St George's Park History
Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Personalities St George's Park - Khaya Majola
Khaya Majola
Chris Barron
Khaya Majola set ball rolling in townships

Khaya Majola, who died on August 28, 2000 at the age of 47, played a key role in the transformation of cricket in South Africa into a truly national sport.

The fact that cricket has now been acknowledged as the fastest-growing sport in the black community is largely due to his passionate commitment to bring the game to the townships.

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Khaya Majola departing for London
After the late Steve Tshwete, brokered peace between South Africa's cricket factions in 1991, nothing did more to give the new United Cricket Board credibility in the black community than its decision to put Majola in control with Dr Ali Bacher of its national development programme.

Something of a firebrand in the '80s, Majola's burning commitment to the slogan "no normal sport in an abnormal society" had brought him into a head-on confrontation with Bacher, the supremo of white cricket in South Africa.

He did all he could to thwart the attempts of Bacher's SA Cricket Union to win black support through its coaching initiatives in the townships, suspecting that its real motive was to curry favour with the international community rather than a genuine commitment to non-racialism.

"He [Bacher] hates me now," Majola said in an interview in 1989. Relations between the two took a further dive when Bacher went ahead with the English rebel tour to South Africa under Mike Gatting in 1990 in the face of furious opposition from the National Sports Congress.

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Khaya Majola as Ali Bacher looks on.

Majola did everything he could to rally political opposition to the tour, which eventually became so vicious that it was cut short.

Majola was born in Port Elizabeth on May 17 1953, the bearer of a legendary name in sporting circles in the Eastern Cape and beyond. His father, Eric, was the outstanding black sports star of the '50s, playing rugby and cricket for the black national side.

He idolised his father and dreamed of emulating him. He was not a great success at rugby, where his size counted against him. But at cricket he showed early promise.

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Khaya Majola
As a pupil, he played in the first John Passmore schools week in 1969, and, by 18, he was playing for the Eastern Province African Cricket Board XI.

At 19, he played for the SA African Cricket Board XI against a Derrick Robins XI in Soweto, and, in 1974, was selected by Clive Rice to play alongside top SA white cricketers in the Derrick Robins XI in England under Rice's captaincy.

Majola went on to captain the black EP side, and, at 35, became captain of the SA Council of Sport XI, roughly equivalent to the black national team. A year later, he won the Sacos Sportsperson of the Year award.

In the mid-'70s, government policy allowed a move towards multiracial sport, which raised hopes in some quarters of cricket unity.

But the Group Areas Act and the continued racism of many white cricket clubs, which refused to serve drinks to black players, for example, made nonsense of any such notion.

Majola believed that the appearance of unity on the field was a sham and that black players were merely being used as stooges to boost the chances of white South Africans playing international cricket again.

Then came the 1976 riots. The political tensions unleashed collapsed even the pretence of unity, and cricket became more polarised than ever.

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Khaya Majola and Graeme Pollock
Majola joined the non-racial SA Cricket Board of Control, which adamantly opposed the government's multinational sports policy and took the line that, until apartheid was abolished, black cricketing bodies should have nothing to do with their white counterparts.

By leaving the SA African Cricket Board for Hassen Howa's hard-liners, Majola ended the opportunities he had previously had to play with and against top white SA cricketers.

In purely cricketing terms, his political commitment thus torpedoed any chances he may have had of developing into a player of true international stature.

However, by nailing his political colours firmly to the mast he ensured his credibility in the black community. It was this hard-won credibility that the UCB of his old foe Bacher used so astutely in the '90s to secure the future of the game in South Africa.

Until a couple of years ago, there was dissatisfaction among some black cricket administrators about the pace of transformation and development.

Majola was instrumental in bringing this out into the open. He believed whites were not moving fast enough to honour the promises they had made, and he pushed to accelerate the fast-tracking of black cricketers at a representative level.

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Khaya Majola
The composition of SA underage teams today owes a lot to this pressure. For example, the SA schools side has close to 40% black representation.

But Majola was never into window-dressing, and those who have made it into these teams have done so on merit.

This has a lot to do with the fact that a generation of black children has emerged who have learned the game at the same pace and with the same advantages of coaching and facilities as their white peers.

Many of these were talent-spotted and given scholarships to established cricket schools. Majola was closely involved in this programme.

But more importantly, it was his input at the grassroots level, his ceaseless work in the townships, that ensured growing numbers of black children were interested enough in cricket to want to play it in the first place.

When Majola became ill a year ago with cancer of the colon, he demanded complete honesty from his doctors. The x-rays and reports he was shown were, in effect, his death warrant, and he knew this.

But even in the shadow of death his commitment to spreading the message of cricket never faltered.

Just 10 days before he died, when it was clear to everyone who saw him that he would soon be dead, he went to a cricket clinic on the East Rand and gave his usual encouragement to participants.

Majola is survived by his wife, Cynthia, and his children, Vukile and Sipokazi.

The Sunday Times
September 3, 2000.
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