Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent
Khaya Zondo revealed the anguish he suffered after being left out of South Africa's ODI team to play against India in 2015, a decision Cricket South Africa (CSA) ruled was unfair as it violated their selection policy. Zondo testified in private at the Social Justice and Nation Building (SJN) hearings but asked for his submission to be made public after former national selector Hussein Manack expressed regret over Zondo's omission on Thursday.
Manack detailed how Dean Elgar was slotted into the XI in place of an injured JP Duminy, despite Zondo being the back-up batter in the squad, and David Miller was kept in the team, allegedly at the insistence of then captain AB de Villiers. Zondo told a similar version of events, including that de Villiers had personally explained to Zondo why he was left out, but said the experience left him lost on the day and had impacts on him afterwards.
"I switched off mentally for the rest of the day and I detached myself from the team because it was clear I was not wanted," Zondo said, recalling his feelings on the day of the fifth ODI. "Switching off helped me cope with everything that was happening. The hardest part was watching the players who were selected ahead of me playing and having the opportunity to shine for South Africa on a world stage, in India and having a chance to play and potentially impress and get future IPL opportunities."
When Zondo returned home, he and several other black players wrote a letter to CSA, expressing their unhappiness with selection and prompting the inquiry that ultimately found Zondo should have played ahead of Elgar, who was not part of the ODI squad. Although the investigations were conducted confidentially, the existence of the letter was well-known in cricket circles and was used to mock Zondo while he was playing.
"We were playing a game in Potchefstroom against the Lions and I was batting. There were two white players close to me. One was bowling to me. I hit the ball for four and he said, 'Why didn't you do this for South Africa A?' Then he bowled another ball which beat my bat and he said, 'If you weren't so focused on writing letters, you might be a better player.' The other white player proceeded to call me a 'postman'," Zondo said. "I remember walking up to the guy who was bowling and I lost it. I was pointing my bat in his face. I had just been through the hardest thing any player can go through and they had no understanding of what it was like to be in that position and were making fun of it. Instead of these guys not having something to say, they saw fit to comment and belittle and ridicule. They saw it as a joke."
However, Zondo was not completely isolated at the time. He gave words of thanks to a senior white player in the national team who sent him a WhatsApp message that "comforted me to know that he supported me," and two cricketers who he did not name that "walked the journey with me," especially through meetings with CSA. "They were the only two willing to stand by me. I hope other black players stand up for each other as they stood up for me. We would be a lot further along as black people in cricket if we stood up for each other and we didn't waver in our beliefs," he said.
Zondo also paid tribute to former Dolphins coach Lance Klusener, who continued to back him on his return from India. "Lance Klusener saw how it broke me. I think God put him there because he has been at international level. He knows how tough things can get and he was the right person to help me through that," Zondo said. "If I had a weaker coach who had not experienced the harsh things that happen to players, the outcome might have been different. Lance said to me (in isiZulu): 'Khaya, you need to be tough, you need to be strong, you need to toughen up. When this is over, you will be a better man for it.'"
His testimony ended with a plea to current players, of all races, to speak out against discrimination. "We are here in these hearings because of past generations who didn't speak up, who had their reasons for not speaking up when they played. Everyone has their reasons," he said. "I would like all players to come out and speak and give their opinion or if they have had any experience, to talk about it. Their silence also allows discrimination to continue. Silence is not the answer for how we correct this. This thing affects everyone. Privilege often makes equality seem like oppression. For equality to come into place, people need to strip themselves of privilege so they can see other people's experiences."
The SJN will take a two week break until August 23. In the interim, the project has issued a call for anyone who has been adversely mentioned to submit a response by August 18. Mark Boucher, the current men's head coach, is among those expected to appear when the SJN resumes.