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Symbols of protest: Quinton de Kock’s choice of silence in the face of oppression is futile

Symbols of protest: Quinton de Kock’s choice of silence in the face of oppression is futile
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - OCTOBER 23: Quinton de Kock of South Africa playing a shot during the 2021 ICC T20 World Cup match between Australia and South Africa at Sheikh Zayed Stadium on October 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Isuru Sameera Peiris/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

It is important to note that symbols of protest have been used in sports before, like in the famous photo of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, where they gave the black power salute on the medal podium at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico.

In 2016, American football San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to start kneeling during the country’s national anthem, which was played before the start of each game. It was an act intended to protest against the racial violence and police brutality faced by black people in the US.

This led to the formation of a wider movement decrying racial injustice and the gesture was used in sports and featured during #BlackLivesMatter protests. Taking the knee intensified among athletes after the murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin, a police officer, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for several minutes until he died.

It is important to note that symbols of protest have been used in sports before, like in the famous photo of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, where they gave the black power salute on the medal podium at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico.

In 2014, LeBron James and other basketball players wore T-shirts with the words “I can’t breathe” written on them, echoing the last words of Eric Garner, who died after being restrained by police officers in New York.

Last year, SA cricketer Lungi Ngidi decided that he would take a knee in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and take a stand against racism, an act that the team was initially not united on, but later relented, except one Quinton de Kock.

The debate on whether and why South Africa should make the gesture quickly turned to the history of racial exclusion that had previously dominated the sport and in some ways continues to do so. This prompted former cricketers such as Makhaya Ntini and Hashim Amla to come out in support of Ngidi, while others such as Pat Symcox and Boeta Dippenaar countered Ngidi’s statement with the infamous “All Lives Matter” mantra.

The practice has drawn mixed reactions worldwide, with some applauding the stand and others opposing it, saying that sports are not meant to be political. Cricket South Africa was initially lethargic in taking up a concrete position but has since changed, even issuing an official directive for players to take a knee ahead of their game against the West Indies on 26 October.

De Kock, in response to this, opted not to play the match. What makes De Kock’s response to the issue of supporting Black Lives Matter interesting is that he did not state his reasons but was particularly loud in his silence. That is until the morning of 28 October, when he issued a rather puzzling and petulant statement that read more like an attempt at saving his livelihood than an actual grappling with the issues at hand.

De Kock referred to his mixed-race family as proof that he was not racist and that the reason for his act of defiance was that he felt his rights were being taken away by the directive. Now granted, no one should be forced to do anything they do not want to do. However, you must then accept that on an ideology that is universally accepted as inhumane such as racism, not denouncing it will invariably come off as support of it.

“I was shocked that we were told on the way to an important match that there was an instruction that we had to follow, with a perceived ‘or else’,” read De Kock’s statement.

What I found more unfortunate is that it took the threat of punitive measures such as ostracization and potential loss of earnings for De Kock to relent and issue a statement saying that only now did he understand the gravity of the situation.

Last year, during an England and West Indies Test match series, former West Indies player Michael Holding, who is easily one of the game’s most legendary players, broke down as he talked about the significance of showing solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter and his experiences of racism. “It’s society that needs fixing, not the individual sports. If society never changes it doesn’t matter what sport does. All sport can do is help show the way, it can’t solve the problem,” said Holding.

Many who know Holding will remember him from the explosive documentary Fire Babylon, which showed how the West Indies team of the 1960s showed remarkable tenacity and resilience in the face of dehumanising racism and attempts at exclusion, and went on to have an unbroken Test series record of being unbeaten over a 15-year period and 29 Test series.

This showing by the West Indies team was a testament to the hard-fought struggles for black people to even be taken seriously in sports, that Quinton de Kock callously chose to toss aside when he chose not to play against the West Indies this week.

The fact that De Kock pointed out in his statement that he was “raised to understand that we all have rights, and they are important” is ironic because not too long ago those rights were not implicit. It took people having to put themselves, their families and their livelihoods on the line by nailing their colours to the mast, as it were, and making their position on racism clear in order for discrimination based on race to be outlawed.

The truth is, though, whatever is in De Kock’s “heart of hearts” remains there. As Holding said, it’s about a change in society’s outlook and thinking on just how important racism is to combat or not. Whether black lives and experiences really matter, particularly in a world stacked up against them, can only be evidenced by changed behaviour that does not have as its motivation self-preservation.

