Thirty-one of the most prominent current and former South African players of colour have called on Cricket South Africa to unequivocally confront the issue of racial divisions in the sport in the country, and urged white cricketers to show their support for Lungi Ngidi and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The signatories of the letter, an attempt at showing solidarity with the anti-racism campaigns sweeping the world, include Makhaya Ntini, Vernon Philander, JP Duminy and Herschelle Gibbs, and five current coaches including national fielding coach Justin Ontong.
The letter came after a week of racially charged rhetoric in the country's cricket circles, and notes that, collectively, the signatories "are not surprised" by the criticism Ngidi has copped from former players such as Pat Symcox, Boeta Dippenaar, Rudi Steyn and Brian McMillan.
"We commend Lungi Ngidi for supporting #BlackLivesMatter - and we'd like to add our support for it too," the letter stated. "We note the criticism aimed at Lungi for expressing his views - and we hope that Cricket South Africa (CSA), together with fellow cricketers - both present and past - will come out strongly in support of #BLM.
"We note too that the most outspoken criticism directed at Ngidi has come via former players such as Pat Symcox, Boeta Dippenaar, Rudi Steyn, Brian McMillan and others, and we urge that their views be challenged. We are not surprised at their comments.
"Given South Africa's well-known past, black cricketers have borne the brunt of subtle and overt racist behaviour for many years, including from some colleagues. Consequently, there is a need to understand how white privilege feeds into the perpetuation of these old attitudes and assumptions."
The statement is a response to events that began when Ngidi said he hoped South Africa's players would join the rest of the world in "making a stand" in support of BLM. The following day, Ngidi was criticised by Symcox, Dippenaar and others for not being equally vocal about the murders of mostly white farmers in the country. The South African Cricketers' Association stood by Ngidi and CSA also issued a statement making plain its support for BLM. Since then, several players of colour have begun telling their stories on social media, including Ashwell Prince, who called the South African system "broken".
While the statement has urged the South African cricketing community to rally in support of Ngidi, only one current international, Tabraiz Shamsi, has so far made any public comment in the matter.
@NgidiLungi I am right behind you boy!— Tabraiz Shamsi (@shamsi90) July 9, 2020
You said NOTHING wrong!
Black, white or brown... NO ONE should be treated with hatred, cruelty or differently based on their skin colour#BlackLivesMatter #AllLivesMatter #Peace #LungiNgidi
The signatories to the statement also asserted that South Africa's history of segregation, which ended only 26 years ago with the first democratic elections, has meant that institutionalised and systemic forms of racism are rampant in the current game, despite early hopes that they would be weeded out. The players and coaches said they had previously seen racial hangovers as "teething problems", which would "be resolved if we are patient", but that the views of Symcox, Dippennar, Rudi Steyn and McMillan suggest otherwise.
"After almost three decades of cricket unity, the views expressed from one side of the racial divide are still very much part of our lives, and we now believe teething problems cannot be allowed to continue for this long. We see this as an opportunity for CSA to be unequivocal about its position and to make sure the problem is confronted, and we also invite our fellow white cricketers to join in this move to defend human dignity.
"We represent, or have represented, South Africa on merit. Far too many white South Africans cannot accept that black cricketers have proved, time without end, that they are good enough to play at the highest level. We want to remind South Africans that as recently as 2017, we were told that a South African sister sport, rugby, was 'dead' - killed by 'transformation'. But guess what? South African rugby won a World Cup last year. We cannot recall anyone suggesting that the victory was due to transformation.
"Why is transformation always rammed down the throats of national teams when they lose, but never when they win? Can there be equal treatment, please?"
No white players, past or present, or white coaches, were approached to add their names to the statement, as people of colour aimed to take a unified stance in expressing their voice, which some of them have argued have been routinely silenced. "All the signatories to the release stated that they have stories to tell about the racism they have had to endure as they strove to get to the top of their sporting careers. It is important to bring these into the open, and for CSA to support black cricketers who come forward to air their stories."
The support for BLM received added momentum last week, with Michael Holding and Ebony-Jewel Rainford-Brent featured in a moving documentary on the Sky Sports broadcast ahead of the first Test between England and West Indies. Both Holding and Rainford-Brent spoke of their experiences of racial discrimination over vastly different periods of time - Holding in the 1970s and 1980s and Rainford-Brent as recently as 2008. Prince has since acknowledged that he had been "100% inspired by Michael Holding" when he chose to speak out.