Opinion: New ball, same old biltong: Today at Lord's South African exiles face their own Tebbit test

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Even my dentist asked if I could get tickets. He pushed the crown back in and said 'Keep your jaw clamped until the amalgam is hard, and then 'we, meaning me and him and Kepler, were going to knock the stuffing out of the Brits. I moved my jaw and was told to hold it another minute, and when I was liberated I said I hoped 'we destroyed the Spring. . .er. . .Proteas (the name Springbok has been consigned to the post-apartheid dustbin).

Twenty-six years in London, and I have passed the Tebbit litmus test. I'm not proud of it, it's just the way it is. I am for England and against the 'Boks ('scuse me, the Proteas). It was easy enough during the apartheid years, with my allegiance in limbo. Came the thaw, and with Mandela's blessing, sporting ties were resumed. Yet here they are again for the first time since my old college mate Pete van der Merwe (a hard 'V' to show he's not an Afrikaner) led them on to the field at Lord's in 1965, and the only thing that seems to have changed is the flag fluttering over the Long Room. The laws have been repealed, but the players are still white to a man.

'What do you mean?' says Lionel Ngakane, film-maker and former exile, 'it's our team, as long as it's picked according to the new policies. Remember Steve Tshwete (minister of sport) was on Robben Island. But sure, because of the past, we still haven't got the best. . .'

Lionel's not the only one. The 10, maybe 20,000 South African-born Londoners won't all be at Lord's today - the dental, legal and import-export businesses would be at a standstill - but most will be rooting for Wessels and the lads. I'm told a learned judge of appeal will have his forensic reveries interrupted with updates of the match progress.

But if you do find a ticket, be prepared for those long-forgotten sensations - an aroma floating up from behind the Compton stand will be boerewors illicitly braaied (barbecued) on a portable brazier. If the fellow in the safari suit and comb in sock offers you a root-like substance when Stewart is caught at deep fine leg, try it, it's biltong, the Voortrekkers' dried meat. If he smokes it, move away, for dagga (mari-juana) is heady stuff. You might find yourself shouting 'Vrystaat', a reference to a former Boer Republic, implying things are not going well for the Bok. . .er. . .Proteas. If he waves the old apartheid flag, ask courteously what it is.

And yet, I should be there among them. My father weaned me on the great game. My school, Wynberg Boys' High, produced more than its share of rugger and cricket Springboks. . .apart from Allan Lamb and Garth le Roux and the present team's amiable manager, Fritz Bing, a prefect when I was in standard seven. I skippered the third team in an unbeaten season. And when my father brought me to England in 1952, we got off the Union Castle liner on the Friday and were watching Vinoo Mankad score a century at Lord's the next day. We shared the Berners Hotel with the Indian squad, so I could show my schoolmates the autographs of players whose sons and grandsons would one day be allowed to play against a post-apartheid team.

Then came the rift. My father considered Peter Hain and Basil D'Oliveira traitors, because he couldn't sit under the Oaks at Newlands and see Graeme Pollock and Barry Richards destroy the Brits and Aussies.

Instead South Africa's might-have-been heroes were sporting themselves around the globe with mercenary professionalism. Greigy was captain of England, Lamb and Robin Smith chose their dads' nationality, while Kepler was suddenly Australian, returning 'home' only 'after a dispute over financial terms'. There were also Mike Procter and Barry Richards, Peter Kirsten and Clive Rice, Eddie Barlow and Vince van der Bijl and dozens more who could at least play first-class cricket somewhere.

But not T Hendricks, the Malay fast bowler chosen to tour England with the first South African party in 1894, but omitted because of 'the greatest pressure by those in high authority in Cape Colony'. No, the Afrikaners didn't discover the colour bar. The 'bacon and eggs' in charge of cricket in South Africa were the blood-brothers of those who ran the MCC, and they did blow-all to insist that the game become non-racial out there.

Then came Basil D'Oliveira, representing the sportsmen who never made it because they were too dark. Dolly was as unpolitical as you may wish to find. When he was chosen to tour South Africa with the team of his adopted country, they simply cancelled the tour, a Hendricks in reverse. He would have exposed the myth that blacks were not good enough to be Springboks. So this morning, when the Spring. . .agh, man. . .Proteas walk on to the hallowed turf, give a clap. They're not yet Brazil, an effortless

harmony of life and sport. The legacy of apartheid will take years to overcome. It was intended to do so. But for the moment, let's enjoy Jonty and Hansie and Fanie and the rest of the er, Springteas.

I shall be cycling in the flatlands. With a Walkman to my ear.

(Photograph omitted)

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