They called me a monkey: ex-player claims shocking racism in SA cricket
Former SA ‘A’ bowler urges black players to go all out against racism, which he says is alive and well in the game
Former SA A fast bowler Ethy Mbhalati on Tuesday lifted the lid on allegations of institutionalised racism at Centurion’s Northerns Cricket Union (NCU).
He said the organisation had shattered the careers of many promising black cricketers.
In an exclusive, no-holds-barred interview with Times Select’s sister publication, TimesLIVE‚ Mbhalati detailed a system he said was designed to frustrate black players.
He said the same system was employed at national level in the Proteas.
The 38-year-old‚ who was forced to retire in 2016 when he was banned for 10 years for failing to report an approach by a match-fixer‚ said he encountered discrimination for most of his 14 years at the franchise.
Some of his experiences included:
• Being called a monkey while playing club cricket.
• Being paid less than junior white players.
• Being a victim of cultural bias and told he was only playing for the Titans because he was black.
Club cricket is worse because we have been called monkeys and many other things while playing there.
TimesLIVE sent a list of questions to the NCU and Cricket South Africa (CSA), but they had not responded at the time of publishing this story.
“Club cricket is worse because we have been called monkeys and many other things while playing there‚” said Mbhalati‚ who claimed almost 600 first-class‚ List A and T20 wickets in 350 matches.
“I have seen younger white players, fresh from high school, who never played club cricket get contracts of R400‚000 a year, while black players with franchise experience were on R200,000 a year.”
Mbhalati outlined the frustration he felt in the change room early in his career, when players and coaches spoke in Afrikaans‚ a language he did not understand.
If something goes missing in the dressing room‚ the first suspects are always black players, and when that thing is found later‚ no one comes to apologise.
“But they just didn’t care. You will have incidents where if something goes missing in the dressing room‚ the first suspects are always black players, and when that thing is found later‚ no one comes to apologise.
“When black players talk and laugh loudly‚ it was always an issue with the white players, who would say: ‘Guys, please you making noise.’
“But when they are drunk and loud‚ and start doing funny things, like running naked onto the pitch or throwing up in the dressing room‚ they expect us to laugh.
“So yes‚ there is institutionalised racism at Northerns and there are many black players who are willing to come out and share their experiences.
“I have had experiences where a player would come back from the Proteas out of form and they would drop me so he could play to regain confidence. When you talk to management‚ it’s like you are talking to a wall.”
Mbhalati said it was hard to speak up in that environment.
“Unfortunately, when you questioned things‚ the system kicked you out, and we were scared to lose our jobs.
“We used to say: ‘Don’t fight the system because it will kick you out.’ That was our motto all the time.
Don’t fight the system because it will kick you out.
“Black guys who used to question things were kicked out and most of them are in Atteridgeville and Mamelodi.
“When black players questioned certain things‚ they said we had attitude problems and we were lazy‚ but when a white player did the same thing‚ they said they were good leaders.
“I remember during preseason camps‚ we would come back after three weeks, but it would always be mostly black‚ coloured and Indian players reporting back.
“When we asked where the missing white players were‚ they would tell us they had been given more time off.”
Mbhalati said he decided to open up about his experiences after SA fast bowler Lungi Ngidi was attacked for supporting the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
Images of West Indies legend Michael Holding breaking down in tears while recalling his experiences with racism also stirred him into action.
I was touched when they started attacking Lungi after he spoke about his support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I was touched when they started attacking Lungi after he spoke about his support for the Black Lives Matter movement. It hit me very hard to see that these things still exist‚” he said.
“I know Lungi is a sweet guy. Just imagine how he is going to feel at the national team knowing that some of his teammates agree with Boeta Dippenaar and Pat Symcox.
The former Proteas players criticised Ngidi on Facebook after he came out in support of the movement.
“I also gained the strength to talk when I saw Michael Holding crying on television in front of millions of people all over the world while talking about racism.
“I was also happy to see someone like Ashwell Prince coming out to express his opinions on this matter.
“My wish is for all the black players‚ administrators‚ coaches and even the groundsmen‚ people who are cleaning and making tea in the offices‚ to come out and share their stories.
“If all black players come out to tell their stories‚ this country will be shocked.
“All these bad things start from the lowest level of the game all the way to the Proteas. Guys who are with the Proteas now or were there before must come out and talk about their experiences, because we know what is happening there.”