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
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."
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."
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