Knocking Apartheid for Six
|Cape Town’s mayor presents Basil D’Oliveira with a local newspaper award in the ’60s.
|Picture © Sunday Times
The '60s were the heyday of apartheid, on and off the sports field. White South Africans enjoyed one of the highest standards of living in the world, while black political opposition was either in jail or banned.
Christian Nationalism decreed that the 1966 drought was God's punishment for white women wearing mini-skirts. Separate development was to be enforced at all levels within society and this included sport.
Already in 1966 New Zealand had cancelled a rugby tour to South Africa because Maori players would have been unwelcome. The colour bar was also firmly in place in South Africa's approach to international cricket. The National Party government was adamant that Springbok cricketers would not play India, Pakistan or the West Indies - a position the cricket establishment tamely accepted.
Sports minister Frank Waring summed up the National Party's fear: "If whites and non-whites start competing against each other, there will be such viciousness as has never been seen before."
Basil D'Oliveira was born in the Bo-Kaap and lived for cricket, playing many of his games on what is now the Green Point common, one of the few sports grounds open for use by "non-whites". D'Oliveira was never able to play at Newlands, the home of Western Province and South African cricket.
By 1958 Basil D'Oliveira had scored 80 centuries in the black leagues but could never test his skills at the highest international level because the national Springbok side was for whites only.
Between 1956 and 1959 D'Oliveira captained the first combined black South African side that toured Kenya and East Africa. By 1958 he had scored 80 centuries in the black leagues but could never test his skills at the highest international level because the national Springbok side was for whites only.
D'Oliveira had tried numerous times, unsuccessfully, to play professionally in England. In 1960 - at the recommendation of John Arlott, who would later become the doyen of the game's commentators - he was accepted as the replacement for West Indian fast bowler Wes Hall at Middleton in the Central Lancashire League. At the end of the season he finished at the top of the averages, ahead of West Indies cricketing legend, Garry Sobers. On his return to Cape Town, he was driven in an open car through Cape Town and the mayor held a civic reception in his honour.
Back in England, in the 1961 season he reached 1 000 runs and in 1966 he signed with Worcester. At the end of 1967, after only two years of first-class cricket, Wisden, the bible of international cricket, listed D'Oliveira as one of the five cricketers of the year.
The months leading up to the planned 1968-69 English cricket tour of South Africa had included various exchanges and visits between English envoys and the South African officials to test the acceptability of a black man being selected to play for England.
In April 1967 Prime Minister John Vorster implied that apartheid would be relaxed insofar as it affected teams from overseas "with whom we have traditional sporting ties". However, in July 1967 the Minister of the Interior, Pieter le Roux, implied that if D'Oliveira were chosen for the English touring side, he would not be welcome.
In August 1968, as the date for the announcement of the English touring team drew closer, the representative of a major South African tobacco company, Tienie Oosthuizen, offered D'Oliveira a car, a house, an allowance of £40 000 and a 10-year contract to coach black players in South Africa, provided he did not make himself available for the English tour to South Africa. D'Oliveira refused.
When the MCC announced its squad on August 28, 1968, D'Oliveira was left out, despite scoring 158 in the final Test between England and the touring Australians at The Oval and taking crucial wickets.
The British journalist Michael Parkinson wrote in the London Sunday Times: "Last Wednesday a group of Englishmen picked a cricket team and ended up doing this country a disservice of such magnitude that one could only feel a burning anger at their madness and a cold shame for their folly. The dropping of Basil D'Oliveira from the MCC team to tour SA has stirred such undercurrents throughout the world that no-one but the impossibly naïve can any longer think that politics and sport do not mix, never mind believe it."
At the end of 1967, after only two years of first-class cricket, Wisden, the bible of international cricket, listed D'Oliveira as one of the five cricketers of the year.
In response to the outcry in September 1968 and following the alleged injury of bowler Tom Cartwright, D'Oliveira was included in the team - a move which appalled the South African government. Vorster told a National Party conference that this was a team of the anti-apartheid movement and not the MCC.
"We are not prepared to accept a team thrust upon us by people whose interests are not the game, but to gain certain political objectives which they do not even attempt to hide," he said.
South Africa withdrew its invitation and the tour was cancelled. There were further consequences, however. South Africa was then excluded from the 1968 Tokyo Olympics, the 1970 South African cricket tour to England was cancelled and in the same year, South Africa was expelled from the Olympic Movement.
The country was isolated from official international sport for almost 25 years. During this time, in an effort to soothe the sting of sporting sanctions, a range of bureaucratic exceptions were devised to bestow "honorary" white status on black sportspeople. This enabled them to compete in selected South African competitions and allowed them access to certain "international" hotels and facilities.
This prompted Basil D'Oliveira to write in his 1980 autobiography, Time to Declare: "These laws which degrade non-whites should be repealed and the farce of a permit system should be altered, thereby putting an official seal of approval on the policy of turning a blind eye. A black man can't be a white man during a day's sport and then revert to being a black man."
In 1969 D'Oliveira was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire).
In January 2000 South African cricket belatedly recognised D'Oliveira's skills when he was among the nominees for South African Cricketer of the Century. He was a guest of honour at Newlands when Graeme Pollock received the award, a ground at which he had never been able to play, but from where he'd sat in "The Willows", the stand reserved for "non-Europeans", to watch the game.
Researched by Sue Valentine with acknowledgement and thanks to:
Jon Gemmell, The Politics of South African Cricket (Routledge, 2004)
Andre Odendaal, The Story of an African Game (David Philip, 2003)
Private Eye, No. 176, Friday, September 13, 1968
Basil D'Oliveira Time to Declare - An Autobiography (Macmillan 1980)
Bruce K Murray, "Politics and Cricket: The D'Oliveira Affair of 1968", in Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 27, No. 4, December 2001, pp 667-684