July 16, 2017

Vince chips in

Vince van der Bijl's career was stunted by isolation, but he is now working to ensure that South Africa's less privileged kids have opportunities in the game
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Van der Bijl: "Sport brings instant joy"

There's a bit of the BFG in Vince van der Bijl, especially when he talks about the children of the Ukhanyo Primary School in the township of Masiphumelele, 45km from central Cape Town.

"They are flawless, they are beautiful, and they come into this school in this desolate township to find a haven of people who can care for them educationally. We want to care for them sports-wise to show what the world can offer and how good they are," van der Bijl told ESPNcricinfo at Lord's, where the MCC pledged £50,000 over three years to a project aimed at providing sustainable resources to a community that has long gone without.

To say van der Bijl is pro-transformation would be understating it. He believes neither the government, not Cricket South Africa have done enough for those the system forgot

The school in question was built to accommodate 500 children, but has had to make room for almost four times that number. Between 1900 kids, they have one netball court, one sprint track, and only one physical education teacher. The first bits of the MCC's investment will go to building three cricket nets, which will be unveiled on August 22; in subsequent years van der Bijl hopes to develop an entire sporting structure.

"We're hoping to raise a million rand (about US$76,000) a year through donations. We want people to put hands in their pockets for 100 rand or 200 rand a month ad infinitum," he said. "But more importantly, we want them to visit, see the township and integrate the white residents of that area with the township, because I think that's the way forward for South Africa."

"We want to care for them sports-wise to show what the world can offer and how good they are" © MCC

Consider where that statement is coming from. Van der Bijl's entire career took place during South Africa's sporting isolation and he experienced first-hand what that robbed him of. He was picked for the 1971-72 tour to Australia, which was cancelled, but he holds not an iota of bitterness. In fact, he sees it as his responsibility, as one of the privileged, to make amends for the wrongs of the past. "Every single country has a need to look after its poor and people who have a very poor image of themselves and who have been downtrodden," he said. "That's happened in South Africa and we need to rectify that."

To say van der Bijl is pro-transformation would be understating it. He believes neither the government nor Cricket South Africa have done enough for those the system forgot, and he points to the Springbok Sevens rugby team as the only example of an inclusive team in the country. "They are the only sustainable rainbow team we have produced, which produced excellence and includes people from all walks of life - wealthy, poor, black, white. They have one aim - to be the best in the world - and they show us… we see it in cricket from time to time when we play at our best, but not always."

"We want people to visit, see the township and integrate the white residents of that area with the township, because I think that's the way forward for South Africa"
Vince van der Bijl

Compare that with the statements made by both Barry Richards and Graeme Pollock in the last month against South Africa's transformation policy - Richards said he thought South Africa was "far enough along the line" to no longer need targets and Pollock asserted the Test side would be "middle of the road" if transformation remained in place - and you have some idea of the polarisation this topic brings about. But van der Bijl is adamant wounds must be tended to in a country where the effects of legalised racial segregation are still being felt. He is convinced sport is one of the vehicles that can be used to heal.

"It could be anything - cellos, chess, reading - it doesn't really matter, but sports is my love," he said. "It binds people because it gives people joy instantly. If you see kids run, they laugh. If you see kids hit a ball, they laugh, whereas other disciplines are slightly more cerebral and quieter. Sport brings instant joy."

Van der Bijl poses with students of Ukhanyo Primary School © MCC

His ultimate aim is not for the Masiphumelele project to produce an international cricketer, though that would be "a bonus", but rather to provide a facility that the people of the township can ultimately run themselves. Initially, with the MCC's help, van der Bijl will supply coaches, but eventually he will train coaches in the area. The facilities they build and the kit they provide will be for keeps, and there will also be peripheral projects that concentrate on things like entrepreneurship.

Over three years, not just the schoolchildren but also the 40,000 residents of Masiphumelele will benefit, and van der Bijl hopes others will see the value of what the MCC is doing. "We're going to start girls' cricket, and we hope to double the participation and the number of teams in the school. And then we're reaching out to the community and the MCC has allowed this to happen. They see the need and they have been generous in saying, 'Here's some money, give it a start and we will be right behind you.' What they do in this field, around the world with Chance2Shine, is absolutely fantastic."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Geoff on July 19, 2017, 8:54 GMT

    Inspiring story. How does one make a contribution?

  • laksvi5642713 on July 19, 2017, 4:42 GMT

    Am indian, have no idea of the SAF quota system or the rights and wrongs, but this is about VVDB - what a fantastic human being, what a exemplary philosophy-wonderful thinker....wish we had someone like him guiding our youngsters. Salutes to you from india...keep up the good work....cheers

  • Simon on July 18, 2017, 18:41 GMT

    @RON - Thanks for the reply. I agree completely. I just think that no one who isn't rationalising can truly believe that a preferred selection under a quota system gains the same level of self-esteem as someone who is selected from a level playing field as being superior to those with whom he is completing.

  • joshua7072265 on July 17, 2017, 18:55 GMT

    At the same time Bavuma needs to be more consistent. Ballance and Jennings haven't got going in international cricket yet some will say quota players were blocking them.

  • Muzammil on July 17, 2017, 17:53 GMT

    ctd...Other kolpaks also cannot blame opportunity because if Im not mistaken all of them regularly played and captained their franchises. They didn't impress internationally and got the sack...Good luck to them but truely. How many "Quotas" would you drop from our team? Amla? Philander? Rabada? (JP got dropped) Bavuma (who pulls us out of the fire with De Kock every time we 80-4). Inconsistent yes but he scores tough runs. Deserves SOME leeway.

  • Muzammil on July 17, 2017, 17:49 GMT

    @JOSHUA707226,He was also ranked no.1 in the world at one stage and in fact I'd go as far to say he was our best ODI bowler at his peak. As for phelukwayo, @Ideal, this boy who's only 21 has already been pivotal in 3 wins...against Aus, NZ, England just a couple of weeks back. He's shown plenty of fight and doesn't deserve to be used as an example of the failings of transformation. Whilst yes I'm not exactly a fan of of the Quota system (as I believe the players of colour are good enough anyway), to blame the Quotas for kolpak departures is folly. White players are chasing the pound (no issue with that). Simple. You can't claim a lack of opportunity when you fail at the highest level. Ingram is playing wonderful cricket but when he got picked for the proteas he was terrible. Same goes for most of them. Abbott and Rilee were good (Rilee had a shocking start to ODIs) but they couldn't break into a strong line up. Abbott is not better than a fit Steyn, Philander, Rabada and Morkel. ctd..

  • James C Birbeck Dar on July 17, 2017, 12:49 GMT

    Paul, you may have a fair point (though Botham improved vastly when relieved of the captaincy). The most formidable opening partnership of (about) that time, though, was probably Barbados, who had Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner (with Sylvester Clarke and Wayne Daniel as back up).

  • James C Birbeck Dar on July 17, 2017, 12:46 GMT

    A fine man. Another "lost great" doing a lot of good work in helping underprivileged kids is Mike Procter.

  • Edwin on July 17, 2017, 12:39 GMT

    @Paul - the article is about the work Van der Bijl is doing for the community.

    Regarding Middlesex's county success almost EVERY county team in the early 80's had a world-class new-ball pair - Botham/Garner, Imran/Garth Le Roux, Hadlee/Rice, etc....