Personally, I know no act of revolution that has ever occurred because a person chose silence in the face of oppression. DM168

Zukiswa Pikoli is a journalist at Maverick Citizen.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Lorinda Winter says:

    How many times must De Kock apologise before it is accepted?

  • Keith Scott says:

    Some excellent points made. Now perhaps CSA or another organisation can think about starting a protest movement called something like “Vaginal Integrity Matters” to bring more awareness about the cruel and barbaric custom of female genital mutilation that is still rife in Africa and some other countries.

  • Coen Gous says:

    Really don’t know what you were trying to achieve with this article The tone of reverse racism is clear. Like your article today of why people should vote, which is exactly why I won’t (at least not for any of the candidates or parties in my municipal ward), and rather remain silent

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    Why is the mantra “All Lives Matter” infamous, while Black Lives Matter is acceptable?

  • Love JHB South says:

    We are not a Democracy if there is no freedom of expression.
    Maybe we have never been one.

  • Two Wrongs Aint No Right says:

    It is a bit silly to think that by forcing every cricket play to kneel down you make a serious statement. Please do not tell me that everyone kneeling really feels the same about the protest action. I think protest is only effective when you know that all protestors feel the same. It really makes a statement about the management being dictatorial.

  • Rod Sherwood says:

    To suggest that adopting the BLM “symbol of protest”, is simply a confirmation of one’s opposition to racism is a deceptive oversimplification of the matter. To compel each individual in a team to identify themselves with the BLM movement is a misguided act of ideological tyranny.

  • Gerrit Marais says:

    Forcing someone to do and therefore magically believe what you wish them do, is just simply stupid. Does that change what they really think and believe? Everyone has the right to their own opinion and forcing other opinions down their throats very much has the opposite effect.

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    To Blaine’s enquiry … at a very simplistic level – because it “all” can be a convenient excuse for not having a view or position on a specific issue/matter .

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    Regarding the claim that “sports is not meant to be political” – show me a country which is not run by politicians (those who make the rules)… and you will have found the country where sports is ‘not political’ ! How moronic.

  • Oliver Ive says:

    “The truth is, though, whatever is in De Kock’s “heart of hearts” remains there. ” It is a real concern when the media starts trying to set itself up as “thought police”. It seems to me that herein lies the problem relating to this matter….people are expected to toe a particular line and their “inner thoughts” are judged by a populist yardstick, i.e. being expected to do what everyone else is doing so they can be judged as being accepted or not in order to fit into the “required group thinking”.

  • Rolando MacJones says:

    What part of “forced political association” does the author not understand?

    Is the author unfamiliar with our very carefully considered constitution, the basis for our law which explicitly grants freedom of belief and association to all who live in South Africa.

    It is astonishing to me how quickly the liberators and liberated from Apartheid have turned into that which they conquered – fascists essentially, forcing their own radical political viewpoints onto everyone. Remember Christian National education anyone?

    BLM is a political movement which has a far broader mandate that simple anti-racism. It’s stated aims are the elimination of racial inequality by various nutty methods so loved by Marxists including eradication of the nuclear family unit – yes your kids will be raised by the state – and revolutionary overthrow of capitalist/colonial society. This is childish nuttiness IMHO and while I don’t deny anyone the right to support this nuttiness, I absolutely reject anyone being forced to publically support it.

    The SA cricket team had already spent significant time over a period of years discussing racism and team unity and had already found a mature path forwards which allowed everyone the opportunity for public gestures as well as the dignity to do so in their own way.

    Forced adherence is not support – instead it is a fascist political power show. Even the public in SA are against mandatory political gesturing and by a large margin (76% against in a recent poll).

  • Rolando MacJones says:

    Kanu: “To Blaine’s enquiry … at a very simplistic level – because it “all” can be a convenient excuse for not having a view or position on a specific issue/matter .”

    I think what you are saying is that everyone *must* be forced to take a political stance on every issue, and the subtext here is that you believe everyone *must* publicly associate themselves with *your* preferred political viewpoints.

    Have you any idea what extreme totalitarianism you are promoting (Google the meaning of these words if you don’t understand them). I will give you the benefit of ignorance rather than deliberate malice according to Hanlon’s Razor, but I urge you to educate yourself.

    A pox on you and your ilk, as our constitution more elegantly stated. Perhaps your self-education should start with a read-through of our constitution.

  • Rolando MacJones says:

    In case people are ignorant about the origin of the meme “resistance is futile”, it comes from Trekkie (nerd) culture:

    “We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.” -The Borg.

    For a self-proclaimed auto-didact, the author stumbled into a rather spectacularly revealing Freudian slip. Hint: the quote and meme represent oppressive totalitarianism rather than what I think the author intended.

