hell for leather (part two) – on cricket, south africa, sport and the mother’s little helpers

“I don’t have a problem with drugs. I have a problem with the police.” – Keith Richard


Hell For Leather : Part One


by mike morgan

Part Two: The Soul of Man

“What Basil D’Oliveira could not do was progress. By his early twenties he had already reached the pinnacle of his achievement in non-white South African cricket. There was nowhere else that he could go, nothing else he could achieve. His only glimpse of the international arena where he belonged came when touring teams visited South Africa. Non-white spectators like D’Oliveira and his friends were discouraged from going, partly from their habit of supporting the visiting opposition. The authorities would grudgingly set aside small viewing areas for black people. These were put in the worst situations for viewing and insulated from the rest of the crowd with high wire fences.

“It is painful to think of this brilliant young cricketer, so much more gifted than most of the performers on the pitch, obliged to watch these games from a despised position in the stands. But this was the only way in which D’Oliveira and other young black cricketers in South Africa could increase their knowledge of the game. They paid their shilling for a deadly serious reason. They had a crying thirst for instruction on how to play the game. No detail could be too small…how a fielder stood at slip or how a bowler marked his run would be noted and filed away. Not one of them had ever been coached. They had no training facilities of any kind.

“Cricket writers often mourn the generation of lost South African cricketers like Graeme Pollock, Mike Procter and Barry Richards. But at least they got to play some tests and unrestricted first-class cricket. The penalty that apartheid inflicted on Eric Peterson, Ben Malamba, Cec Abrahams, Basil D’Oliveria and numerous others was far more absolute. They were denied training, access to turf wickets, and any chance to play for their country at all. Only D’Oliveira escaped to enjoy complete sporting fulfillment and at the very end of his sporting career, by which time his reflexes had slowed and he was half the brilliant sportsman he had been in 1950s South Africa. It is likely that but for the barbarism of apartheid, D’Oliveira would now be remembered as on of the very greatest cricketers the world has ever produced. By rights, he should have imposed his singular talent on the cricketing world of the 1950s, matching himself against the best cricketers of that age: Len Hutton and Dennis Compton of England; Everton Weekes, Frank Worrell and Clyde Walcott of the West Indies; Keith Miller and Neil Harvey of Australia.”

Peter Oborne “Cricket and Controversy”

“As I write this, twenty years later, and sing the anthem, I cannot salute the flag. I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, in my birth in 1919, I never had it made.”

– Jackie Robinson


Basil D’Oliveira (nicknamed Dolly) was born in Signal Hill, Cape Town, South Africa in 1931. Signal Hill was then an established, thriving Cape Coloured community. “Coloured” people in South Africa were officially designated as such by the system, because they were of mixed blood. They were not at the bottom of the pile like Africans, but in the eyes of the government and its supporters they weren’t up to snuff. In other words, they weren’t white, so they were earmarked for a particular kind of special treatment. Dolly was never allowed to play competitive cricket in South Africa. At the age of 25 years, he renounced his second-class citizenship, left the country and played county cricket in England for Warwickshire. In 1966, he was selected to the English International XI to play against the West Indies. In 1969, England was to send a team to tour South Africa. Dolly did not make the team, but an originally selected player dropped out and he was chosen to replace him. A fine batsmen, and a wickedly accurate medium-paced bowler, Basil D’Oliviera was to return to his own country to play against the team that, by law, he wasn’t allowed to play for. The Boers had a cadenza. They denied him a visa. This sparked an international controversy known as “The D’Oliveira Affair,” resulting in England cancelling the tour and the severing of all cricket relations with South Africa, one that would last for 22 years, until the release from prison of Nelson Mandela and the negotiated settlement.

That the English ruling cricket elite felt enough pressure to boycott the South Africans was indeed a victory for the forces of change in South Africa. During the early 1970s, England was losing its dominance as a cricketing power in the world. The crown then belonged to the West Indies XI, skippered by Gary Sobers. The West Indies Cricket Eleven was an all black team. Cricket, however, was a game invented by and for the English gentry. W.G. Grace (1848 – 1915), the Englishman most epitomized as the founding father of modern cricket, was a huge bearded geek, a cross between a Pythonesque parody, John Brown and a Boer farmer, he could well be imagined shooting tigers in Poona, leading the Bengal Lancers in a cavalry charge, or baptizing the heathens. The English, as they were prone to do in those days, transported their sport to the far reaches of their empire. It didn’t take long before the white settlers in these colonies took up the game with gusto and so Australia, New Zealand and South Africa became, and still are, arch rivals of the English on the cricket field in a sport which, back then, was the eminent domain of the white man. Post World War II and the gradual independence of former colonies, more and more of those who had lived under the yoke of British rule were playing the game. By the 1950s, the West Indies, India and Pakistan fielded national teams comprised of those who, in the words of Franz Fanon, were descendants of “the wretched of the earth.” That they would regularly beat the English at their own game was satisfying indeed to those siding with the underdogs. The analogy I find helpful here was described once by a visiting speaker from the London-based publication “Race Today..” He said, “To understand racism in the U.K., picture a young Indian man being confronted on the street by an angry, red-faced Britain yelling belligerently ‘Why are you here?’ The Indian responds, ‘I am here, because you were there.’” The West Indies during the 1960s, with players like Clive Lloyd, Joe Solomon, Wesley Hall, Lance Gibbs, Rohan Kanhai, Basil Butcher, Charlie Griffiths and Sobers himself wouldn’t just beat opposing teams, they would annihilate them. In an era when Black American athletes such as John Carlos would raise their fists on the winners podium at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City as an indication of black militancy, Sobers’ men were doing the same in the world of cricket, but with an important difference. They not only out-played the opposition, they out-civilized them too. They were the “Sophisticated Gents” of cricket, a marvel to behold.

