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Five black sportsmen in SA share their stories of racism in sport

20 July 2020 - 15:57 By Cebelihle Bhengu
Makhaya Ntini is one of several players to open up about racism in SA cricket.
Makhaya Ntini is one of several players to open up about racism in SA cricket.
Image: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

“I felt lonely.” 

“I didn't understand Afrikaans.”

“I was called a monkey while playing club cricket.”

These are just some of the experiences black sportsmen in SA have had to endure while playing the sport they love, representing their country and making a living.

It was Proteas fast bowler Lungi Ngidi who set in motion the conversation around racism in sport and Black Lives Matter. Since his call for recognition that these issue are still prevalent, other sports stars, old and new, have come forward to talk of their experiences, including Springbok rugby captain Siya Kolisi.

These are their stories:

Siya Kolisi

Springbok captain Siya Kolisi shared a heartfelt video on Instagram in which he said he felt isolated long before he joined rugby and became well-known. He explained the inequality he was exposed to as a young boy who worked hard just so he could help feed his family.

He said he used to be a top student at his township school, but struggled and felt like he was not smart enough when he switched to a predominantly white school.

“I had to adapt to a whole new culture that wasn't mine. I had to learn how to speak English and I felt so stupid because I was failing and didn't understand the language. I had to conform to this culture to feel accepted and welcome.”

Kolisi said not enough people reached out and tried to educate themselves about where he came from. He encouraged people to get out of their comfort zones and learn about challenges that affect those close to them.

“If my suffering and my pain doesn't affect you, then we're not stronger together. Until our lives matter, no lives matter. We're all important.”

Makhaya Ntini

The former Proteas cricketer told the SABC about how he felt isolated by his teammates. He said transformation is needed in the sport and expressed gratitude for the Black Lives Matter movement and players who have spoken out, saying “now is the right time” to call for change.

He said his teammates excluded him whenever they made plans to spend time together after matches. During trips to and from the stadium, Ntini said he used to rather run than ride in a bus with them because they would not share a seat with him. He said he planned on taking his experiences to the grave because he did not want to be called bitter or ungrateful.

Ethy Mbhalati

Ethy Mbhalati told TimesLIVE about the discrimination he experienced while he played for the Northerns Cricket Union (NCU) in Centurion. He said he got paid less than other junior white players, and that he felt isolated in the changing rooms when his teammates spoke Afrikaans because he did not understand the language.

He said when items went missing in the changing rooms, black players were always the first suspects. When they talked or laughed loudly, black players were told to stop making noise. He said many black players endured being called monkeys and being kicked out for speaking out and questioning things they were uncomfortable with.

Peter de Villiers, Thando Manana and more support Ngidi 

A group of rugby coaches and former players, including Vuyo Zangqa‚ Peter de Villiers and Thando Manana, threw their weight behind Ngidi in a statement released on Wednesday last week.

They acknowledged that progress has been made in including black players at national level, although more work is still needed in appointing black coaches to top positions, which are still largely reserved for white people.

The group called for an end to the victimisation of black players who speak up. It asked that the sport fraternity recommits itself to the ideal of a country that does not discriminate on the basis of race and skin colour.

Lungi Ngidi

After being named SA’s men’s ODI and T20 Cricketer of the Year at Cricket SA’s awards almost two weeks ago, Ngidi called on his teammates to discuss issues of racism and discrimination “the next time they meet”.

He said he drew motivation from the BLM protests that have dominated in the recent weeks following the death of African American man George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer.

Ngidi said his team needs to take issues of racial discrimination seriously and take a stance on BLM.