JOHANNESBURG – Lungi Ngidi said the fact that not all the South African players took a knee before the start of the first Test with West Indies, was not a sign that the team was divided.
The majority of the South African team’s players and all of the coaching staff joined their West Indies counterparts in taking a knee to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, before the start of the series in St Lucia on Thursday.
Ngidi was one of six members of the starting team – Kagiso Rabada, Rassie van der Dussen, Keegan Petersen, Keshav Maharaj and Kyle Verreynne – who took a knee before play started. The rest of the South Africans, including new skipper, Dean Elgar, stood with their right fists raised, with the exception of Quinton De Kock, who had his hands behind his back.
“We come from a diverse country,” said Ngidi.
“It’s not fair for me to speak for other people, everyone’s entitled to their own choices in life. I’ve been very clear on my stance.”
It was the big fast bowler’s call last year that South African cricket have a discussion about how to support the Black Lives Matter movement, that stirred up a hornet’s nest about racism in South African cricket.
“In terms of the team, there is no division at all. You could see today in the way we were playing – everyone’s happy for everyone – we play for South Africa which is all we are trying to do as players.”
While the West Indies have always been clear that they would take a knee, a point emphasised by their captain, Kraigg Brathwaite before the match, for South Africa, the manner in which they show support for the social movement has been a point of controversy.
Elgar met with Brathwaite on Tuesday, where besides telling his West Indies counterpart that he and his team would respect the West Indies’s perspective, it was also revealed that the Proteas would individually be able to decide what they wanted to do. “It’s been quite a journey for this Proteas side with regards to this very topic,” Elgar said before the Test.
⛔️ DAY 1 | CLOSE OF PLAY
The #Proteas end the day on 128/4, holding a 31-run lead, with vd Dussen (34*) and de Kock (4*) at the crease.
— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) June 10, 2021
“Ultimately what happened, we gave them our version with regard to their campaign and us supporting the campaign. We’ve given the players the right to perform whatever gesture or act they want to perform. If players are comfortable with taking the knee they may. If a player wants to raise his right fist they are entitled to do that. If players aren’t comfortable just yet, they’ve got to stand to attention to show respect to the campaign.”
The West Indies knelt before the start of the series against England last year, with their players all wearing black gloves, which they raised as they knelt. It made for a powerful image, coming so soon after the death of George Floyd in the United States. They were joined in doing so by the England players and later in the year the New Zealand team as well when they toured that country.
South Africa has had a bemusing response to the Black Lives Matter movement, despite the country’s own painful racist history. In the Proteas’s first international match against England last November, no gesture was made with players publicly claiming that a lot of “hard chat” was taking place internally about how they should show their recognition and support for the movement.
Some claimed that kneeling was a religious gesture which meant they couldn’t do that as a show of solidarity. Eventually after much controversy, they settled on raising their right fists, but in doing so before the start of the home series with Sri Lanka last season many looked very uncomfortable.
“There are players who aren’t comfortable with serving a gesture. Ultimately, we’ve come to the West Indies to respect their campaign,” said Elgar.
The West Indies will be sporting the Black Lives Matter logo on their shirts during the two Test series against the Proteas.
Elgar added that the Proteas had done a lot more introspection before going to the Caribbean.
“It’s taken us a year to reach this point, where we feel every player has a right, a sense of belonging within this team. We’ve come to the West Indies not to disrespect the West Indies badge. I think we’ve made a massive step with regards to this process.”