Back then, the possibility of the South African team playing the West Indies was as remote as expecting the sun to rise in the west one morning. The defenders of white supremacy would never allow it. This indeed was a shame, because the South Africans, somewhat mediocre throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, were fielding a team by 1970 that could have held sway throughout the world. We’ll never get to know, because the ensuing fallout from the D’Oliveira affair broke that team up for good. Yet, these were the players I grew up with, they were my childhood heroes, and despite a lifetime of opposition to the policies of apartheid, I still to this day regret that I will never know the answer to that question.

When Mick Taylor finally had a gut full, the Rolling Stones were in the market once again for another Brian Jones fill-in. They considered a variety of possibilities: Harvey Mandel, formerly of Canned Heat and one of the many John Mayall formations; Nils Lofgren, much later to join Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band; and Buddy Guy, the Chicago electric blues legend. These were some of the names that were bandied around. Buddy Guy’s response when approached by the Stones was classic…he told them that they weren’t good enough! So, having sifted through a hodgepodge of pickers and crunchers who did they opt for? They chose the English one who looked the most like them, Ronnie Wood, The Faces guitarist. Don’t get me wrong, I loved The Faces. Any band that actually went to the pains of setting up a bar on stage so that non-performing bandmates could have a wally during a solo deserves all the best. Poor old Mick Taylor just didn’t look the part. He was too nice (even though he might have been a tad insane). Enter bad boy yobbo Ron Wood, full of booze, amphetamines, swagger and bravado, the perfect foil and sideman for Mick and Keef. These fellas were running out of imagination. And this was even before the “Some Girls” debacle, when they managed to piss off the globe’s entire feminist population. Were the lads a wee bit out of touch? Were they now the prime example of spoilt rock stars? Joe Strummer of The Clash thought so. In 1977, he was quoted in the London music press as saying, “Mick Jagger…I wouldn’t piss in his ear if his brain was on fire.”

Barry Anderson Richards was born in Morningside, Durban, Natal (now Kwa Zulu), South Africa in 1945. He attended Durban Boys High School (DHS), a block away from where I grew up on Essenwood Road. In 1963, when he matriculated from high school, he was chosen for the South African Schools XI, along with a fellow DHS alumnus of that same year, Lee Irvine. Mike Procter, also a Durban boy, was elected to that same squad. Seven years later, these three players would make up the backbone of the South African team that broke that of the Australians in 1970. Barry Richards was an opening batsman. When he opened for Natal in provincial Currie Cup matches (the inter-provincial professional league in South Africa), the spectators would expect fireworks immediately if the Natal team batted first. Although it rarely happened, if Richards made an early exit in the morning, the stadium capacity crowd would thin out, so juiced were the viewers for an electrifying performance (Richards scored a century before lunch nine times in his career). He had the unintentional knack of making his fellow batsmen and teammates appear as somewhat pedestrian and sedate. If there was ever a criticism of Barry Richards, it was that he made the task of batting too easy. As one who was fortunate enough to witness this, watching Barry Richards bat was like receiving a tutorial in how to play the game. He batted with pure elegance and his shots were textbook-like in their correctness. Sir Donald Bradman, arguably one of the finest batsmen in the world (he played for Australia in the 1930s and died in 2004), described Barry Richards as “the world’s best right-handed opening batsman of all time.”

Lest I be accused of favoritism, there is another cricketer by the last name of Richards that is equally deserving of praise and that is Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards, captain of the West Indies national team from 1980 to 1991 (the West Indies never lost a test series under his captaincy). Born in St. Johns, Antigua, Vivian Richards was fondly referred to as “King Viv,” “The Master Blaster” and “Smokin’ Joe,” (because he resembled the ex-heavyweight champion, Joe Frazier). Vivian Richards scored more runs in test matches that any other West Indian batsman. He was known for his devastating bat, swagger, gum chewing, staring down into the eyes of the bowler, and not wearing a batting helmet because it crimped his style. His tenaciousness as a batsman prompted Imran Khan, the captain of the Pakistani team, to once mention, ”The best way to get Viv Richards out was by boring him.” If ever a song from that part of the world embodied Vivian Richards attitude at the batting crease, it’s the Max Romeo and the Upsetters number, which goes like this:

“I’m going to put on an iron shirt
And chase Satan out of earth
I’m going to send him to outer space
To find another race”

In 1976, Tony Greig, a white South African-born British national and then captain of the English XI, was quoted that the English squad would make the West Indies grovel. Viv Richards took this insult personally and responded as such, “Nobody talks to Viv Richards like that.” He went on to add, “I felt it was not too brilliant a thing for a South African to say about West Indian players and it made me more determined to do well.” The very first day of the test series, Viv Richards proved his point by scoring 143 runs. He took to wearing a red, gold and green Rasta headband when playing, pissing off the old boys club. Vivian Richards was also proud to turn down a blank check offered to him to lead a boycott-breaking West Indian team to South Africa during the 1983/84 season. The Wisden Cricketers’ Almanac, which is the annual bible of cricket, honored him as one of the five best cricketers of the last century. There is a street and a stadium named after him in Antigua. Like his predecessor Gary Sobers, he too was knighted for his contribution to cricket, and he can now add “Sir Viv” to his list of monikers.

