“Things happen in the world, and because as a sportsman, you’re in the public eye, people immediately want to hear your opinion.”
JOHANNESBURG – In a different time – sans virus – Monday would have been the fifth and final day of the first Test between the West Indies and South Africa in Trinidad.
It would have been a time to assess cricket – instead, with the Covid-19 lockdown in effect, cricket has taken a back seat, and it’s been social issues that have been front and centre.
“You try not to think about it too much,” said Rassie van der Dussen, but “watching West Indies and England play and you think, ‘that should have been us.’ it’s just a weird situation. There is nothing to do for us at the moment.”
Well nothing to do but think – with the odd bit of training in between. There has been upheaval in South African cricket that no one would have anticipated when Heinrich Klaasen hit the third ball of the 46th over for six to wrap up a 3-0 series win against Australia in Potchefstroom.
An innocent but well considered reply to a question about how South Africa cricketers should and would show solidarity with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement by Lungi Ngidi, set off a firestorm in local cricket circles.
Everyone associated with the sport in South Africa has been forced to sit up and think.
Some have done better than others. Van der Dussen, who made his Test debut last December amidst the administrative drama in Cricket South Africa (CSA) was the first white player to indicate his support for Black Lives Matter in a tweet in response to renowned journalist Max du Preez.
“Things happen in the world, and because as a sportsman, you’re in the public eye, people immediately want to hear your opinion,” Van der Dussen, said Monday.
“In South Africa, BLM has been a sensitive topic in the last two weeks. I felt I wanted to say where I stand. I knew it would upset a lot of people. If you stay quiet you also get criticised. For the wrong reason, stillness gets seen as going against the movement in some ways, which is not the case.”
“I felt I need to speak out, because that is how I feel and there are a lot of people who feel that way. In the Afrikaans world, there’s people who think like me and a lot who don’t. I felt I was in a position, where whichever way you go, you’re probably going to get some criticism.
“I would rather be criticised for doing the right thing, rather than not doing anything at all.”
Rassie van der Dussen hasn’t neglected training. He says that physically he feels as good as a player could in the middle of a season. Picture: Reuters
How did he feel about the reaction, which veered between support and outright rage and insult? “In general I got really good reaction … 95% of the feedback was positive and understood what I was trying to get across. Obviously there is that otherside, by far the minority, which came out pretty harsh, and accused me of not standing against farm murders or why didn’t I stand for ‘All Lives Matter’.”
For that minority, Van der Dussen provides a comparison he believes might make it easier for them to understand.
“I do some work in the conservation area as well, when you say you’re against poaching or ‘save the rhino,’ you didn’t say ‘save all animals’, because all animals aren’t in danger right now, but rhinos are. That’s a really simple analogy, but that’s a way to draw parallels (when explaining to some people),” he said.
“The minority gave me a bit of flack and accused me of so-called ignorance. I have cousins who are farmers, a grandfather who is a farmer, I grew up on a farm, and I’m very aware of the troubles and problems they are also in.
“Just because I say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ that doesn’t mean all other lives and problems don’t. But I think because people are sensitive, their initial reaction is to see it that way.”
Given the outpouring of grief from so many former players, it can be difficult to imagine a more united future. But for players of Van der Dussen’s generation, still desperate to establish themselves at international level, there is a realisation that he can be a part of creating an environment which is more inclusive.
“In a sports environment, a lot of cultures are thrown together. I enjoy talking to people, I enjoy listening to people about where they come from and how they think. From early on in my career, the Lions guys can tell you, I’ve never been shy of asking tough questions, and give people my account … as a white Afrikaner, I’m lucky because I grew up in a household where my dad was politically involved on the ANC side, so I feel I have quite a balanced view on politics and social structures in SA.”
“It’s an area I’m passionate about and I feel we as a generation now have a big role to play, to listen to those stories and understand the different back stories and paths guys have had to take, situations other races and families were in in the old South Africa. It’s something that can’t be fixed right now, but you can only take the next step, to show compassion, and show that ‘I understand you, I know what you are saying, I know I can’t make it better, but let me try and do everything I can to help.’ ”
A meeting between the players involved in the recent 3TC match, allowed some of those issues to be fleshed out. It was done in a frank manner and there is a belief among those who attended that a crucial seed was planted.
Van der Dussen hasn’t neglected training. Physically he feels as good as a player could in the middle of a season, but it is difficult doing all this training and not knowing when cricket will resume for the national team or either in the country.
“It’s a new challenge. In the past you can script your plans, you may not know where or exactly what teams you’d be playing, but you know that ‘the season starts here,’ I have Caribbean Premier League then, then domestic cricket and you can plan it out almost six months to a year in advance.”
Instead, it’s been training within the confines of the lockdown regulations. The 31 year old has been getting back into the batting groove under the watchful eyes of Lions head coach Wandile Gwavu and the team’s batting coach, Justin Sammons at the Wanderers.
“At this stage I think my game is in pretty good shape and that is where Justin has been valuable, in just getting my game to the point where it was when I played last. I feel like I’m on that level. Now time in the middle is what I need.”