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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 999


Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (12:55): I am pleased to be able to speak to this motion and commend the member for Banks for bringing it before the House. Our journey through history has often been marked by single events which have caused or triggered a change in direction. The story of Basil D'Oliveira is one such event. His story not only precipitated events in South Africa but across much of the Western world. Basil D'Oliveira was a brilliant South African born cricketer. In the late 1950s his brilliance was noticed by the cricket community in Cape Town. His problem was that he was a black man. At the time, being a coloured person in South Africa meant that you were discriminated against, segregated and not allowed to represent your country. Discrimination was firmly entrenched in South African society through the apartheid system enforced through the National Party regime.

Interestingly, it was an era when discrimination against black people was clearly evident in many other parts of the world, including here in Australia. But the 1960s was also a time of great social change and significant historical events, particularly on the issue of racial discrimination. In Australia the constitutional change to recognise Aborigines is a case in point. Simultaneously in the United States, Martin Luther King Jr came to prominence for his fight against racial discrimination before he was assassinated in 1968. In 1967 the classic film Guess who's coming to dinner,featuring Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, portrayed a romance between a black man and a white woman and very clearly reflected community attitudes of the time in the United States, where marriage between black and white people in many parts of the country was frowned upon. South Africa's refusal to select Basil D'Oliveira to the national cricket team provoked a chain of events that ultimately resulted in an international sporting ban on South Africa that lasted for 22 years. A single, previously unknown black South African man with extraordinary cricket skills prompted international condemnation against South Africa and highlighted the racial discrimination in that country.

Basil D'Oliveira was not the only black South African sportsman of that era to be a victim of South Africa's apartheid policy. Precious McKenzie was an outstanding South African weightlifter. He too migrated to the UK in 1964 after he was not selected for the 1960 Rome Olympics because of apartheid policies. The South African government offered to select him in 1964 provided he was segregated from the white members of the team. Precious refused. Precious McKenzie went on to win several gold medals, although regrettably not for his country of birth, in the World Powerlifting Championships and the Commonwealth Games, competing first for England and later for New Zealand, where he resettled and still resides. In 2006, in recognition of his heritage, he was inducted into the South African sports hall of fame. Precious was an outstanding athlete and a gentleman. I have the pleasure of knowing him personally and the displeasure of having competed against him.

In Basil D'Oliveira's era cricket was the sport of gentlemen and in South Africa of upper class white people. Human existence has always been tribal. Our differences can divide us and our commonalities unite us, but sport is a powerful unifier that can overcome cultural and racial differences. Nelson Mandela understood that and cleverly used sport to unite the people of his country. Those who say that sport and politics should not be mixed should think again. Basil D'Oliveira was an extraordinary, internationally recognised cricket player, and his international colleagues stood by him. In doing so, they drew attention to not only his cricketing ability but, more importantly, the apartheid regime in South Africa. Basil's cricketing greatness was ultimately recognised by South Africa. His more important place in history, however, was his role in bringing an end to apartheid. He gave hope and inspiration to the oppressed. He helped turn the tide against racial discrimination across the world. We may never have seen the best of Basil D'Oliveira but his personal and public achievements were remarkable. His life marked a turning point in history.