South Africa v England, 2nd Test, Cape Town, 4th day January 5, 2016

Africa applauds a son of transformation

In becoming the first black South African to score a Test century, Temba Bavuma has provided his generation with a long-awaited role model

In the stands, they stood up to applaud. In the president's suite, they stood up to applaud. On the field, they were standing up already but they applauded. Black, white, young, old, fan, friend, even foe, they all applauded. All of cricket applauded.

Temba Bavuma is the first black African batsman to play for this country, 17 years after Makhaya Ntini became the first black African cricketer to do likewise. Since then only Mfuneko Ngam, Monde Zondeki, Lonwabo Tsotsobe (all bowlers) and Thami Tsolekile (wicket-keeper) have worn the whites. After that, Kagiso Rabada, also a bowler, was capped. None of this would be significant were it not for South Africa's segregated past.

Racial discrimination was the norm from the moment the country was colonised in 1652 until democracy arrived in 1994 and its effects are still being felt. To understand them fully requires more than a cricket story on a day of celebration. However, let's simplify by saying that 21 years have not been enough to erase the exclusionary policies of the past. They were simply too divisive.

Just think of it like this. Claremont, the suburb in which the Newlands stadium is situated, was designated as a whites-only area. The best resources were reserved for them. Ten kilometres away is Langa, where black Africans lived. They were confined to the fringes of privilege and denied even a peep at prestige. This was where Temba Bavuma was born in 1990, the year in which Nelson Mandela was released from prison and change began to arrive. Bavuma and his peers, however, remained products of an unfair system, albeit one which was soon theirs to start putting right.

Bavuma would likely have had that impressed on him at a young age. His father, Vuyo, was a journalist*. Shortly after that, Bavuma was attending junior school at the South African College Schools (SACS), one of oldest institutions in the country and the alma mater of Peter Kirsten. He then moved to Johannesburg, where he went to St Davids, another prestigious institute.

Temba Bavuma reaches his century © AFP

All this already makes Bavuma different to the majority of young South Africans for whom places like SACS and St Davids remain inaccessible. But it is at these schools where the seed of what we call transformation was planted, especially when it came to sports considered the domain of the elite.

The best rugby and cricket facilities were enjoyed by the white minority and, if black cricketers were to be given a fair chance to compete, they would need to be let in to those places. Bavuma was one of those who was. His rise followed a traditional route: he played schools cricket and age-group cricket and then realised he could turn the sport into a career. "I was about 17 or 18 when I made the SA Schools side and then I got the realisation that cricket could be more than a passion," Bavuma said.

Fitting then, that when he raised his bat at Newlands the only thing he would have seen, heard and felt was passion. There was Ntini on the commentators balcony passing on a baton; there was an elderly white couple in the stands, who would have known the South Africa before Bavuma was born; there was his father in the president's suite, a place he would not have been allowed near in the bad old days, and there were the KFC kids on the boundary rope from the same township Bavuma was brought up in. All of them were smiling, most of them were crying too. What Bavuma achieved was big. Very, very big. Bigger than Bavuma may have thought was possible when he walked out to bat in the second session.

South Africa were wobbling a bit because their captain had just been dismissed. Three balls later, Faf du Plessis was gone and three overs after that Quinton de Kock was too. Suddenly, from finding himself with the senior core, Bavuma had been left with the tail. All he had managed by then was one crisp drive and he may have feared there was not enough time left to do more.

He seemed in a hurry when he flicked Ben Stokes to fine leg for his second boundary and in an even bigger hurry when he drove loosely and ended up with a Chinese cut. Stokes was not impressed and told him, in an exchange picked up by the stump mic, exactly what he thought of his abilities. The next ball Bavuma faced from Stokes, he dispatched over midwicket. No words needed.

The truth was that Stokes was not the only one who thought that. When Bavuma was first selected, with a first-class average under 40, there were many doubters. He was labelled a quota player. He forced a small rethink when he accepted the challenge of opening in India after Stiaan van Zyl was given a break and gave a solid account of himself as a cricketer with maturity, poise and good temperament.

But after he failed in Durban, and especially after the way he was out in the second innings when he danced down the wicket and was stumped, he was back to being considered an unfair beneficiary of Cricket South Africa's commitment to change.

Bavuma's cover-driving was especially assured © Getty Images

In this match, he could well have been left out. With Kagiso Rabada in the XI because of the injury to Dale Steyn, the black African quota was filled and, with JP Duminy in the squad too, their number of players of colour was also fine. However, the selectors wanted to give Bavuma a fair chance. Thank goodness they did. Yes, in some ways Bavuma is a transformation selection but that is the point of the policy: to find black African players who are good enough and to give them opportunities.

It means they may be under pressure to take those opportunities more than others but it also means the ones that come through will have survived a stern examination of character. For Bavuma, a lot of that came in his duel with Stokes, who was vocally backed up by an England team with the scent of the ascendancy back in their nostrils. "I couldn't hear everything he was saying but the more he kept speaking, the more it fired me to knuckle down," he said. And that is exactly what he did.

Bavuma was strong on the drive and the pull. He scored all around the ground and he scored quickly. He played for the team and he played for millions of South Africans who were willing him on to make history. "When I walk on the field, it's not just me walking on the field," he said. "I understand the significance. It's about being a role model and an inspiration to kids, especially black African kids."

When he was on 77, he almost gave it away. Stuart Broad tested him with a spell of legcutters but Jonny Bairstow could not hold on to the one edge that carried. "It felt like I was on nought again. Stuart Broad was bowling well and I thought to myself if I don't get a milestone, maybe it just wasn't meant to be," Bavuma said. It was. It just took him another 46 balls.

Bavuma handled that period conservatively and then, on 96 and with only one slip in his place, he got a thick edge down to third man. And the rest ...

"There was a lot of emotion," he said.

His first gesture was to the dressing room. Then to the president's suite. Then to everyone. Rabada hung back and let Bavuma soak it in. Then he joined him. The entire England team, Stokes included, applauded. Later, Stokes was the first to say well batted as Bavuma walked off.

There are plenty of theories about why there have been so many more black African bowlers than batsman, ranging from the different equipment requirements to the brazen fact that young black bowlers had a role model in Ntini but no-one similar in batsman form. If the latter is true, now they have Bavuma. And for that, South Africa applauds.

* This article was updated to remove inaccurate suggestions about Vuyo Bavuma's political affiliations at 15:15 GMT on January 9, 2016

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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