Former South Africa manager Mohammed Moosajee wants team to adopt ‘a unified approach’ on BLM movement

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South Africa’s former team manager Dr Mohammed Moosajee has called on the national team to take a unified approach when expressing an on-field stance on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

Moosajee was speaking at the Social Justice and Nation-Building (SJN) hearings where he expressed his disappointment at the divided stance within the team on taking the knee.

The men’s national team have given its members the option of taking a knee, raising a fist or standing to attention before matches, Notably, all the players of colour, along with some white players, have opted for taking the knee, while others have selected alternative options. After a decade of culture camps aimed at cultivating inclusion, Moosajee expressed his disappointment that the team could not agree on a single gesture.

“Unfortunately, some current players appear to be misinformed and believe taking the knee is supporting the notion that black lives matter more,” he said. “They need to be educated so that they appreciate that taking the knee is all about a stand against racism and discrimination and supporting the notion that Black lives matter as much.

“It is a pity that the Proteas Team have not adopted a unified approach to the issue and highlights that even though we have been having discussions for a number of years already, these discussions need to continue, because we still have some way to go to get all our people to fully appreciate the injustices of the past. I would like to see a recommendation from the Ombudsman [Dumisa Ntsebeza] urging the Proteas to adopt a unified approach.”

Moosajee was involved with the national team in various roles for 16 years until 2019, first as the doctor and then combining it with the role of team manager.

He said he believed greater levels of understanding have been achieved since a camp held in 2010, which he and then-captain Graeme Smith conceptualised. Several allegations of racism during the Smith captaincy era have been made at the SJN.

“In 2010, Graeme Smith and I believed that it was necessary to build an inclusive team culture and for members of the squad to have a greater appreciation of people from different backgrounds, races and religions,” Moosajee said.

“In my view, the targets or quotas gave opportunities to people of colour and many of them proved that they could be world-class performers on the international stage”

Dr Mohammed Moosajee

“The objective of building the team culture was to build an authentic, diverse and inclusive sense of identity, with due regard to our fractured past and history. I believed that it was important for the team to talk about race, class and culture, but I was also conscious of the fact that building a team culture would not happen overnight. It required unwavering commitment, strong leadership and continuous reinforcement.”

The three-day camp was formed with information gathered from Sporting Edge and Hoko – team culture companies who assisted the New Zealand rugby team – and included expert advice from Ahmed Kathrada, a contemporary of Nelson Mandela. These specialists ran two surveys, including one with members of the public who said they believed the national rugby team, the Springboks, were better ambassadors for the country than the cricket side.

Moosajee admitted to being surprised at the survey results, “because at the time even though the Proteas had not won a World Cup, they were the top-ranked Test-playing nation and had more black players (on a percentage basis) than the Springboks.”

The outcome of the camp was a four-minute video, which was played at SJN but never released publicly. It featured Smith at the Wanderers, interspersed with a Mandela speech, an interview with rugby world-cup winning captain John Smit, and fans of all races reminding the team: “you represent me.”

According to Moosajee, the camp was successful in starting “the journey to get the team more united and in my view had positive outcomes.” Among those were that more players of colour started to be selected for the national side, although Moosajee acknowledged, “the camp was not the sole reason for this.” He credited “more diverse franchise and provincial teams, diversity amongst coaches and administrators in the affiliate members of CSA” and “targets/quotas,” as also playing a role.

But he criticised the quota system for having the “unintended consequences,” of relying on elite schools to produce players and leaving underprivileged areas in a state of neglect while also creating a comfort zone for players. “Certain players, who had become “undroppable”, because their inclusion in a team is necessary to meet the quotas / targets. A few of these players allowed their fitness levels to wane and were guilty of disciplinary misdemeanours, but these misdemeanours went unpunished, because there were concerns that the quotas / targets would not be met.”

He offered a specific example in Lonwabo Tsotsobe, who has also testified at the SJN, and who Moosajee said had never passed any of the 15 skin-folds tests he had with the national team and failed numerous yo-yo fitness tests. “As opposed to being discriminated against for being black, Mr Tsotsobe benefitted from being black. An example of this is when he was initially left out of the Proteas Squad for the 2013 tour to Sri Lanka. At the time, Russell Domingo was quoted in the media as saying he had massive concerns about Lopsy’s form, fitness and possibly his work ethic. The decision to leave Mr Tsotsobe out of the touring squad was reversed by the CSA Board, as there were no other Black African cricketers in the touring squad.”
Although Moosajee stressed that he had no role in selection, he answered questions about whether he thought Khaya Zondo’s exclusion from the ODI team in India in 2015 was a result of racism, specifically by then-captain AB de Villiers. Moosajee said he was not aware of de Villiers’ influence in that selection: “From my understanding the final decision sat with the selection committee, and if we are saying that they are racist, I find it difficult because there were more people of colour on that selection committee than not.”
When referred to selector Hussein Manack’s testimony about being pressured by de Villiers on selection and asked about white players’ influence on selection, Moosajee said: “In any team culture and environment, the environment is driven by the senior players and at that time, the senior players happened to be white. It’s different now – you’ve got Kagiso, Temba [Bavuma] as the senior players. Whether they influence actual selection is a separate debate. My understanding is that the captain should not have a vote on selection. On the captain, in my 15 years of working with AB de Villiers, I have never found him to be racist. Whether that was an unconscious bias, we can debate. And if the senior players in any team influence selection then there is a big problem in that.”

Moosajee maintained that unconscious bias and ingrained prejudice continues to contribute to divides in South African cricket in all sectors. “Some white players and administrators still need to appreciate the value of diversity, the need to level the playing fields and to break down barriers and some black players and administrators also need to recognise that they have contributed to further divisions in our societies and need to be more inclusive and recognise that good people from all our communities are prepared to be sacrificial leaders and contribute to the desperately needed transformation agenda. A fully transformed and successful team will attract sponsors, contribute to more nations wanting to play series against us and increase earnings through broadcast revenue.”

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent

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