Quinton de Kock
South Africa's Quinton de Kock walks from the field after he was dismissed during the Twenty20 World Cup cricket match against Australia in Abu Dhabi, UAE, on October 23, 2021. Image Credit: AP

The Quinton de Kock row has blown over. Cricket, especially Cricket South Africa, could do without it. More so since it happened right in the middle of a World Cup.

De Kock refused to take the knee before the West Indies game on Tuesday and withdrew from the team. The wicketkeeper-batsmen has since apologised and has agreed to take the knee, as directed by Cricket South Africa.

Racism is a burning issue. In South Africa, the significance is manifold as the country has battled race and segregation more than most countries. Even in cricket, race row dominated with the Basil d’Oliviera Affair. South Africa suffered isolation from international cricket for several decades after Prime Minister B. J. Vorster in 1968 refused entry to an MCC team that included D’Oliviera, a Cape-coloured cricketer who played for England.

What De Kock says

Unlike that, the Quinton de Kock affair is born out of misunderstandings. De Kock took Cricket South Africa’s instructions as an infringement on his freedom and rights. And when he refused, De Kock came to be perceived as a racist, which he says he is not. He says he hails from a mixed-race family, and Black lives mattered to him since he was born.

According to De Kock, it’s just that he didn’t believe in gestures. Taking the knee doesn’t change anything for Black people or their lives; that was his argument.

He’s wrong on that count. Gestures matter, tokenism matters, quotas matter. It’s a starting point. It helps start a discussion; helps keep the issue alive. And over time, change happens, albeit slowly. That’s the idea.

How tokenism helped in South Africa

De Kock should look back at South African cricket’s recent history. After the country returned to international cricket, they had one coloured cricketer in the team. When Omar Henry became the first non-white cricketer to represent South Africa in 1992, he was not the best spinner in the country. It was tokenism.

Henry’s selection fired the ambition of coloured and Black cricketers in South Africa. They believed they could play for the country. A quota for the coloured and Blacks is rumoured to have persisted, but plenty of them represented South Africa on sheer merit. Can anyone say that Makhaya Ntini or Vernon Philander didn’t deserve a place in the team? Many more talented Black and coloured players, including Ashwell Prince, Hashim Amla, and JP Duminy, went on to don the South Africa colours.

more write clicks

Today, South Africa has a Black captain, Temba Bavuma, who leads a team that includes Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi. It’s a far cry from the days of Omar Henry. It’s been a long journey. A journey that began with the gesture of selecting a coloured cricketer.

Changes don’t happen overnight. It’s incredibly slow. Which is why it’s important to keep up the fight. And De Kock’s gesture of taking the knee will have an impact. Not now. Many years later.

Black lives matter. Gestures matter. Take the knee.