In 1971, Barry Richards led a walk-off of players on the field from the Natal team to protest the D’Oliveira situation and the isolation of South African cricket as a result of the government’s intransigence. Richards, like Mike Procter, Lee Irvine and others was a part of that lost generation of South African cricketers that Peter Oborne refers to in his above-referenced text. I do not want to overstate the stand against apartheid taken by these white cricket players. A large part of their motivation was self-interest. Above all, they were fiercely competitive and they wanted to play the game against the world’s best in an unrestricted fashion. They were hardly in the forefront of the liberation struggle, in fact they were probably fair-weather friends of it at best and enemies of it at worst. And as it has become popular for the history of the fight against apartheid to be rewritten (especially by white South Africans), it is impossible to imagine the plight of these white cricket players in the same light as the majority of the population (the non-whites). On my recent visits back to South Africa (2000 and 2004), it was vein-bursting to hear whites, who uncritically led privileged lives during that era, publically go on and on about their supposed opposition to racism. One would incorrectly assume that nobody actually supported apartheid, apart from a few Boer politicians, generals and policemen, and even they deny it too. It’s as if the policy of white supremacy was invented by an alien force, and was not a home-grown human construct. Talking to the average suburban white South African about those days is not so different from hearing interviews with good Germans in the years after the defeat of the Third Reich, blathering on about how they didn’t know about the crimes of the Nazi regime and the SS, and, if only they’d known, they would have acted out their opposition, but what could they do? Ignorance apparently is bliss. Similarly, post the Nazi occupation of France, just exactly who wasn’t a member of the French Resistance Movement during that period? Conversations with white South Africans would be replete with comments like “I fought it in my own way,” which is another way of saying, “I did jack shit.” Denial is a large part of the white South African political and social make-up. But before I get too carried away with this, let me bring it back to our arena…cricket, sport and the state of affairs in South Africa over thirty years ago.

In the Peter Oborne quote on Basil D’Oliveira, he mentions that often the non-white spectators had a history of supporting the visiting team. I can testify to this. For me, whilst the cricketers held a special spot in my heart, the Springbok rugby team did not. The game of rugby was treated by white South Africans, especially Afrikaners, as a religious experience. It was married to Afrikaner nationalism, a lot like the National Football League (the NFL) here today is wedded to false patriotism and support for whatever war the U.S. might be waging. The powerhouse rugby teams came from the Northern Transvaal, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State provinces, all bastions of Afrikaner domination. Rugby players, with first names like Stoffel, Theuns, Mannetjies, Tiny, Dawie, Boet, Frikkie, Naas, Morne and Jaap were enormously hirsute buggers and most of them were members of the SAP (the South African Police). We used to refer to these kind of blokes as either “rock spiders” or “hairy backs.” Whenever an international rugby team would arrive, I was part of the minority in the crowd that would loudly root for the visitors. If the French were playing, we would don berets, black and white “swag” sweaters, arrive with loaves of French bread and a bottle of French red plonk under our arms, stand for the French national anthem, and sit for the South African one. If the British Lions came to play, we would wave the Welsh flag from the bleachers and carry on about leeks, choirs, coal-mining, Tom Jones and wear Gareth Edwards (the wizard of a Welsh scrumhalf) t-shirts. This wasn’t without risk, one always took the chance of getting beaten up by a pissed-off broeder. (In the 1930’s, the Communist Party U.S.A. used to send its members to baseball stadiums to protest the segregation of baseball. They, the commies, wouldn’t stand during the national anthem. People were killed.) As unsophisticated as our sports statements of resistance were, it was my introduction into the world of the politics of protest and it was fun to boot.

Unfortunately, the Springbok rugby team was more than adequate on the field of play. In the wake of the D’Oliveira affair, the South Africans found themselves under the microscope in the world sports arena, and they hated it. Racists never desire scrutiny of their crimes, and this produced strange results. The South African rugby establishment contorted events to create the opposite illusion to the dismal reality of life inside the country. In 1971, France sent a rugby team to South Africa to play the Springboks in a series of international test matches. Included in the French XV was a black player, Roger Bougarel, who ironically played the position of “right wing.” The Boers made a big song and dance about allowing him into the country to play, and no doubt viewed this as their Glasnost effort, a “See, we’re not the monsters you make us out to be” piece of Goebbelsism. In rugby, if the ball goes out of bounds, it is the job of the left or right winger to throw it back into play in a formation known as a line-out. So Roger Bougarel performed this task for the French team, and the standing joke amongst white South African rugby enthusiasts was that the French were so lazy that they even had a black guy throw the ball in at a line-out for them. A similar propaganda ploy also resulted in one of the All-Black rugby teams (ironically again, the All Blacks was the nickname of the New Zealand national team, because they wore black jerseys) touring South Africa in 1970 and being captained by their scrumhalf Syd Going, a Maori. If Syd Going had not been part of the privileged visiting rugby fraternity, he wouldn’t have been allowed to stay at the same hotel as the rest of the team, catch a taxi, or wander freely wherever he so pleased. He would have been denied entry to all of the South African institutions that so blatantly stamped “Geen Non-Blankes” or “For Europeans Only” on their fences, padlocked gates, walls and doors.

