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Officially discriminated

Amla and the SA quota system

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KEEP WALKING: Hashim Amla leads the South African team out after the first Test against England at the Oval in July. Tall scores by the batsman helped SA wrest the No 1 ranking in Tests from England


White South Africa-born cricketers like the controversial Kevin Pietersen switched their loyalties to ply their trade in England out of perceived bitterness at the quota system in team selection adopted after apartheid rule was dismantled. But now that two coloured men, Hashim Mohammed Amla and Vernon Philander, have played leading roles in the Test series which saw South Africa replacing England as the world's No. 1 Test team, the Pietersens may like to revise their earlier opinion. It was apartheid all-whites teams which were the real ugly face of racism.

Measures like quota systems are remedies to remove inequities and create level paying fields. They are limited by time and not there for all time to come. Thanks to the quota rules, the world has seen top order batsmen like Amla and powerful bowling all-rounders like Philander emerging out of the cricket fields of South Africa. 'Mighty Hash, ' as Amla is popularly called in his country, comes from a family of Gujaratis who migrated to South Africa generations ago. A devout Muslim, he became the first South African to score a triple century (311 not out). It happened in the holy month of Ramzan, though, understandably, he abstained from fasting. Allah was merciful enough not to deny Amla his blessings during his batting marathon.

It is to the quota rule, maligned by the likes of the Pietersens, that credit must be given for the emergence in South Africa of players like Amla and Philander. Quotas for the benefit of the disadvantaged majority, however much resented by the advantaged minority, are a unifying factor. That's how we are seeing the successful transformation of the South African cricket team into a multiracial cricket force of whites, blacks and coloureds, called Proteas. After climbing to the No 1 Test position, they should now no longer be called 'chokers'.

But in this era of reconciliation, initiated by the iconic Nelson Mandela, all those who made sacrifices in the long struggle to end apartheid must not be forgotten. Spirited leaders of the SAN-ROC (South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee) like John Harris, George Singh, Dennis Brutus and Sam Ramsamy, to mention just a few, kept urging the world to sever sporting contacts with South Africa and expel it from the Olympic Games. They were punished with incarceration, their passports confiscated and were forced to flee the country. But SAN-ROC was revived in London by Brutus, a professor of English, and Ramsamy, a physical education lecturer. The rest, as they say, is history. South Africa was barred from the Olympics from 1964 to 1991.

This writer remembers the visit of Brutus in the late 1960s to urge India's cricket board and the government to mark their protest against Bill Lawry's Australian team touring South Africa. The cricket establishment may not then have responded enthusiastically, but it ultimately had to fall in line with the government policy of isolating South Africa. As a thoughtful gesture of appreciation, South Africa chose to make their first tour abroad in the early 1990s, after decades of isolation, to India. Indian passports in those apartheid years were issued with the condition that they were valid for all countries except South Africa.

It was a great day for South Africa when president Mandela appeared at the 1995 rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg in a yellow and green Springbok jersey to cheer his country's team. The moment symbolised the birth of a new democracy in South Africa after apartheid - the official system of racial discrimination - had crumbled. The beginnings of statesmanly reconciliation were on view.

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