  • Rolando MacJones says:

    In case people are ignorant about the origin of the meme “resistance is futile”, it comes from Trekkie (nerd) culture:

    “We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.” -The Borg.

    For a self-proclaimed autodidact, the author stumbled into a rather spectacularly revealing Freudian slip. Hint: the quote and meme represent oppressive totalitarianism rather than what I think the author intended.

  • Coen Gous says:

    To Mr. Kanu Sukha. Over time I happen to disagree with your comments a lot. But then there were also times that I shared and agreed with many of your comments, despite our differences. However, your comment to Mr. Andrew Blaine, “How moronic!”, is simply not on. To agree, or not to agree to other commentators to articles is anyone’s right. To insult another person for not agreeing is, to me at least, very disturbing and one of the reasons why there can never really be unity in this country, whether it is in sport or anything else.

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    It is unclear to me why we don’t examine statistics in this fervour to show oppression of Black folk in the USA. the per capita homicide offending rate for African-Americans in 2019 was roughly eight times higher than that of whites. Most homicides in 2019 were intraracial; in those where the perpetrator’s and victim’s races were known, 81% of white victims were killed by whites and 91% of black or African-American victims were killed by blacks or African-Americans. That means 19% of whites killed were killed by blacks, and only 9% of blacks killed were killed by whites.
    Now please explain who should be taking note of BLM? Is it whites, or blacks? Who needs to know that BLM?

  • Coen Gous says:

    On a day when I have read one of the best articles I have ever read in my lifetime, I have also read the most disturbing article ever by a news reporter of DM, this one by Ms. Pikoli. It’s overtones in blatant racism is very evident, resulting in mostly negative responses. The fact that she knows very little of sport, or those that participate at the highest level, except for possibly googling some statistics to support her article, is very evident. Not once did she mentioned the failures of CSA, rather basically condemning Mr. de Kock, one of our best cricketers, a young man with his own believes, but also ignorance of the world of politics. Quinton is anything but a racist, as his own team mates of all races will testify. He simply acted spontaneously to the blatant politicising of his sport by his cricket board, and that 2 hours before a world cup match. He was not trained as you were Ms. Pikoli in politics and journalism. He simply trained to be a good cricketer, and trying to stay out of politics. And he became good in what he trained for, which I very much doubt you did.
    I was banned by life by News24 for being highly critical of some of their articles, which is fine. To me that newspaper group is simply a Naspers company with Broederbond legacies, but somehow found favour with the ruling political party, and hence is a favourite of investors on the JSE. Your article however is very similar to many I find on News24 and Surve’s newspaper group

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    To the various critics of my opinion, I recommend you read (in DM of 19th Oct) an article on “White priviledge :….”. You may just learn something different! Somehow, I sense many of you seem to fit that mould or definition.

  • Rolando MacJones says:

    Kanu: “To the various critics of my opinion, I recommend you read (in DM of 19th Oct) an article on “White priviledge :….”. You may just learn something different! Somehow, I sense many of you seem to fit that mould or definition.”

    Kanu, your crystal ball attempt to infer the melanin levels of people from their names and opinions is almost exactly the definition of racial prejudice.

    Nevertheless the issue here is not what you believe or disbelieve. The issue is whether you have a right to do so. I state unequivocally that you do, and our constitution supports me in that.

    Unfortunately for you, the same statement in the constitution extends the same right to everyone – not just you.

  • Johann Olivier says:

    Forcing someone to kneel is idiotic. It proves nothing. De Kock must make the decision. It’s a decision of conscience. Spontaneous kneeling in such a noble cause is an act of human grace, a deepfelt need to address the ongoing curse of racism, not an obligation/directive. To those who say things like ‘all lives matter’, they simply don’t get it…don’t understand the need for BLM & why it came to be. And, yes, too many are – patently – completely clueless about White Privilege, an equally destructive curse. Has De Kock’s apology come from recently acquired deeper understanding, or is it just to silence the circus?

  • Hans van der Zee says:

    I joined DM to try and get fair and unbiased news from SA. I have enjoyed it thus far. Unfortunately I noticed that you have also succumbed to “political correctness” in supporting reverse apartheid by requiring everyone to blindly follow orders from the state (aka the cricket board). Sorry, I can not support that.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    one assumes the writer is suggesting looting and violent protests are the way to go!