The milk-toast statement of opposition to the South African status quo by Barry Richards and his cricketing colleagues should be weighed against that made by the Eastern Cape rugby playing Watson brothers, Valence, Ronnie, Gavin and Dan (better known as Cheeky). On the 10th of October 1976, Cheeky and Valence played in their first illegal game of multi-racial rugby. The Watson family owned a successful clothing store in Port Elizabeth. Cheeky was almost certainly due for selection to the Springboks. They were blond-haired, blue-eyed boys, just what the regime ordered. The Watson brothers, following their consciences, eventually were forced out of rugby, and became political activists and enemies of the South African Security Police. Valence and Ronnie were recruited into Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK), the armed underground wing of the African National Congress, by none other than Chris Hani himself, the popular leader of MK who was assassinated in 1994 by a European mercenary fascist. During the mass boycott by black people of white-owned businesses in the mid-1980s in Port Elizabeth, the Watson shop was the one retail outlet downtown that was not affected, not unlike the white businesses in Detroit during the 1967 riots (referred to by some Detroit residents as “The Great Uprising”) that were willing to display the sign “Soul Brother” in the windows of their shops to express solidarity with the poor (and perhaps opportunistically to save their stock from looting). For their stand against the system, the Watson’s home was burned down, they were continuously harassed and threatened, their phones were tapped, they were framed by the police on trumped-up charges of arson and murder, Gavin was hung upside-down out of a tall-storied jail window by pissed-off pigs, and Cheeky was offered bribes by the South African Defense Force to coerce him into changing his position. Cheeky was revered in the black Walmer township of Port Elizabeth, where he coached rugby to young African kids. Years after the transformation in South Africa in 1994, Cheeky Watson was finally recognized and awarded honorary national colors as a Springbok. The Watsons’ activities were unfortunately unique in the racist world of South African rugby.

While Barry Richards and company never took such risks, they did have a heartfelt desire to do what they were good at, and so they deserted South African cricket for those opportunities. Richards wound up playing county cricket for Hampshire in England and his opening batting partner was the black West Indian star, Gordon Greenidge. Together, they terrorized the opponents’ bowling. Denied a role on cricket’s center stage, Barry Richards became a gun for hire. At one point, playing for South Australia in 1971, he hit 325 runs in a single day at bat on his way to an inning of 356 runs. Later on, he joined Kerry Packer’s breakaway World Cricket Series in 1977. Kerry Packer was an Australian businessman of George Steinbrennerish proportions. He tried to lure the world’s best professional cricketers into a short-lived league that offered flash and money but very little substance. Barry Richards retired from cricket at the end of the 1982/83 season. Had there been consistency to his career, had he lived in another place or in another time, had South Africa been invaded for freedom (like Iraq!) by the gigantic hypocrites, he no doubt would have graced the world’s cricket annuals and almanacs as one of the game’s record holders.

Of course, us little people always have an “I once rubbed shoulder with the rich and fatuous” story, and I have my own and it’s about none other than Barry Richards. In 1966, Barry Richards was a local celebrity. He worked in the sporting equipment section of Payne Brothers Department Store in downtown Durban, selling cricket boots to obnoxious little brats such as myself. This is akin to Derek Jeter working in a Modells sporting goods store to pay the rent, an indication of how accessible sporting personalities were in that era. My eldest sister, Jenny, worked every Saturday morning in the Payne Brothers off-sales, the liquor store on the back end of the department store on Pine Street, where the white shopping world met its Indian and African counterparts, the beginning of the Indian section of the city, close to Grey Street, with its mosques, curry parlors (try the “mother-in-law hot” variety), sari stores and endless alleys and markets. I was then eleven years of age and, early one Saturday afternoon, Mogs and I were sitting in the run-down Peugeot 403 outside of the liquor store, standing by to take Jenny home after closing time. Barry Richards was waiting for the Ridge Road bus, himself also coming off duty. Mogs, never shy, approached Richards and offered him a ride home. He accepted. Jenny was mortified, I was thrilled, and Mogs kept up a steady interrogation of the poor young man with unanswerable questions such as “Do you think you’ll score a century next week against Western Province?” Barry Richards was very polite throughout the journey and, naturally, the car broke down as it toiled up the Florida Road hill (not very steep) with a payload of four human beings. Mogs, Barry Richards, Jenny and I pushed it to the curb and Barry Richards, after giving me his autograph, patiently waited for the bus, while Mogs proceeded to fix the car, which usually meant opening up the bonnet (hood) while staring aimlessly at the engine with a furrowed brow. We made it home three hours later and Barry Richards missed the start of his local league cricket match. I’m sure he doesn’t remember any of this. I recall it all.

