Racial slur remains ultra-sensitive issue in South Africa

Updated January 29, 2019

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Sarfraz Ahmed’s remark may have been made in ignorance but certainly was not acceptable. — File photo
Sarfraz Ahmed’s remark may have been made in ignorance but certainly was not acceptable. — File photo

THE loud presence in the field of Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed has now been gagged by the game’s world governing body, the ICC, who have finally slapped him with a four-match ban for his racial slur during last week’s Durban ODI which the tourists lost.

In frustration of not being able to break what turned out to be the match-winning partnership between Andile Phehlukwayo and Rassie van der Dussen, Sarfraz, unaware of the consequences that were to follow, was heard through the stumps microphone shouting, “Hey black guy, where is your mother sitting today? What prayer you have got her to say for you today?”

The comment went viral as soon as it was heard on live transmission which eventually came as a source of huge embarrassment not only for the people watching the match but also for the Pakistan team itself when they discovered its seriousness.

Also read: Wrong line, Sarfraz

The captain’s remark after inside edge for four by Phehlukwayo may have been made in ignorance but certainly was not acceptable for the fact that it was made in a country where because of apartheid — a policy of racial discrimination of the National Party of the minority white population over the majority blacks for around fifty years — had caused not only massacres of the black population but also deprivation of their rights in their day-to-day lives.

A curse against which the legendary freedom fighter Nelson Mandela had to serve 27 years in prison before his release from the Robben Island to become the first black president of his country providing his black people and the Asians the right to not only live in the cities where they were forbidden during apartheid but also the right to buy property and share schools with white children.

Now 27 years on the non-whites including the blacks and the Asians are part of the national team. Previously South Africa, the founding member of the ICC, neither played international cricket against non-white nations nor included a black or an Asian in their team.

In 1968-69 when South Africa refused to host an England team for a home Test series because the tourists in their team had picked Basil D’Oliveira, a cape-coloured South African, they were thrown out of the ICC and international cricket for 21 years until Mandela was released and their policy of apartheid was abolished.

Now South Africa are a racially-integrated team with a quota to have a certain number of non-white players in the national squad.

The subject of race, colour, religion and creed therefore is a very sensitive issue in South Africa and one has to be careful in what you say. Even the word ‘Kafir’ is banned in the country when Mandela came into power because the ruling whites would call the blacks with a name like that.

Looking at the remark made by the Pakistan captain in that context was a huge blunder or call it a slip of tongue. That Sarfraz after being told the enormity of his comment apologised to Phehlukwayo was an acceptable gesture as was PCB’s condemnation of it immediately after.

Those arguing in favour and against the punishment Sarfraz was handed must understand the seriousness of the whole situation which landed the Pakistan skipper Sarfraz in trouble and a flight back home thereafter.

I personally do not support indiscipline in any form and if one violates it has got to be punished, be it a player or an official. No point talking the issue to the ICC after condemning our own captain’s remarks.

How can we forget that during the 2006 Colombo Test between South Africa and Sri Lanka Australian batsman Dean Jones was heard saying from the commentary box ‘the terrorist has got another wicket’, as Hashim Amla caught Kumar Sangakkara. Only because Amla, a devout Muslim, was sporting a beard which he still wears proudly.

Jones was immediately sacked by his employer, Ten Sports, owned then by Abdul Rehman Bukhatir. Jones did apologise for his derogatory comment to Amla and also to his employers but remained off air for a long time as punishment.

Sledging during a high-tension sports competition is acceptable if one does not cross limits. This reminds me of an incident during the 1990 Adelaide Test when Pakistan batting maestro Javed Miandad hit a number of fours off the Aussie pacer Merv Hughes which of course the bowler did not like and said something to the batsman.

Miandad turned towards the burly fast bowler and called him a ‘fat bus conductor’ to upset him further. Next over Hughes got Miandad out and as the batsman walked off the field, Hughes shouted at him, ‘your ticket please’. That was in good humour and had nothing to do with race or colour.

Instead of taking the Sarfraz-Phehlukwayo issue to the ICC the PCB must make sure it impart appropriate training to the members of the national team who may once again get into hot water for their lack of understanding of the culture and politics of the country they tour.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2019