Stephen Gelb June 22, 2008

Zimbabwe's apartheid

Unlike white South Africa, neither Mugabe nor his supporters seem to care much about cricket, sport generally, or their image in the West

I am writing this on June 16th, Youth Day in South Africa but better remembered, by those of us old enough, as Soweto Day. Thirty-two years ago, schoolchildren began to protest in Soweto township and were met by police bullets, a landmark moment in the resistance which led to our liberation in 1994.

An icon of that struggle, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, gave the Spirit of Cricket lecture at Lord’s last week. More than anyone else, Tutu has been our post-apartheid moral conscience. A cricket fan since his teens, he is the first fan to be asked to give the annual lecture. Since this is a fans’ blog, it seems entirely appropriate for this debut piece to be a homage to him.

The headlines after the lecture focused on Tutu’s support for a cricket boycott of Zimbabwe, though his lecture was not explicit about this. Nonetheless he is right, even if official South Africa – and the ICC - disagree. Our president is notorious for insisting on ‘quiet diplomacy’. Our cricket board sent SA and SA ‘A’ teams to Zimbabwe last August, and included Zimbabwe in our domestic competitions last summer, as used to happen in the 1970s when Zimbabwe was still Rhodesia.

The old anti-apartheid slogan ‘No normal sport in an abnormal society’ applies. Six-digit inflation? People dying of starvation? A ruling party that threatens to take up arms if it loses an election? Zimbabwe is an abnormal society, a society at war with itself.

Neither is Zimbabwe’s sport ‘normal’. Read the poignant piece on Zimbabwean cricketers resorting to illegal and desperate means of survival because inflation has dissolved their salaries, or the story of the SA ‘A’ team in Bulawayo last year – no food in their hotel, they went to get dinner at a chicken fast-food outlet. But the restaurant had no chicken, or anything else to eat.

There is an irrefutable moral case for a cricket boycott. Is there a political case too? Will it make a difference? Not directly. Unlike white South Africa, neither Mugabe nor his supporters seem to care much about cricket, sport generally, or their image in the West. Only a serious economic boycott in which South Africa participates will really impact on Zimbabwe. But the lesson from ending apartheid is that this needs an international social movement to force the hand of reluctant political leaders who don’t really want change – like Margaret Thatcher then and Mbeki now. A cricket boycott will help build this social movement, even though it is very late to be starting.

Tutu’s main concern was a much deeper disagreement with Thatcher, who famously denied the existence of ‘society’ and thought only in terms of ‘the individual’. Tutu argued that humankind is in essence a social being: the individual does not exist outside society. For him cricket epitomises this interdependence: more than most other games, it is a series of struggles between individuals which have meaning only in the context of the wider struggle between their teams and are only resolved with the help of their teams. Batsman and bowler always play for both themselves and their teams.

Cricket is shaped by the same economic, political and social forces which impact on the rest of society. Having enjoyed the Warner Stand at Lord’s in the 60s while a student in England, Tutu would have been forced to sit in a rudimentary ‘non-white’ enclosure at the Wanderers after his return home. What a way to be reminded that even if the cricket world – players and administrators – tries to keep the real world at bay, it cannot succeed, if only because its fans are necessarily part of that real world.

Cricket is facing big challenges which forcibly remind us that it is not just a game, from affirmative action to failed states, from the power of money to the tension between technological progress and social organisation (aka the third umpire). In my contributions to this blog, I plan to take up these issues while also writing about cricket on the field, like why Jacques Kallis is an all-time great, and what it feels like when South Africa beat England (hopefully) and Australia (really hopefully).

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on July 9, 2008, 4:33 GMT

    Third umpire I am not sure where you got your information from because it actually is not correct. Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) used to grow maize that it used to export to S.A and Zambia it also grew citrus fruit, cotton, coffee and vegetables. On the mining side it is rich in gold, copper, diamonds and emeralds. And the only biological weapons I know about were natural diseases like sleeping sickness, gastroenteritis and malaria and aids.

  • testli5504537 on July 4, 2008, 18:27 GMT

    Well said Stephen,

    I'm as blue faced as any other Indian would be at the stance of BCCI on Zimbabwe issue, and the reason for that is un abashed support which Zimbabwe gives to India in ICC.

    It is beyond my comprehension, why we Indians should compromise our values like that, considering we were very vocal opponents of apartheid in South Africa and we were the first ones to welcome South Africa back after the fall of apartheid.

    BCCI will you wake up and respect the sentiments of most Indians, rather than bring us the sense of guilt of supporting the wrong.


  • testli5504537 on June 24, 2008, 22:37 GMT


    I quote from my previous comment in support of Jason and others.

    "This is not about sport or Cricket but one ageing man struggling to retain power" May his reign end soon by whatever methods are required without further bloodshed.

    "Morally the ICC make me sick" Lets hope that the meeting in Dubai brings Cricket Governance forward. Somehow I doubt it will as the scramble for funds, appointments and Control will ensure that Zimbabwe will remain the "Rotten Borough" within the ICC board.

    Excellent news from CSA concerning Zim, Mali must feel a bit stupid, when his own board break all ties with his greatest Allies?