I arrived in New York City in 1978 and have been a resident of Brooklyn ever since. I was part of a small organization of South African war resisters, a group that encouraged and supported resistance by young white men to compulsory military service in the South African Defense Force. By 1980, our little organization had grown some, and one of my comrades was an American activist, Joe. Joe originally hailed from Ottumwa, Iowa, made famous for being the same small town that Radar O’Reilly called home on “MASH.” Joe liked country music. There used to be a big old country bar on Seventh Avenue South in the city and it went by the name “City Lights.” Perpetually broke, we never had enough money to see the better acts there, but on Monday nights admission was free, and up-and-coming country players would be allowed to give it a shot. Joe was always claiming that we’d see the next John Prine or Merle Haggard. We never did. One rainy, fall Monday night in 1980, Joe and I and this Swedish girl, whose name escapes me but who pronounced the word “bonus” as “boonus,” all sat nursing bottles of the cheapest swill in the house, the only members of the audience. We were listening to some poor gent who’d been in the military for fifteen years and finally got fed up with cleaning latrines. His stuff wasn’t bad…kind of shit-swabbing country swing. We chatted in between sets. He bought us a beer, such was the ridiculous nature of our finances. The Swedish girl yammered on about “What a surprise boonus this was.” Nothing out of the ordinary was going on when, all of a sudden, there was a ruckus at the door. Led by a couple of bruiser black, cue-ball bouncer types, in traipsed a bevy of blond, leggy women. who looked like they all should have been dating quarterbacks. In the center of this pandemonium swayed a wiry, leopard skin vest-clad weasel kind of looking chap, with a cigarette dangling from his lips. He was pointing to the various underlings in his entourage, directing them to perform their duties. It was none other than Keith Richard, co-pater pater of the Rolling Stones. The poor country performer lost it. His banter dried up. He tried his hand at a Stones song. It didn’t work. Joe meanwhile, who had joined our South African group as the official fund raiser (he wasn’t very good at it, although not for lack of trying), nudged me and suggested that we take advantage of the presence of a rich rebel in the environment and approach him for a donation to the cause. Joe walked up to the Keith Richard’s table and almost got his lights clocked by one of the bouncers. We discussed strategy upon his hasty return.

“I read somewhere that he likes to drink,” I said to Joe, “maybe we can catch him when he goes to the bathroom.”

All interest in the performer had disappeared. Even the performer wasn’t interested in his own performance. The Swedish girl told us, “What a double boonus it was to know blokes like us who knew where to go in New York City.” Pfft! She regaled us with a tale about meeting all of the members of Abba in a wine bar in Uppsala, Sweden, some kind of “quadruple boonus.” She was beginning to get on my nerves. Meanwhile, Keith stood up and staggered off to the can. Joe immediately followed suit. The bouncers, not as quick as they would liked to have been, inadvertently let him slip in. Five minutes later, Joe was back at our table. There was no sign of Keith Richard, and Joe had a peculiar, rancid, pungent odor about him.

“Well,” I asked with bated breath while holding my nose, “did you tell him about the struggle? Is he going to give us any money? What did he say?”

Joe very solemnly answered , “He told me to go and get fucked.”

“That’s all,” I said, “what kept you in there so long, was he taking a dump or something? Jeez, I can’t believe he told you to get fucked. After all, the Prairie Fire people told us that the Rolling Stones are socialists and they’re never wrong.” I was a wee bit naive in those days.

“After he told me to fuck off, he passed out at the pisser,” Joe went on. “I was thinking that maybe he was overcome with emotion at the thought of making a contribution to something worthwhile, so I grabbed him under the armpits and when he came to, he opened up his one good eye, told me to fuck off once again and threw up all over my shoes. I decided to get the fuck out of there before Mr. T and his associates found me in the compromising position of hugging an unconscious Keith Richard with his vomit all over my feet.”

The Swedish girl slammed her Miller bottle down on the table announcing, “This is no boonus for me” as she stomped out into the night to seek a more lucrative kind of “boonus” elsewhere. And so it came to pass that Keith Richard, the el senor and el supremo of rock stars, turned his back on the fight for liberation in South Africa. What was the world coming to?

I do not consider myself a devotee of the game of golf, yet I know enough about it to understand its rules, terminology and to recognize the names of previous champions and who the current leading players are. South Africa has produced some famous golfers in the last sixty years, including Bobby Locke, Gary Player, Harold Henning, and the latest crop, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen. The defining characteristic of these players, namely that they’re all white men, is of no surprise. If one bothers to think about golf through the parameters of a class analysis, it has always been a game dominated by the elite of society: firstly, it takes up an enormous amount of real estate, usually meticulously maintained in a well-to-do suburb; secondly, it has always exhibited a cliquish, private club, “keep the riff-raff out” exclusivity and aura; thirdly, it’s financially prohibitive for most folks to afford decent equipment, even if they are allowed membership to these golf clubs and courses, which most of them are denied. Therefore it is also no surprise that the world’s best golfers tend to come from privileged settler nations, primarily the U.S., South Africa and Australia. European countries produce high quality golfers, but then they too were hardly exempt from creating the new prosperous world for white settlers, the entire lot of whom can trace their roots to European stock. This demographic might be changing with the immense popularity of Tiger Woods and some other golfers that don’t quite fit the profile of white guys with numbers behind their names. Professional golfing organizations in the U.S. are bending over backwards to be perceived as inclusive, quite the opposite of what they’ve always been. Basically, it takes an enormous stretch of imagination and the truth to argue that golf is not predominantly a comfortable person’s sport and hobby.

