Couple of years ago, Lungi Ngidi, the second Zulu-speaking player in the South African squad after Andile Phehlukwayo, faced a severe backlash from some former white South African cricketers for talking about the need to take the knee at the start of the matches for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Brian McMillan, Pat Symcox, Boeta Dippenaar, and the former wicketkeeper Rudi Steyn would dismiss BLM as a Marxist conspiracy or accuse Ngiidi of talking “nonsense”, “crap”, and “political”. They also said that Ngidi should be fighting for white farmers in South Africa. The usual “all lives matter ” trope was also thrown at him by then. Online, more trolls slammed him.
“I was very surprised because I didn’t step on anyone’s toes. I didn’t attack anyone. But I understand the history of our country and racism is a factor within South Africa that needs to be addressed,” the 26-year old Ngidi told The Guardian. “I remembered those stories my parents had told me and I would hate for my friends or any of my future family to go through the same thing.”
Like when a white customer threw the money on the floor instead of handing it over to his father, a petrol attendant. “He just threw it on the floor. I don’t think I’ll ever lose that story. It was just so degrading. For my dad to go on in life as if everything’s fine took a lot of courage but this is how they raised me. The stories they shared were eye-opening and painful to hear, because those scars never really close up,” Ngidi tells a few days ahead of the series against England.
“I come from very humble beginnings as we stayed in a one-room house in the townships when I was very little. Then, fortunately, my dad got a job as a caretaker at a school and then my mother got a job at the same school as a domestic worker. We stayed on the school premises,” Ngidi tells the Guardian newspaper.
The Indian Express had visited the premises of “Centre of Excellence’ in 2018. Those who make it to the University get an option of living in one of the 11 Sports Houses at the campus. For his first two years, Lungi lived in the Cricket House, a four-room residence for as many cricketers.
Ngidi is the youngest of four brothers. He went to primary school, thanks to a mystery donor. His six-wicket haul would get him the Man-of-the-Match award in his debut Test at Centurion. Once Ngidi would walk to fine leg after a wicket-taking over, he would wave to the crowd where he would recognise many faces. Pretoria knows him well because this is where Ngidi grew from a pacer with raw pace to someone who is getting compared to the West Indian pace greats of the 1980s. “He has a Walsh-like run-up,” said the former opener Boeta Dippenaar, the same man who would later have a spray at Ngidi for his BLM comments.
Last year, Cricket South Africa held its social justice hearings into racial discriminations where former players from Paul Adams to Ntini gave harrowing accounts of the racism they had encountered. Later, the accused would be exonerated.
“Having these uncomfortable conversations is the only way to move forward,” Ngidi says now. “Sweeping stuff under the rug never helps anyone. My parents grew up in an era where racism was rife but apartheid was over when I was born. They wanted me to make the most of that new start and they raised me never to judge a book by its cover, and I live by that today. Until someone shows me that [racist] side of themselves, I will never assume that is who they are.”