  • Rolando MacJones says:

    Johan: “To those who say things like ‘all lives matter’, they simply don’t get it…don’t understand the need for BLM & why it came to be. And, yes, too many are – patently – completely clueless about White Privilege, an equally destructive curse”

    Au contraire, Johan, while I don’t support BLM I do know exactly why it came to be. The first reason is a misunderstanding of statistics and a media looking for attention rather than facts.

    While statistics show that black Americans commit eight (yes 8) times the violent crime per capita in America, statistics also show that police killings in America are somewhat proportional to violent crime, although more whites are killed by police than crime rates suggest is “fair”.

    Similarly the concept of “white privilege” boils down to the very simple observation that white people in America are more successful than African Americans on average and by measures of education, income, (absence of) crime etc.

    On the other hand, Asian Americans, Nigerian immigrants and various other non-white demographics are all more successful on average than white Americans.

    So, while “white privilege” is real statistically, it is a crass simplification of a very complex reality. More importantly, there is very strong empirical evidence that racial prejudice is *not* the root cause of white privilege in America.

    Applying a concept based on white majority to the SA black majority reality is also deeply misguided.

  • Johann Olivier says:

    Rolando: the statistics are absolutely crystal clear about the jeopardy of being Black in America. No amount of fringe statistical analysis can contradict the salient fact.

    As for Black economic status: you are patently not at all familiar with Jim Crow. As for our situation in South Africa, a video from VOX is one of the best I’ve seen.

    Once you’ve familiarised yourself with facts beyond the ‘feel good’ White Privilege bubble…in & of itself a micro-inequity! (‘we’re White, that’s why we’re successful’)…you may accept how some have gained & accomplished so much as compared to others. Of course, South Africa additionally suffered the Curse of Africa: leadership corruption, which compounded the historical wound.

    From your other responses, I do understand that my discourse likely falls on utterly barren ground.

    As for De Kock, it’s his right not to kneel. He either gets it, or doesn’t. Let his actions speak.

  • Rolando MacJones says:

    Johann: “Rolando: the statistics are absolutely crystal clear about the jeopardy of being Black in America.”

    I agree with this statement. As I and at least one other respondent has mentioned, violent crime peroetration per capita of African Americans is 8 times higher than than that of white Americans. (Asian Americans have lower crime rates than white Americans).

    More importantly most violent crime in America is intra-race. 92% of African Americans who die in America are killed by fellow African Americans.

    The tragedy here is the high endemic violence within the African American demographic in America. On the other hand, African Americans enjoy a substantially lower level of crime and far higher living standards on average than Black Africans living in Africa.

    Johann: “fringe statistical analysis” – this is just valueless blather; both the UK Guardian and the US Washington Post tracked every individual killed by the police in America for several years. Google for “Guardian The Counted” if you’re interested. The results might surprise you and they are anything but “fringe”.

    I am more than aware that demographics are at least partially and likely substantially due to historical inequities. However, that is a very different statement from saying that demographic outcomes are due to racism “now”.

    Depending whether we believe that current racism is the issue – and as I’ve demonstrated (Asian American, new African immigrant success in the US) this is easily debunked…

  • Rolando MacJones says:

    … Depending whether we believe that current racism is the issue – and as I’ve demonstrated (Asian American, new African immigrant success in the US) this is easily debunked – or whether we believe that current demographic differences reflect the impact of the past – definitely – or whether we believe that demographic success reflects cultural differences – definitely – we will focus on different solutions.

    If racism today is an irrelevant contributor to demographic differences, there is no point focusing on eradicating racism.

    I would be very interested in your (Johann’s) motivation for focusing on the BLM movement abs on the concept of “white privilege”. Why do you think these are important pursuits and how do you believe they will reduce demographic inequalities?

  • Terence Dowdall says:

    Many religious people believe they should only kneel before their God. Perhaps a solution would be for them to kneel on both knees and pray before a match. As happens in many houses of prayer, they could pray out loud for racism to stop and for racists to be shown the error of their ways and to repent. This would solve the difficulty, whilst clearly showing solidarity with those kneeling on one knee. Since many South Africans are religious, kneeling and praying out loud for racism to be gone might become our particular way of anti-racist solidarity, rather than simply copying the USA once again.

  • Geoff Young says:

    This article reads like something a troll might post on social media and should not have been published by DM. The fact is, the CSA “hippo” (highest paid person’s opinion) engaged in some nauseating Pecksniffian virtue signaling. Without a moment’s thought about the right to private and personal opinion and dignity of the lowly players which CSA thinks it can command in any way it sees fit. This has nothing to with racism and everything to do with ego, incompetence and stupidity.

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