Excluded from this list of South African golfing legends, and a name that many followers of golf would be unaware of, is Sewsunker Papwa Sewgolum. Papwa was born in 1930 in Riverside, Durban, an Indian community. He spent his childhood hitting golf balls on the beach with whatever stick he could find that resembled a golf club. He loved the game and earned his living as a caddie, working in the all-white clubs in and around Durban. As a player, Papwa had an unorthodox style, a wrong-way-round grip with his left hand beneath his right. In 1959, Papwa had an opportunity to play in the Dutch Open. He won the event that year and went on to win it twice again, in 1960 and 1964. In 1963, he was finally allowed to play in his own country and beat 103 white South African golfers, including Harold Henning, in the Durban Open played at the Durban Country Club. The Group Areas Act forbade him to enter the clubhouse. He was forced to eat his meals in his beat-up VW Kombi, and he spent his down-time from the game schmoozing with the other Indian caddies in the parking lot. The photographs of Papwa receiving the winner’s trophy outside of the clubhouse in the rain appeared in newspapers around the world and provided an initial spark to the international sanctions imposed on South African sports. In 1965, he bested Gary Player, a world-renowned golfer, to win the title for a second time. Knocking off Gary Player was a bit too much for the government. Gary Player, after all, was an unofficial ambassador for the South African government. He voluntarily put time in for the South African Department of Information (Christian Barnard, the famous South African heart surgeon and the first to perform a heart transplant, was another eager worker for the same apartheid public relations outfit). Gary Player’s forte included inviting U.S. and European business executives and CEOs to South Africa to play golf with him and “to see it for themselves.” The fostering of such relationships was regarded as crucial by the South African ruling class, and many deals that involved breaking or bypassing the international oil and arms embargos against South Africa were brokered as a result of Gary Player Invitationals. He was an unapologetic sanctions buster and a roving diplomat for that regime (the role of such high profile South Africans in stumping worldwide for the government was revealed in the expose and scandal surrounding the Department of Information in 1980 and is well documented in the book “The Real Information Scandal” by Eschel Rhoodie, himself a mover and shaker in that dirty tricks department). The year after Papwa beat Gary Player, the government banned him from all local tournaments and his passport was revoked, preventing him from playing internationally and from making a living as a golfer. He died impoverished in Durban in 1978. He was 48 years old. Gary Player still lives in South Africa, where he spends his dotage on his ranch raising thoroughbred racehorses. So much for the new dispensation.

On a shed on the wharf of Port Of Spain, Trinidad for years was scrawled, in fading ghetto lettering, the following inscription, “Sobers – 365!” The reference is to the 365 runs scored in a single at bat by Garfield Sobers in 1958, when he was a young West Indian player in a test match against Pakistan in Barbados. That test score stood as a record until 1994, when it was broken by another West Indian batsman, Brian Lara (375 runs), a man who subsequently broke his own record again in 2004 (400 runs). In 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were involved in a neck-and-neck battle to see who would break Roger Maris’s long standing record of 61 home runs in a single baseball season, most of America paid some attention to the possibility of baseball history in the making. Sosa, a Dominican player, had avid support bases in U.S. cities that were home to sizeable Dominican populations, especially in New York City and their neighborhood in Washington Heights on the northern tip of Manhattan. The day after Sosa had knocked another one out, his name and total would be seen scribbled largely on blank walls and spray painted on car windows. While Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa can’t hold a candle to Garfield Sobers in the style and class department, as further evidenced now by the distinct possibility that they both were pumping muscle enhancing chemicals into their bodies and thus cheating, what bears relevance here is how feats by popular stars mean so much to their indigenous communities, especially if they’re downtrodden ones. In the case of black Trinidadians in 1958 and Dominican New Yorkers in 1998, one could establish a solid case that these were not well-heeled, privileged communities, but working folks struggling to get by with someone else’s boot on their necks.

This community spirit has been inherent to cricket ever since national teams have been contesting each other. I have never been to a test match between India and Pakistan, but I have read and have been told that many of the divisions (real or imagined) between the two nations are played out on the cricket field and in the stands. Animosity towards the other side has created circumstances whereby mirrors have been flashed by spectators to blind opposing players, death threats have been posted, once bullets were even found lodged in the pitch. But perhaps the more important flip side of this is that a cricket test match can hold a community together in one activity (watching cricket) for five days while other forms of social interaction can transpire. Business can be transacted, differences can be settled, other ones can arise, politics can be argued, estranged friends can reunite, new friends can be made, clothes can be knitted and sewn, men can partake of their usual favorite pastime (drinking), food can be prepared, bets can be made, romances can blossom, and aspiring wags can perform for a captive audience. In other words, what makes the heart of a community throb can all be acted out during the course of a game. C.L.R. James, the West Indian activist, cricket correspondent and author alluded to this in his book on cricket, Beyond the Boundary:

“On January 30th, 1960, there crowded into the Queens Park Oval at Port of Spain over 30,000 people, this out of a population of some 800,000. They had come to see a cricket match and I for one loved them for it. They have been slandered, vilified and at best grievously misunderstood. I can’t say that I understand them, I wouldn’t make such a claim, but at least I have always paid attention to them and their reaction to politics as well as to cricket. I have something to say on their behalf.”

