The team had not taken a knee, or made any other gesture, when they returned to international cricket last month
South Africa have confirmed that they would “raise our fists” at the start of the Test series against Sri Lanka in Centurion on Saturday “as a gesture to express our ongoing commitments” towards the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. This comes close on the heels of Mark Boucher, the team coach, saying that the squad had decided to express their support for inclusion after the interim CSA board issued a statement of concern over the team not making a gesture when they returned to international cricket last month.
“We have taken the decision – through a process of deep democracy – to raise our fists at the beginning of the Betway Test series against Sri Lanka as a gesture to express our ongoing commitments,” the team said in a statement released by CSA on the morning of the match. “We recognize that gestures have histories and contexts, which carry meaning beyond themselves (both positive and negative) and that these gestures may be open to misinterpretation. Symbols also serve the purpose of communicating shared values and meaning.
“We feel it is important to note that while American football quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, is now known for initiating the gesture of taking the knee, he began his protest by sitting during the singing of the United States of America (USA) anthem. His decision to move toward taking the knee was a response to his context and a desire to own a gesture that had deep significance in the USA political environment.
“In the same vein as Kaepernick, we would like to use our sporting platform to raise awareness around an issue that matters deeply in this historical moment. We want to do so in a way that unites us around a gesture we own, which speaks to and resonates in our South African context, and which is connected to our own history of struggle for human rights.”
On December 21, the interim CSA board chairman Judge Zak Yacoob wrote to director of cricket Graeme Smith and Boucher noting individuals’ right to freedom of expression, but stating that he felt South Africans should show “the world that all of us are together in opposing racism at every turn”.
This came as a reaction to the team not taking a knee – or making any other gesture – on its return to international cricket, against England on November 27, the first time they played together since March. They did, however, wear black armbands to mourn the lives lost in the Covid-19 pandemic.
Two days before the game, the team had issued a statement expressing their commitment to dismantling anti-racism by “building commitments to one another and demonstrating ways of engaging that we simply never have before as a team”. In that statement, the team harked back to the exhibition 3TC game in July, where all 24 players and every member of support staff involved took a knee.
Boucher had said that in that act, the team felt “we have done what we needed to do”. The team then U-turned somewhat on that and a banner saying “we stand in solidarity against racism and gender-based violence” was on display in the stands at Newlands when they played England in two of the three T20Is. The third match was in Paarl and the banner was not transported to Boland Park.
On the eve of the Boxing Day Test, Boucher confirmed that, following discussions within the group, “the guys have come up with a meaningful gesture”.
In the latest statement, the team added: “We as the Proteas team have, on multiple occasions, declared our unmistakable support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) campaign. We have openly discussed the topic on numerous occasions with the media and amongst each other and we are committed to continuing to do this work together.
“We continue to own our journey and our previously stated stance on this issue (Players’ Statement and press release dated 25 November). We recognize that our actions will most likely result in criticism from some community, one way or another, but work to prioritise the team, to be honest about our own learning journey and to continue to make decisions that we can own in good conscience as a team, first and foremost, and as individuals.”
The team also acknowledged that the raised fist has been an iconic gesture in various anti-race movements, and in South Africa’s own history.
“The raised fist is a powerful gesture in our own history, as expressed in the iconic images of Nelson and Winnie Mandela on Mandela’s release from prison in 1990,” the statement read. “In this context it was a powerful gesture of triumph, an acknowledgment of the struggle against apartheid, and a commitment to continuing to fight for equality, justice and freedom, while also honouring the religious and cultural responsibilities of every member of our team.
“The raised fist has a long history also within the Civil Rights movement. It has been used iconically within the sporting arena as well. For example, American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists during a medal ceremony at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games, later noting it as a ‘human rights salute’. More recently it has been used within the BLM movement.
We recognize the historical and political connotations of the raised fist as a gesture of ongoing solidarity in the fight for racial justice and anti-racism work. So, we stand together and raise our fists as a gesture of solidarity and commitment to continuing the work of pursuing racial justice in our life-times.”