For Basil D'Oliveira by Peter Hain
As a schoolboy in South Africa, I both learnt to play cricket and to adopt fierce anti-apartheid beliefs. But I was not to know how pivotal Basil D'Oliveira would later become in the unfolding drama of defeating white tyranny in the old South Africa of that time.
My family was forced to move to England in 1966 after my parents were first gaoled then banned to Pretoria, making my architect father virtually unemployable there. On arriving we found that Basil D'Oliveira had become British and, soon, a key member of the English cricket team. I recall following him avidly, never missing him batting or bowling, whenever I had time at weekends or during school holidays to watch Test matches.
By 1968 I was eighteen, becoming involved in getting the whites-only South African teams excluded from participation in world sport, and highly critical of those who believed in bridge-building and a step-by-step approach as, we regretted, Basil did.
Australia was touring that summer and in the final Test, when Basil made 158 and England won, the sporting world took it for granted that he would be picked for the tour to South Africa later that year. So when the MCC announced the proposed team a few days later and he was shockingly not included, there was an outcry. The belief was that his omission was because the MCC knew that a side that included Basil would not be acceptable to the apartheid government. As the distinguished cricketing journalist John Arlott, who had helped Basil move to England, wrote "No one of open mind will believe that he was left out for valid cricketing reasons".
But, a fortnight later when Tom Cartwright, the man selected in his place, withdrew with an injured shoulder (and strong private reservations about touring there), the selectors reluctantly included Basil in the team. To which the South African Prime Minister then ludicrously (though predictably) responded: "It's not the MCC team. It's the team of the anti-apartheid movement", and that the tour would be cancelled unless Basil was dropped.
The tour was cancelled. Yet, in spite of what had become notorious as 'The D'Oliveira Affair', only four months later the MCC astonishingly invited a South African team to tour England during 1970.
I, along with many others, was outraged at their moral cowardice and hypocrisy, and helped form the Stop The Seventy Tour (STST) campaign to organise non-violent direct action protests against the tour. These initially focused on country wide demonstrations against 25 matches of a South African rugby tour to Britain in the winter of 1969-70. The campaign against the racism of South African sport took off with mass protests that quickly escalated to become a national and international controversy. Eventually the pressure caused the MCC to cancel the cricket tour - by far the biggest victory the anti-apartheid movement had achieved. Australia and New Zealand soon followed suit in rugby as well as cricket, and white South Africa was expelled from the Olympics.
Basil himself disappointingly remained aloof from the struggle, and activists criticised him for being an 'Uncle Tom'. But, in hindsight the irony is that if Basil had been in any sense 'political', as we wanted him to be, there would have been no 'D'Oliveira Affair'. He probably would not have enjoyed the universal support of the cricketing community, nor would his treatment have provoked the universal outrage it did among middle Britain, which proved such a great assistance to our campaign. The cancellation of the 1970 tour might well not then have happened and getting South Africa expelled from world sport, with its huge psychological and political impact upon white South Africans, might have taken much longer to achieve. Who knows how much longer, in turn, apartheid would have lasted?
For that reason the anti-apartheid struggle owes Basil D'Oliveira a great debt of gratitude. And I can now salute his memory; his courage in overcoming adversity to leave the land of his birth and triumph as an England cricketer; and his perhaps unwitting role as an ally in the victory of good over evil that saw the transformation to a non-racial democracy in South Africa today, when young Basil D'Oliveiras can, and indeed do, represent the country of their birth in the beautiful game of cricket.