C.L.R. James certainly did pay attention to them. He was then the editor of a political magazine (The Nation), he was the secretary of the West Indian Federal Labour Party, and he was immersed in promoting his own position paper, “The Case for West Indian Self-Government.” Yet despite all of these noble efforts towards self-determination for the people of the West Indies, James was also involved in a furious debate which was dear to the hearts of all those who filled the bleachers that day, and that was to break over sixty years of segregation in West Indies cricket and lobby for Frank Worrell to be chosen as the first black captain of the West Indies national cricket team. It cannot be said that the man didn’t have his priorities set straight.

When Jackie Robinson broke into major league baseball in this country in 1947 and the Brooklyn Dodgers would travel to Chicago to play the Cubs, black residents of the south side of Chicago, who normally couldn’t have cared less about the Cubs, would pour out in attempts to get into Wrigley Field on the north side of town. They did not root for the home team, an organization that had shunned and excluded them. They didn’t even root for the Dodgers that much. They came out to support Jackie Robinson. They brought all of their aspirations and dreams to the ball park, and they let their presence be felt when Jackie Robinson made a play at bat or in the field. When a people are deprived of the privileges afforded to other members of their own society, they will seek a variety of avenues, not all readily available, to prove their worth as equals, if not superiors. This is the legacy that sportsmen like Basil D’Oliveria and Papwa Sewgolum gave to the struggle in South Africa. Such contributions can never be diminished, can never be dismissed as being selfish or non-political, for they speak to the voice of hope, of what could happen. They speak directly to all of those who have no say. Above all, they speak to the soul of humanity. “Sobers -365!”

For lack of a better verb, it’s safe to say that the Rolling Stones blundered into the 1980s with the forgettable album “Emotional Rescue.” This pathetic state of affairs was exacerbated by a series of awful Mick Jagger solo records, one entitled “She’s the Boss,” either a piss poor apology for “Under My Thumb,” or a recognition that most of Mick’s tax money either went to the Queen or Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government. One of these lousy discs included a song called “Let’s Work,” and the video on MTV was that of a jogging, exercising, Jack La Lane type Mick, exhorting the masses to keep fit, presumably so that they could listen to the tune, fuck, and then have kids who, in fifteen years time, would buy all of the Rolling Stones catalog, ensuring the eternity of the cycle. Given the story of my life, it made absolute sense that I finally got to see the Rolling Stones live during the middle of all of this. It was 1988 and the venue, of all places, was Indianapolis, Indiana. My ex had relocated there, and in the early days of our separation, we still did the odd thing together, like see the Rolling Stones! They were playing in the RCA Dome, the same indoor stadium where the Indianapolis Colts play football. Doing anything in downtown Indianapolis is a lot like looking for something to do in an enormous airport terminal. Everything is antiseptically clean, overpriced, extremely mediocre, and comes with an extra dollop of mayonnaise. When I was in Indianapolis, I was always reminded of those movies where the rebels are on the outskirts of the capital and are about to sack the city, and there’s one boat or train left and everybody’s trying to jam on board. That’s how much I always wanted to leave. My ex had tons of relatives in Indianapolis, and the out-of-town relatives of the local relatives all trekked in from places like North Carolina and West Virginia to see the Rolling Stones. It was a relative bonanza, with kids who were too young to remember “Voodoo Lounge” (the lucky ones), uncles who were in AA, sisters-in-law who’d remarried Mexicans (who didn’t make the trip), and the cousin who looked like Elvis Presley and who had attended Oral Roberts University. We all had dinner before the show in “The Spaghetti Factory” one of an ersatz Italian restaurant chain, located in the railway station. I wound up sitting next to the Oral Roberts college graduate. I asked him about the prayer tower, the moral majority, Benny Hinn (the phoney Pakistani faith-healer from Memphis, Tennessee)…we were having a good old time over the bolognaise la fiasco, when I notice his foot was swathed in bandages (I was searching for a meatball I had dropped under the table, this is how I spotted the injured foot).

“What, er, happened to your foot?” I queried.

“Nail gun,” he mumbled in response.

“Like a stigmata?,” I ventured.

“No, it was a Black and Decker.”

So I threw in the towel on the small talk business and began to conjure up whatever excitement I could muster for the concert. Ever since I was a kid, I had dreamed of seeing the Rolling Stones play up close. Now I was going to see them in Block 279, Section H, Tier 49, Row QQ, Seat 403D of an enormous indoor football stadium. And it was Indianapolis, for God’s sake, so there were no young tough teddy boys, no Astrud Gilberto art-student bohemian lookers, just masses of white suburbanites with seat cushions and pullovers wrapped around their waists in case it got too chilly, nervously glancing at their Seikos and Swatches, hoping to beat the traffic and be home in time for David Letterman, who hailed from nearby Muncie, Indiana. The opening band was “Living Color,” Vernon Reid’s Black Rock Coalition group. Their sound set-up was purposefully horrible, an old ploy used by veteran main acts to gain the upper hand. Finally, the Stones came on. It was like being at the Ice Capades, with “Road Warrior” scaffolding, gigantic inflatible hookers, a fit and frisky Mick Jagger clambering over everything, and a wolfish, leery Keith Richard. “How’s yer grandmother then?” All I wanted to do was get back to Brooklyn and listen to my Simon and Garfunkel records, preferably “The Sounds of Silence.”

