London Letter

My modest reappraisal of South Africa’s whites

BEVERLEY BAXTER June 4 1960
London Letter

My modest reappraisal of South Africa’s whites

BEVERLEY BAXTER June 4 1960

My modest reappraisal of South Africa’s whites

London Letter

BEVERLEY BAXTER

If you had heen over here in London recently and dropped in at noon at the Savoy Hotel you would have been aware that something unusual was happening. Elegant

motor cars, and some not so elegant, were dropping their human cargo at the Embankment entrance of the famous hotel and the attendants were busy "milording” the peers and “sirring” the knights, baronets and esquires.

A number of well-known MPs were there, including the chief whip of the government. On the other hand it was not a political or official occasion. Yet, paradoxically the political atmosphere hovered like a low lying cloud. Therefore let me explain the mood by giving you the wording of the invitation which had been sent to us:

The Chairman (Sir Jocelyn Lucas) and Committee of the British Sportsman's Club request the pleasure of the company of (name) at a Luncheon to be held at the Savoy Hotel in honour of the South African Cricket Touring Team.

A large room had been set aside for the cocktail half-hour. I was curious to see whether the prime minister would be in attendance, but we heard that he had sent his regrets.

But what of our guests? Here was the test team of South Africa openly challenging Britain’s famous Marylcbone Cricket Club. Yet also here was a team of young men representing their native country of South Africa, although not one of them belonged to the country’s majority race, the native Negroes.

This much, however, we all agreed upon: the members of the team were as lively and attractive a group of young sportsmen as one could wish. They were alert, courteous, easily moved to laughter and pleasantly excited by the whole affair.

But despite the friendliness of the scene we all felt the personality of one man who was not, in fact, present. My reference is to the famous British sporting cleric, David Sheppard,

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continued from page 10

“We British don’t hate South Africans

only their color laws”

who is such a first-class cricketer that he had been chosen for the first test match against the South Africans.

For reasons which can be questioned or approved according to your light, he withdrew from the MCC team on hearing that the visiting South Africans were all white men. Nor did he merely convey this message to the MCC by writing a personal letter. Instead he gave a press conference in the rough-and-tumble slum area of London’s dockland.

“If you ask me if I want to stop the South African cricket tour this summer I will tell you that I always believe in playing to win.” That was his opening. It may or may not have been his ill health that made his face flush and his eyes shine. To keep the appointment in the games room of his welfare hall he had left his bed at the Mayflower Family Centre in Canning Town where he is warden. Thus, still pale from influenza and with a temperature of 100, he preached his faith as a “cricketer and a Christian.”

One of his few critics in the audience asked if lie would have the courage to carry a banner of protest outside Lord’s Cricket Ground when the test match was on.

“No,” he replied. “I shall neither play against the South Africans nor watch them. As a matter of fact I sent back my test-match tickets the other day.”

The president of the MCC had given him full freedom to express his views, and his friends urged him to be content with that, but the fighting padre had not been in a mood to make the slightest concession. Then had come a question from the hall which showed more sentiment than logic: "Why not keep out of politics? Cricket is a game, not a political stunt. Play the game, and to hell with politics.”

With his voice calm but impressive the priest-cricketer answered that in South Africa cricket was played politically and said: "As a cricketer I have the right to protest against the evil of apartheid brought into the game I love. As a Christian I cannot and will not stay silent.”

Then as the press conference had moved to its end, Sheppard, speaking in measured, unemotional tones, had said that he had played against the South Africans several times for Cambridge University and for the County of Sussex. “Then,” he went on, “I was ignorant and vague about apartheid. In January I wrote to the archbishop of Cape Town and he fully approved of my saying all I could to encourage men of his outlook. This I have now done.”

Let us now return to the Savoy where the master of ceremonies announced that the moment had arrived when the lords and gentlemen (an odd distinction) would take their places at the tables.

On we went and gazed at the setup of the long top table and a crowded selection of separate ones. My own allotment was to a small table which included the government chief whip, the editor of the Daily Telegraph, the chairman of the Royal Commonwealth Society, but only one peer — and a mere life peer at that.

When we had eaten and partaken of drink there was the toast to the Queen and then an adroit toast to our guests in terms that were warm, friendly and non-

committal. Then came the reply by the young captain of the visiting team.

Here was an ordeal that would have tightened the nerves of a Macmillan. The visiting sportsmen knew that they were the guests of a company of men who without exception disapproved and even despised the inhuman political policy of rigid racial distinction. Of course, there was not a chance of the slightest demonstration against the visiting cricketers, but the deep resentment against the policy of the South African government spread its shadow on us all.

Yet, wonder of wonders, this young chap proceeded to charm us with a wit and fluency that would have held any audience entranced. Nor did he even once resort to the ancient wheeze that the presence of this or that person reminded him of the story of Pat and Mike. The guests who had greeted him at the beginning of his speech with mere polite applause found themselves gripped by the healthy, clear-headed commentary of a young man who should have been terrified by the presence of so many big men of affairs. Nor did any of the South African speakers suggest that cricket is a game where winning is not so important as playing the game, Old Chap.

As for the slightly older speaker who followed, he could have gone on at a music hall anywhere in Britain and convulsed even a Monday - night audience with laughter.

Yet far off in their own country of South Africa there lay in his bed the prime minister who incredibly survived a point-blank shooting by a man who counted his own life as nothing. Terrible as the would-be assassin’s crime was, one can only feel humble at his courage, even though his idealism took so cruel a turn.

So the luncheon at the Savoy ended with laughter, good humor and good friendship. We had met, talked, eaten and drunk with as wholesome and sporting a collection of young men as any nation could produce. And when they go back to their own country they will be able and eager to tell their elders that the British do not hate the South Africans but only their laws concerning color.

Yet even as I write these words the mind vainly seeks the ultimate answer to it all. You may remember that a few months ago I wrote of the visit my wife and I made last winter to Nassau and Jamaica. On that occasion a tooth needed

treatment and on a friend’s recommendation I went to a colored dentist. Not only had he a most pleasant personality and a cultured mind but he performed his task with a skill that would rank him with the highest-paid dentist in London.

It would have given me real pleasure to be his host or his guest at luncheon that day. As a companion he would have been more interesting than many of the very rich who seek refuge in the incometax-free community of Nassau. As for Jamaica I found colored men and women whose manners and whose intelligence far outstripped those of many of the whites whose superiority was based purely on wealth.

Then is the color problem something that could be done away with by a mere adjustment of the mind? I am afraid it is not quite so simple as that. As long as the natural and powerful instinct is against the marriage of black with white, the blending must be reduced to compromise measures acceptable to both races.

But this much is both logical and desirable: that the gates of opportunity should not be closed to the blacks. It was the British who invaded Africa long years ago and brought back black men as slaves to toil in Britain and in the New World across the Atlantic. It is the white man who must bear the responsibility of the problem that confronts us today.

Normally nothing but grief and tragedy can follow the marriage of a white man with a black woman or vice versa but it is utterly indefensible for the Europeans to declare that human opportunity should be rigidly limited for darkskinned children.

Thank heaven it was a white man and not a black who fired the pistol shot at the South African prime minister. The crime would have been the same regardless of color, but innocent black men would have died by the hundreds if the finger on the trigger had been black instead of white.

If Christ came to earth again one need not wonder what He would feel about this human problem. “These are My children,” He would say. “Suffer them to come unto Me.”

There is no other solution save that which comes from the heart and the soul. Until and unless that solution is given its chance, the shadows on the Dark Continent will deepen every day.