  • testli5504537 on June 24, 2008, 19:52 GMT

    In addition to my point on genocide & apartheid above, I would like to know what Stephen Gelb thinks the chances are for Zimbabwean cricket to survive any proper boycott and any improper boycott. If international pressure is applied properly (i.e. very concerted with all the actors getting together and resolving the issues that prevent them from cooperating on Zimbabwe - so the UK get's off it's high horse and admits that it was foot-dragging on the land issues and the other SADC members admit their hypocrisy, stop supporting Mugabe & apply real pressure), then I think a cricket boycott can work as part & parcel of a larger scheme (including a FIFA boycott) to get Zimbabwe out of the hole it is in. I don't believe a cricket boycott by itself will achieve anything especially if it ends up being prolonged as it will probably kill cricket in Zimbabwe entirely (so Zim wouldn't even be an affiliate member). Boycotts need to be done properly otherwise they will have bad results for everyone.

  • testli5504537 on June 24, 2008, 19:41 GMT

    Okay, to distinguish myself from the second Chris who posted, I'll use the name Chris 1. Stephen Gelb makes good points in his responses to the posts, but I still don't see why on earth people love to misapply terms like "apartheid" or "genocide" instead of using terms that are correct and just as strong. Nowadays the loss of ANYTHING is termed "genocide" so we have "cultural genocide", "linguistic genocide" and so forth until the word genocide becomes meaningless from being used meaninglessly. Likewise it now seems it is in vogue to apply to words like "apartheid" to Zimbabwe simply because Zimbabwe is in southern Africa and anything bad from southern Africa must also be "apartheid". Terms like "despotism" and "dictatorship" more accurately describe what is going on and also won't have some people dismissing arguments out of hand as I almost did when I saw the title and though "oh boy, another one who likes to misuse the word 'apartheid'". I read it though and there were good points.

  • testli5504537 on June 24, 2008, 6:24 GMT

    Brilliant, Stephen Gelb, thank you for mentioning that forbidden word, "Immoral". Despotism is immoral, and it pains me to see everyone throwing their hands in the air as if we can't make a difference. Saddam Hussein was not, by any definition, a despot, but cricketing nations around the world queued up behind the US to overthrow him at all costs, and are still paying the price. Why then do they all behave ostrich-like where Mugabe is concerned. Modernists concoct outlandish scenarios in their own minds in an effort to condemn the European monarchies of the middle ages as despots, to bolster their own belief in democracy, yet they wear rose colored glasses while observing Mugabe mocking the very precepts of democracy, using terrorism to thwart free elections. The world, including the cricket world, needs to speak out and put an end to that regime, so the loving, kind hearted folks of Zimbabwe can return to cricket (as well as their culture) in a normal, peaceful setting.

  • testli5504537 on June 23, 2008, 16:52 GMT

    Thanks for all comments, positive & negative. I'm delighted I stimulated discussion about Zim, its cricket and politics. Good news just out: Cricket SA today cut ties with Zim Cricket. I'd like to take the credit but .. Some responses: (i) it's immoral (in my view) to be a tourist in a place with war, terror and famine, whether to see sights or play a game. The only legitimate reason is to help end the war etc. Playing cricket can't contribute to that, as Michael says. Mike Gatting learned that in SA back in 1989. If Zim play abroad, it simply helps to create the impression that things in Zim are 'normal' & diffuses pressure on governments & international organisations to act to end the war etc.  (ii) land redistribution post-independence & UK foot-dragging in 80 ARE issues. But (a) Mugabe did little on land till about 2000 when he needed to drum up support, & (b) the situation long ago went way beyond land issues. See Sunday Times (Jhbg):

  • testli5504537 on June 23, 2008, 14:33 GMT

    So "priceless" thinks that beatings and murders and millions starving is justified because it shows thew white man that they are not wanted, It he/she wasn't so clearly stupid, they might realise that it's actually the blacks who are taking the hits.

    The reality is that you cannot carry on normally in such an abnormal society. It's cricket's shame that we think we can ... but then there were those willing to take apartheid's money way back when, just as there are those willing to back Zimbabwe for their own purposes now. If you doubt that, watch the ICC in Dubai.

  • testli5504537 on June 23, 2008, 12:36 GMT

    Good work Steve. Excellent piece which has obviously taken the debate through a wide landscape, judging by the range of responses.

    Politics aside, Zimbabwe appear to be struggling to compete on a pure cricketing level. Given that world cricket is now facing a new challenge of trying to keep people interested in the longer versions of the game, perhaps Zim's poor performances don't help that cause. One less genuine match-up.

    Boycotting them may kill off the beast entirely though. I wonder if hungry mouths actually see cricket as much of a priority today? We obviously love the game and frequent blogs like this to engage in friendly banter but maybe, just maybe, some Zimbabweans are just trying to make it through the night. Black or white, regardless of who's to blame, regardless of who threw the first stone or who took the other person's land first, that's a pretty sad thing for one of the cricketing family.

    One thing's for sure - cricket sure ain't going to fix the problems.

  • testli5504537 on June 23, 2008, 8:59 GMT

    Well spoken Stumped! This is beyond imperialism. It is beyond racism. This is about what happens daily in Zimbabwe. I was a big fan of Zimbabwe cricket in the 1996 world cup. Not because I thought they could win, but because they seemed firmly planted in membership soil. But now cricket is spiraling to a crash landing. I have also been a fan of Zimbabwe's coffee. But now, what is exported in too little and is of poor quality. There is nothing Mugabe hasn't damaged or destroyed, especially lives. One thing Third Umpire is apparently unaware of is that a (white) member of the 1996 Zimbabwe squad left the tournament early because he was a FOOD farmer and had to get back to that all-important matter. Please stop talking about what Saddam did, he is a saint capared to Mugabe, and they both are compared to Bush. I voluntarily gave up my US citizenship and left the US.

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