South Africa’s players will be able to decide for themselves if they want to kneel to honour the Black Lives Matter movement, when the Test series against the West Indies starts in St Lucia on Thursday.
While South Africa have struggled to make a clear public stance on the social movement – a point acknowledged by new Test captain Dean Elgar on Wednesday – the West Indies have been pioneers on and off the field.
Elgar met with his West Indies counterpart Kraigg Brathwaite on Tuesday, where besides telling Brathwaite he and his team would respect the West Indies’s perspective, it was also revealed that the Proteas would individually be able to decide what they wanted to do. “It’s been quite a journey for this Proteas side with regards to this very topic,” said Elgar.
“Ultimately what happened, we gave them our version with regard to their campaign and us supporting the campaign. We’ve given the players the right to perform whatever gesture or act they want to perform. If players are comfortable with taking the knee they may. If a player wants to raise his right fist they are entitled to do that. If players aren’t comfortable just yet, they’ve got to stand to attention to show respect to the campaign.”
The West Indies knelt before the start of the series against England last year, with their players all wearing black gloves, which they raised as they knelt. It made for a powerful image, coming so soon after the death of George Floyd in the United States. They were joined in doing so by the England players and later in the year the New Zealand team as well when they toured that country.
South Africa has had a bemusing response to the Black Lives Matter movement, despite the country’s own painful racist history. In the Proteas’s first international match against England last November, no gesture was made with players publicly claiming that a lot of “hard chat” was taking place internally about how they should show their recognition and support for the movement.
Some claimed that kneeling was a religious gesture which meant they couldn’t do that as a show of solidarity. Eventually after much controversy, they settled on raising their right fists, but in doing so before the start of the home series with Sri Lanka last season many looked very uncomfortable.
“There are players who aren’t comfortable with serving a gesture. Ultimately, we’ve come to the West Indies to respect their campaign,” said Elgar.
The West Indies will be sporting the Black Lives Matter logo on their shirts during the two Test series against the Proteas.
Elgar added that the Proteas had done a lot more introspection before going to the Caribbean.
“It’s taken us a year to reach this point, where we feel every player has a right, a sense of belonging within this team. We’ve come to the West Indies not to disrespect the West Indies badge. I think we’ve made a massive step with regards to this process.”