The 1935 South Africa tourists exercise on the ship to England

The 1935 South African tourists exercise on the ship to England

© Ray Preston
1

Essay

Through the past, darkly

The struggle for a cricket museum in South Africa reveals a haphazard approach to the preservation of heritage

Luke Alfred |

In late June 2012, after many years as a journalist, I started work as a media strategist for Cricket South Africa. I counselled the preposterously naïve idea of relative transparency, of getting to know your media constituency, and the need for a sort of "necessary itch" between the media and ourselves. "It can be uncomfortable but ultimately it will help the association - the short-term pain of exposure is ultimately beneficial," I told Jacques Faul, acting chief executive at the time.

Other than offering suspect media advice, my duties included editing a magazine, helping upgrade a cranky old website, and starting to collect objects and cricket artefacts for a CSA museum. We imagined the museum would be an inclusive space where we'd show South African cricket history in all of its ragged glory, neither shying away from telling the stories of black cricketers' exclusion under apartheid, nor, say, from detailing the Hansie Cronje affair. I wrote articles and went on radio to broadcast the idea of the museum.

Every object for the museum had its own peculiar radiance, its own aura

The response was never more than a trickle, but discarding the opportunists and the kansvatters (or chancers) my quest turned up some amazing finds. Along with the odd signed stump of dubious provenance (a Jonty Rhodes "signature" was common) we received cups and ties and brochures, scrapbooks and photographs. Graeme Smith donated the pair of boots he wore in his 100th Test as captain; there was an autographed Jacques Kallis shirt; a pair of gloves from Alviro Petersen's 182 at Headingley in 2012. Neil McKenzie donated a bat from his great Lord's rearguard hundred in 2008.

Cally Barlow, Eddie's widow, donated scrapbooks and jerseys and Bangladesh caps. Alan Melville's son Rob made contact. Were we interested, he asked, "in the cap dad wore in the Timeless Test?" I discovered Peter Heine's boots from the 1950s and a blazer worn by the South African Indians on their tour of Kenya in the mid-1950s. There were two collections of cricket books with yellowing pages; the mandatory dead fish moths - the horrible little creatures that burrow into old books and clothes here - pressed flat on page 157 of Jack Cheetham's autobiography. Among my favourites were cardboard box after cardboard box of commemorative 2003 World Cup coins. I had never seen so many coins with Nicky Boje's, Lance Klusener's or Boeta Dippenaar's face on them. So many, in fact, that some were thrown away.

The 1946-47 Transvaal Coloured squad with the Barnato Trophy

The 1946-47 Transvaal Coloured squad with the Barnato Trophy © Ray Preston

There was even a comprehensive scrapbook, compiled in all probability by the South African cricket journalist and commentator Louis Duffus, of the Springboks tour of Britain in 1935 - their first ever series win in England. After the tour was over, Mr and Mrs Duffus holidayed on the continent, filling the scrapbook with page after page of dinky black-and-white photographs of alpine scenes in Germany, bridges over the Rhine, and low middle-European skies. One of them, taken on the outskirts of a country town, ominously warns Jews they aren't welcome.

Every object had its own peculiar radiance, its own aura. Another favourite item was a manual umpire's counter, with six metal fingers for counting deliveries, the flat metal base slipping neatly into the palm of an upturned hand. It might have once been owned by Hayward Kidson, an umpire in the '60s and '70s. Geoffrey Toyana, the coach of the Highveld Lions, donated a team photograph featuring his father Gus. The photo was of poor quality, housed in a hand-hewn, unvarnished frame. It spoke of hard-won pride. Black cricketers were particularly oppressed in the '60s and '70s, when apartheid was beginning to bite hard and people were forcibly removed to patches of unpromising, vacant land on city outskirts. The deaths of this generation of cricketers, in particular, are almost religiously commemorated in CSA press releases nowadays. Little was done for them while they were alive, aside from the odd handout or free pass to the Wanderers Long Room.