I first met Clem Maharaj in London in 1979. Here’s a story of dreams dashed and others realized. He was from Trinidad. He was also a long-time partner of my sister, Jenny. Clem was an aspiring cricketer who arrived in England in the 1960s to try out for a professional league spot. He was a jazz drummer too. He maintained a friendship with Max Roach’s family and always stayed with them when visiting New York City. He had barely touched foot on English soil and was due in a few days forthwith to try out for the English cricket scouts, when he received a phone call from a former mate, also a jazz musician. It seemed that this bloke’s combo was booked to play in Germany for a couple of nights, but the original drummer had dropped out. Clem was pleaded with to replace him with the promise that, post the gigs, his travel fare would be paid for and he would arrive back in London in time for his important cricket appointment. Clem went to Germany to play music that weekend and didn’t come back to the U.K. for five years. He never played another game of cricket again. But he remained a faithful follower of the game, and the floor of his study was always strewn with the latest cricket magazines. However, he did go on to make a name for himself in life outside of cricket and drumming. In the 1970s, the London Metropolitan Police were harassing the hell out of black kids, using the “Sus Law” as their excuse. The Sus Law was an abbreviation for “The Suspicion of Vagrancy with Intent to Commit a Crime” statute (kind of like “No Mopery or Attempted Gawk”), and the coppers went wild enforcing it. Many of the kids picked up could not afford legal counsel, and worried parents had nowhere to turn to as their children were scooped up into the system, fodder for incarceration and the road to nowheresville. Clem founded the People’s Law Centre, a community based operation that provided gratis legal advice to those arrested. He became a mini-celebrity in the housing estates, and a thorn in the side of the racist agenda of the police.

Once established for a number of years, the People’s Law Centre became an institution that want-to-be politicians and those looking for credibility and votes would glom onto. One afternoon, Clem and his pals were sitting around the office when a black Rover pulled up front and in walked a pin-stripe suited geezer who announced that one of the Royal Family Princesses was about to make a tour of the neighborhood and intended to come by the centre, so could they please spruce the place up and make the appropriate arrangements. He dropped a couple of hundred quid on the table to subsidize a paint job. That night, the staff of the People’s Law Centre ate and drank like kings and queens at the swankiest restaurant on the high street, courtesy of the Windsors’ refurbishing fund. The building was painted bright pink, and Clem organized Archie, the local dealer, con artist and criminal, to give the Princess a guided tour during her visit. The neighborhood was in stitches as Archie, a known villain dressed to the nines in his Saturday night special pimp zoot threads, graciously pointed out local haunts to the Princess, while Secret Service and Scotland Yard goons provided security. The Princess was so impressed that for years thereafter, the People’s Law Centre received an annual suitcase full of geld from some royal trust or other. Clem’s operation became a pet project of the British Royal Family, who’ve always have their heads in the sand when it comes to reality. How’s that for turning shit around? For, as with his knowledge of cricket, Clem knew how to play that game too. Clem was well admired, and upon his unexpected death in 1995, he was considered to be amongst the cutting edge of Caribbean writers and had already published the first part of a trilogy about poor island life entitled “The Dispossessed.” His obituary was written up in the London Guardian. But I will always remember him as a man who wanted to play cricket, but for a few other odds and ends that somehow managed to get in the way. “Sobers – 365!”

I was sixteen years of age when the South African national cricket team was broken up in 1971, and when Barry Richards and his peers, the players that I held in high esteem, drifted away to pursue the game elsewhere in the world. Some would come back occasionally to participate in contrived international matches, usually sponsored by businessmen, or by the South African governing cricket body itself as attempts to lure world players back into the country and the fold. It was the beginning of the age of big money controlling the whereabouts of players and the game, but also the government lurked behind the scenes, always content to seek recognition, as if South Africa was just another player in a not-so-perfect world, a position they would attempt to exploit as international pressure against apartheid gained strength. For me, while this disruption of apparent cricket normalcy was initially devastating, it was the beginning of a realization that events were not always permanent but rather in flux, that there was a co-relationship between what happened on a local, national and international level, that certain givens could not be taken for granted, that cricket was not an isolated event played by men in white outfits on a field of dreams, and that both the players and spectators were in many ways responsible for the larger world around them. At first it was difficult to comprehend, but such circumstances gave my confused and developing consciousness a jump start. I blinked. While cricket might not have been the only ingredient which helped forge my understanding of what I needed to do and the choices that I would soon be faced with, it certainly helped. For that I am grateful.

Originally published:
Issue Forty-One
February 2006

A Brooklynite by way of Wales and South Africa, Mike Morgan is the founder of Burrow Magazine and serves as one of its Senior Editors and Contributors. In addition to these duties, he has been and continues to be at the heart of a thriving literary, art and music scene and is a regular at several neighborhood bars, where he can be found discussing global and local affairs, rock and roll, various New York sports teams, and whatever books he happens to be reading at the time. More from Mike Morgan can be found in the Vault of Smoke.

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