likely wear the gloves against New Zealand. However, he was dropped all together from the Test squad, and told that his batting wasn’t good enough to strand up to the rigours of a modern Test no.7, which he didn’t agree with. Confusing isn’t it?
Tsolekile has complained that while Proteas head coach Gary Kirsten has been clear with him, the message that he has been receiving from the selectors has been mixed.
While South Africa’s batting line-up is probably in better shape fielding seven specialist batsman, the worst thing that could have happened for Tsolekile was AB de Villiers’ scoring 169 against Australia at Perth, expunging the argument that he couldn’t bat and hold the gloves at the same time.
I still believe De Villiers would be more valuable without the gloves, which brings me back to race. With Makhaya Ntini making comments recently that Tsolekile would’ve played for the Proteas if he was white, which Tsolekile admirable distanced himself from, perhaps Ntini is right. There is an onus on black sportsman, more of a unseen veneer than an obvious deduction, that they have to prove more to find themselves worthy in the still white-dominated sports of cricket and rugby in South Africa.
While I am not suggesting that Tsolekile was simply taken on tour to score political points, his poor treatment by the Proteas selectors begs the question Ntini asked: would he have played if he wasn’t black?
It’s unfair to tell Tsolekile that he wasn’t of Test standard after previously indicating that he was the next man in line. Why pick him then, if he won’t even be given a chance?
The selectors, it could be interpreted, have deceived Tsolekile to a certain degree, even going as far as giving him a national contract, while paradoxically not even letting his boots grace an international cricket field.
Thami Tsolekile has been given a raw deal.