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Racism nothing new in Australia

Cricket has been the main talking point as South Africa began their Test tour of Australia with a draw at the Gabba in the first of three rubbers.

However, the Sunday Times carried a story about comments made by former Australian Test cricketer Greg Ritchie at a dinner at the Gabba, where he reportedly said, “k****r” in an anecdote regarding Kepler Wessels and the West Indies in the 1980s. He also insulted Muslims and Imran Khan, which perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise considering he has played a parody Punjabi character on the popular Footy Show in the country in the past.

Ritchie has now apologised after being admonished by Cricket Australia, the press, and many others. He has also had his planned speaking gig during the second Test in Adelaide cancelled by the South Australia Cricket Association. Ritchie’s apology initially took a defensive posture, stating “If they take offence, that’s their choice.”

He has since offered a more substantive apology on Wednesday, along the lines of not meaning to offend anyone and if he did, it wasn’t intentional, and he was sorry. Very sorry.

For a man who claims to have been a speaker of nearly 30 years, his apology smacks of back-tracking under extreme pressure, unless he has experienced an epiphany which I seriously doubt. If he has been telling the k****r joke hundreds of times, why didn’t anyone in Australia bother to tell the man he was being extremely offensive? His initial palming off of blame is perhaps indicative of this attitude.

However, such an incident is not surprising, especially coming from Australia. On every Proteas tour to the country, inevitably we always hear titbits about racist behaviour from the crowds towards Proteas players.

Having lived in the country, the impression one gets is that Australia has a very uneasy relationship with race, and more importantly these days, xenophobia. While any observation I can make is specific to circumstance and the people involved, the overall impression received was a country that is uneasy talking about racial matters, as it rather falls into the old-school sins of conversation, being sex, politics and religion.

Some of the most vehement racism often comes from ex-South Africans (‘ex’ being the operative word), and while you can’t blame a family for wanting to seek a better way of life, there is no place for such people in South Africa. Hence it isn’t remarkable that many ex-South Africans love the place, since they can say what they want. These are the people that often have the most to say about South Africa even though they no longer live in the country, their anger-fuelled hypocrisy not withstanding.

Another indication of Australia’s understanding on race has to do with their treatment of the subject of the gradual eradication of the Aboriginal people, now reduced to less than one percent of the population, as the country was colonised. What happened to the Aboriginals certainly echoes some of the worst apartheid perpetrated on black South Africans.

Life in Australia can blissful, and many, many Australians are nothing like Greg Ritchie and his ignorant band. However, like Springbok rugby matches when the national anthem reaches the Afrikaans verse and  suddenly becomes much louder than the Zulu and Sotho parts, its a stain on what progress is meant to represent, an embarrassment on the supposed progress we’ve made, and our cousins Down Under have made, as a country.

As South Africans, we have had come to terms to talking about racism, though our childish political discourse isn’t helping (“flea-infested body”? I swear you can’t make this nonsense up). Racism goes all ways, and its still very much part of our national discourse, perhaps more so for older South Africans who lived under apartheid. I grew up in the 90s, hence my view is shaped by more recent times.

Don’t be surprised at an Australian making stupid and ignorant comments about a subject he or she doesn’t fully appreciate. It’s going to happen again. It happens in South Africa every day.


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