Basil D’Oliviera and the D’Oliveira Affair – Part 2: An Affair to Remember

 

(Continued from Part 1: The Early Years and Cricketing Success)

In 1960, 29 year old Basil D’Oliviera, a Coloured cricketer, had emigrated to England to pursue a career as a first class professional cricketer, an opportunity that was denied to him because of apartheid. His greatest fear was that he would arrive in England, only to fail, embarrass himself, and let everyone down. In 1966 he was selected for the national England cricket team and in 1968, he produced what was described at the time as one of the best innings ever. Batting during the final test of the five-Test Ashes series against Australia at the Oval, he scored 158 runs which helped England win the match and propelled him to the top of the Test averages for the season. The crowd gave him a standing ovation and it was expected he would be included as part of the team that would travel to South Africa for the 1968-69 tour. Five days later the team was announced and it emerged that Basil would be excluded from the team. The events that follows became known as, the D’Oliveira Affair.

When Basil heard that he had been excluded, he collapsed in tears. He had just produced the best performances for the English side and very few teams would even consider dropping a man like him. His team was left in disbelief and his omission sent shockwaves throughout the world.
The MCC (the governing body of English cricket at the time), said that the decision to exclude Basil was based on cricketing ability, but very few people believed them. It was later revealed that the apartheid government put pressure on England to drop Basil, because they did not want to be embarrassed by a Coloured. John Vorster, the then South African prime minister, had been following the England-Australia test series from Johannesburg and as soon as Basil walked off the pitch, Vorster sent a message to England which stated that if Basil is chosen for the South African tour, “the tour will be off.” The South African Interior Minister P. K. Le Roux also said in a speech: “We will not allow mixed teams to play against our white teams here. That is our policy.”

Even before the England-Australia match, there was an attempt to bribe Basil so that he would turn down an offer to be part of the England team touring South Africa. Tienie Oosthuizen had approached Basil with an offer to work in South Africa as a coach promoting amateur sport. Oosthuizen had offered Basil, £4,000, which was a huge sum of money at the time. Basil turned him down. Oosthuizen had said at the time that if Basil was selected for the tour, it would be an embarrassment for Vorster and the apartheid regime. Oosthuizen also worked for the South African Rembrandt Tobacco Corporation which was owned by Anton Rupert, so it is widely believed that Rupert had sent Oosthuizen to stop Basil from being selected for English team. Oosthuizen made more attempts to offer a bribe but Basil always turned him down.
There was also an attempt by MCC secretary Billy Griffith to get Basil to withdraw from consideration for the tour but Basil declined angrily. Another attempt was made by journalist, E.W. Swanson, but Basil once again declined. Basil had been the subject of several high level talks between the English and South African government to resolve the issue, but nothing came of it. Basil continued to refuse to withdraw himself. Basil became such a threat to the apartheid government that they had spies sent to monitor him and Vorster kept a security file on him.

When the MCC announced that Basil would be excluded, a media storm erupted and his adopted country rallied around him. Those that thought he should have been selected included the former England captain Ted Dexter, the former Test player Trevor Bailey and West Indies Test player Learie Constantine. The media had generally felt that Basil’s exclusion was meant to maintain good relations with apartheid South Africa and Constantine stated that Basil was excluded either because of his race or because the MCC supported apartheid. A rebel group within the MCC was formed, led by former England captain David Sheppard, and called for the inclusion of Basil. Several other MCC members resigned in disgust and the MCC received a thousand letters which called for Basil to be selected.

On the 16th of September, 1968, Tom Cartwright, a bowler, withdrew from the squad due to injury and given the backlash, the MCC had no choice but to include Basil. Vorster was outraged and accused the MCC of representing the anti-apartheid movement. After it became obvious that Vorster would not allow Basil into the country as part of the tour, the MCC decided to cancel the tour.
Pat Murphy, the ghostwriter of his autobiography, said that Basil “became a focus for all those who despised the whole concept of apartheid. Basil D’Oliveira’s influence helped to usher in a world where apartheid was consigned to the dustbin.” The international cricketing community became more aware of the racist policies of apartheid and several cricket matches with South Africa were called off following protests. The D’Oliveira affair of 1968 led to the complete sporting isolation of apartheid South Africa. This isolation lasted for 22 years.

Basil D’Oliveira emigrated to England at the age of 29, and went on to play 44 test matches, scoring 2,484 runs at an average of 40 and taking 47 wickets. He also played four one-day internationals for his adopted country.
His wife, Naomi, joined him in England in 1961 with his newborn son, Damian, and they had another son, Ivan. Damian also played first-class cricket for Worcestershire, while his younger brother Ivan played briefly for Leicestershire. His grandson Brett D’Oliveira is currently contracted with Worcestershire and made his debut for the county in 2011. Basil remained married to Naomi until his death in 2011, at the age of 80.
In 2000, he was nominated as one of 10 South African cricketers of the century, despite not having played for South Africa. In 2004, a perpetual trophy was struck for Test series between England and South Africa, and named the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy. In 2005, he was awarded the Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. In the same year, a stand at New Road, Worcester, was named in his honour.

 

Basil and his two sons, Damian and Ivan

 

Basil was described as a decent, unassuming and honest man. Dr Ali Bacher, the former head of South African cricket said that Basil showed conclusively that persons of colour in South Africa, given the same opportunity as whites, had that ability, talent and potential to become international stars. Not only did he become an international star. He also became an anti-apartheid icon. Thank you Basil D’Oliveira. Thank you for refusing to be excluded.

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