As a rule, post-apartheid society has kept the appreciation and commemoration of the past within exceptionally limited and safe political confines

There was also the old steel trammel (or trunk) used by manager Jack Plimsoll on tour to England in 1965. The trunk was empty but for eight or nine turquoise-coloured booklets. I assumed they were from that tour but they were actually from the famous cancelled tour to England in 1970. Each booklet - for expenses or for players to record out-of-pocket costs against their honorariums - was stencilled with the player's name in black lettering. In the event, the booklets are poignant reminders of a series that would have pitted against England the side that had just steamrollered Australia. Such are the whispers of a past that never came to be.

As my time at CSA became more frustrating and quixotic, I realised the idea of a museum was far more important for Faul than it was for the board. They tended to see the idea of a museum narrowly - rather than holistically and philosophically - as an opportunity for their respective unions to advance their claims as potential locations.

Eventually, after several proposals, I managed to convince one of the CSA sub-committees to donate R2.5 million (approximately US$210,000) to the museum, a modest sum but one we could work with. When Haroon Lorgat started work as chief executive on August 1, 2013, it soon became clear that the museum's days were numbered, as were mine. In conversation he told me he had experienced divisive debates about museums while at the ICC. At much the same time - and in an increasingly austere financial environment after the truncated tour by India of 2013-14 - the original museum budget was cut to R100,000 (approx. US$8400). It was at that point I realised there was no commitment to a museum, its aims and ambitions. I started to make other plans.

Memorabilia tucked away in a Museum Africa storeroom in Johannesburg, unable to find an audience

Memorabilia tucked away in a Museum Africa storeroom in Johannesburg, unable to find an audience © Ray Preston

In late January 2014, with the help of Diana Wall, we transferred all the museum objects from their temporary home in the gallery area at the Wanderers to Museum Africa, where Wall was the curator. The collection had always been modest: we transported it in the boots and back seats of three cars.

Catalogued, secreted away in various storerooms at the museum, and taken care of in conditions of correct light and humidity, the collection is safe for the time being. The move was made with CSA's consent and awaits exhibition. Wall herself is struggling with lack of staff and the cloying bureaucracy that is the City of Johannesburg's Arts and Culture department. Her position is Kafkaesque, a nightmare of form-filling and unanswered emails. She provisionally planned an exhibition to coincide with the World Cup but that was always an exceptionally distant ambition.

It's difficult not to notice that players like Gus Toyana are entombed in forgetfulness, the equivalent of an unknown soldier

The fate of these relics (many of which would receive high value overseas) is a peculiarly South African one. As a rule, post-apartheid society has kept the appreciation and commemoration of the past within exceptionally limited and safe political confines. There is an apartheid museum in southern Johannesburg and a Steve Biko museum in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape. Wall's museum tends to confine itself to exhibitions about the Pass Laws and the End Conscription Campaign in the '80s. Thirty-five kilometres away, Mahatma Gandhi's ashram, Tolstoy Farm, based on the agrarian socialism of the famous landowner and writer Leo Tolstoy, is nothing more than a raised foundation enclosed by a brick wall, a dance floor surrounded by veld.

Gandhi's dream was of spiritual and practical self-sufficiency, and photographs from the late '60s show the house backed by the substantial fruit tree orchards he and his followers planted. Like the house, they are no more. There is a raised plaque at Tolstoy Farm nowadays and a brick wall to prevent further pillage, but the overall impression is of sad dereliction. The Johannesburg City Council has been promising for years to turn it into something we can be proud of, but hasn't delivered. Elsewhere in the world there would be a visitors' centre, a bookshop and a thriving trade in Gandhi t-shirts and sandals. Not at Tolstoy Farm.

