Cricket demonstrates way to true transformation

Kagiso Rabada, symbol of broader success

Cricket South Africa has become a shining light of true transformation in the country, with important lessons for government, the ruling ANC and society at large.

Not only has Kagiso Rabada exploded as a national hero and a spectacular success on the South African scene – a symbol of pride for all South Africans – but the national squad looks dramatically different from what it did 20 years ago. The sport also demonstrated how the scourge of corruption should be dealt with whenever it rears its ugly head.

First up, there can be no doubt that the 20-year-old Rabada is in the national squad on absolute merit, natural ability that came into full bloom – no token quotas needed – and a true inspiration for any young aspiring sports star, never mind their personal background.

Secondly it is noteworthy that with South Africa’s first tour abroad, to England in 1994, after the anti-apartheid international sporting ban fell away, the 14-man touring squad was an all-white group. Of the 25 players that have been part of the national squad in recent times, 22 years later, eleven (44%) are from ‘previously disadvantaged’ communities.

Thirdly, unlike what happens in the government/political sphere and often in business and other circles, when corruption in the sport – in the form of attempted match fixing –recently reared its head, cricket’s leadership moved quickly and decisively, and slapped 20-year ban on a played involved.

Minister of sport

South Africa’s Minister of Sport and Recreation, Fikile Mbalula, should be commended for his statement last week, welcoming the swift response and strong action taken by Cricket South Africa (CSA) to allegations of match-fixing. He also stated that “it is indeed pleasing to watch young and exuberant players in the likes of Rabada and Bavuma coming through the ranks and naturally taking their rightful place in our provincial and national teams”.

What, however, is more important is that Mr Mbalula should do all he possibly can to persuade his colleagues in government and the ANC to take a leaf out of CSA’s book on how to deal with corruption to safeguard their own, and the country’s, reputation. Equally importantly, the road that CSA, and cricket in general, travelled to achieve true and credible transformation should be thoroughly studied to learn the wider lessons.

Starting at the bottom

The first lesson to be learned is that true and thorough transformation does not happen overnight or at the hand of quick-fix solutions like quotas or rigid targets.

Taking a closer look at the 11 ‘disadvantaged’ players, only three of them, Hashim Amla, Imran Tahir and Farhaan Behardien, were older than ten in 1994. And the present sensation, Rabada, is the first ‘born free’ – having been born in 1996 – to make it to the national squad.

Not only does it take at least a generation for transformation to take proper root, but it is also important that the foundations are laid at a very young age – never mind the racial background of the player.

Without exception, the eleven ‘disadvantaged’ players first made their mark in the game at school level and the vast majority first represented South Africa at under-19 level.

Some of them, with players like test captain AB de Villiers, Stiaan van Zyl, Dane Piedt and 25-year-old Khaya Zondo and ex-player Mark Boucher were at primary school level involved in the Bakers Biscuits Mini Cricket initiative, which has since been taken over by Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Another communality among the members of the national squad as a whole, including the eleven ‘disadvantaged’ players, is that, at least at high school level, they attended schools with a fair to strong cricket tradition.

Those of them that have done best at a young age, almost without exception, attended private schools with exceptional facilities and support systems for potential stars.

For example, Dane Piedt, like Themba Bavuma and the cricketing greats of the past, like Peter Kirsten attended the S.A. College High School (SACS), where Piedt was coached by another previous national star, spin bowler Paul Adams. Aaron Phangiso attended Christian Brothers College in Pretoria and Rabada had his high school days at St Stithians Boys College in Johannesburg, which also produced New Zealand’s Grant Elliot and England’s Michael Lumb.

Any kid, never mind his racial background, who ends up at a school in the platteland or wherever, without a cricket tradition or who is not in a position or privileged enough to attend one of these prestige schools, has a disadvantage.  

The position, background, status and resources of one’s family also have a strong influence. Rabada’s father, like AB de Villiers’s father, is a medical doctor, assuring him a privileged upbringing.

Making of a star

The core lesson is that a number of interacting factors play a role in the making of a sport star, but most importantly, the basic developmental and support structures must be in place from an early age.

The same is true of a nation and all its formations in all walks of live. Leaders at all levels and sectors of the South African household will do well to study what has happened in South African cricket and learn and implement the lessons from it. It will go a long way towards making us a winning nation.

An afterthought, not only has Rabada become an inspiration to all young aspiring sport stars, but there is also powerful symbolism in his first name, Kagiso. In Tswana, his mother tongue, it means ‘peace’.

by Piet Coetzer

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