Apartheid negator: Edmund Ntikinca and Tony Greig in the Wanderers dressing room in the '70s

Apartheid negator: Edmund Ntikinca and Tony Greig in the Wanderers dressing room in the '70s © Ray Preston/Museum Africa

It is difficult to know whether South Africa's haphazard approach to the preservation of heritage has an underlying political dimension. Sometimes, as with the Tolstoy Farm, one can sense simple inefficiency. But sometimes there are darker motivations. How else does one explain the deliberate and sometimes petty neglect of those who played in some of South Africa's greatest teams? What explanation can be given for the profound alienation felt by older cricketers, white and black? Or that the numbering of the Proteas cap starts in the democratic, post-apartheid period, Kepler Wessels being the first. That Wessels played cricket for Australia, and so in some sense was as politically expedient as those who are denied official recognition, is conveniently forgotten.

Neglect, then, is everywhere when it comes to South African cricket history. Such neglect is most acute not with the white cricketers of old - a Graeme Pollock or Barry Richards, who, despite their age, still have an international profile of sorts - but with the black cricketers who could only campaign domestically and so were denied the opportunity to strut their stuff in the English or Australian sun. These stories have been painstakingly documented by historians such as Krish Reddy and Andre Odendaal, but still it's difficult not to notice that players like Gus Toyana are entombed in forgetfulness, the equivalent - almost - of an unknown soldier.

I asked Ntikinca whether it was difficult to play against some of his heroes. He replied: "I didn't have any heroes - I used to be a bit of a hero myself"

A year or two before he died last winter, I spoke to Edmund Ntikinca, a contemporary of Toyana senior and part of an ambitious young cricket-playing Xhosa elite that included Templeton Gampu, James Tokwe and Sam Nontshinga, who came to the mines of the Rand in search of work after the Second World War. One of Ntikinca's few moments of cricketing fame was at the Wanderers in the mid-'70s, where he teamed up with Edward Habane to represent a black South African side in an apartheid absurdity called the Datsun Double-Wicket International. Ntikinca and Habane beat New Zealanders Bev Congdon and Bruce Taylor in their opening game but struggled afterwards against the likes of Ian and Greg Chappell, who represented Australia, England's Frank Hayes and Tony Greig, and the Rhodesian pair of Mike Procter and Brian Davidson, the tournament's winners.

I asked Ntikinca whether it was difficult to play against some of his heroes in that competition. Prickly to the last, he replied: "I didn't have any heroes - I used to be a bit of a hero myself."

Alan Melville's cap from the Durban Timeless Test in 1938-39; booklets from South Africa's cancelled 1970 tour of England

Alan Melville's cap from the Durban Timeless Test in 1938-39; booklets from South Africa's cancelled 1970 tour of England © Ray Preston

One of the images of the event showed Ntikinca and Greig in the Wanderers dressing room, both lying on their backs, head to head; a Duncan Fearnley bat (the quintessential cricket prop of the decade) rests between them. Ntikinca, smoking a cigarette, has his hands folded across his chest; Greig's hands are tucked underneath his head as he burgles forty winks between engagements. The image is unobtrusive but quietly stunning in its ability to destabilise the received orders of the day: both men are resting, happily side by side. Society has not crumbled as the architects of sporting apartheid have insisted it would.

If nothing else, the photograph is a demonstration of the past's capacity to confound. It is very well to dismiss white apartheid cricket, to shovel black cricketers of the period to the margins, but history invariably speaks of complication, of the human stain, of compromise and story, or memory and its discontents - of that which can't be dismissed with a cavalier swipe of the ideologue's hand. All the more reason, then, for a museum, for one never quite knows what visitors to it might take home with them, how they might be inspired, or pricked or reminded, or across what stile the footpath of memory might lead.

Luke Alfred is a journalist based in Johannesburg and author of When the Lions Came to Town, the story of Willie John McBride's Lions trip to South Africa in 1974

 

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  • POSTED BY MSDonLSD on | April 16, 2015, 17:01 GMT

    A perfect example of how the "business of cricket" is taking precedence over the "art of cricket" :( Capitalism destroying the arts! Luke Alfred should not give up on this wonderful idea of a museum of South African cricket