South Africa batsman Khaya Zondo opened up about his non-selection for the fifth and final One-Day International (ODI) in 2015. With David Miller out of form and JP injury injured, Zondo was all set to make his debut in the Mumbai ODI, but instead, South Africa opted to stick to Miller and flew in Dean Elgar to play the final game ahead of Zondo.
Zondo hints that his mind often feels that his non-selection hinted at racism. Zondo added that his exclusion did play on his mind and he started questioning his credentials.
His testimony backs former selector Hussein Manack's statement of his last minute-exclusion. Zondo was informed by then captain AB de Villiers on the day of the match that he would not be playing.
“The captain (de Villiers) called me over to the side, away from the rest of the team and mentioned to me he was the one who felt I should not play. He was trying to explain himself and he was taking full responsibility for the decision,” said Zondo while reading out his submission to the Transformation Ombudsman, Adv. Dumisa Ntsebeza.
“I remember in the moment of him explaining himself to me, losing all respect for him as a captain, and as someone, I looked up to as a cricketing hero of mine because I could not believe this guy was trying to justify himself to me, and it came across as if I should accept this decision because the decision came from him.”
"While we were sitting on the bench, one white senior player asked me: 'Do you think this decision is racist?'," Zondo said, at Cricket South Africa's (CSA) Social Justice and Nation-Building (SJN) hearings.
"Another question in the conversation was: 'If this player is selected to bat in the middle order, why does he change his position if he's not performing in his particular position? Why does he go and fulfill someone else's role at number one, which is a drastic change?
"Another question was: 'If he performs at number one, what then happens to the person who was occupying that position? Do they lose their spot to that person because of performance? Does that person move back to number five where he has not performed? Does that fix the problem of him not performing at the time in their original position?'
"These questions from this white player were trying to make cricketing sense of this decision. These questions from this senior player made me think there were talks around this matter and started to raise the thought on whether these decisions are actually based on cricket or the cricketing decisions are based on friendships, race or factors other than cricket."
Zondo did get to play for the Proteas - in 2018 - incidentally making his debut against India at home. He would go on to play four more times for South Africa after that. Zondo also adds that not playing for South Africa back then affected his future prospects including the chance of potentially playing in the Indian Premier League (IPL).
"Because I was the next batter in line, I would have had to replace that particular batter. Whether they thought of race as a factor, only they can answer," Zondo said.
"Do I think it has a racist element to it or to keep me out of the team? My mind does go there. There was an element of now we have to drop this particular player, we now have to put in Khaya because I was the reserve batter on the tour."
"That decision sought to keep me out of the team. That I can say for sure. It was definitely for me not to play. It was a straightforward swap."
"If it was a simple decision for me to play, it was a simple one of replacing that player with Khaya and not the lengths of changing positions and do certain things for a player yet there's a player on the side and you want to play him."
"Do I think the stuff was done to give opportunities to friends? I think they were because India is a lucrative tour. If you perform on a tour of India, you can showcase your skills and be seen by the Indian public and the Indian Premier League owners."
"I do think there was a racial element involved, along with doing favours for friends element involved."
Speaking of the ODI in 2015, Zondo further revealed that he completely switched off from the game as he knew he was not wanted. "I switched off mentally for the rest of the day and detached myself from the team because it became clear that I wasn't wanted," Zondo said.
"Switching off helped me cope with everything that was happening and the hardest part was watching the players who were selected ahead of me playing, having the opportunity to shine and make history with the national team and get potential future opportunities off my pain.
"For me, everything was done so that I can't replace or come into this particular position because what was available on tour or the opportunities that arose should someone perform. It was as if these positions were reserved for certain people and come hell or high water, Khaya can't play and this opportunity can't go to him."
Upon his arrival from India, Zondo with a few other cricketers wrote to the board about the injustice he and other cricketers of his race have faced over the years. After an inquiry was conducted, it was established that Zondo should have indeed played ahead of Elgar in that match.
Zondo mentions that he was constantly mocked and taunted by white cricketers during matches.
We were playing a game in Potchefstroom against the Lions and I was batting. There were two white players close to me. One was bowling to me. I hit the ball for four and he said, 'Why didn't you do this for South Africa A?' Then he bowled another ball which beat my bat and he said, 'If you weren't so focused on writing letters, you might be a better player.' The other white player proceeded to call me a 'postman'," Zondo said.
"I remember walking up to the guy who was bowling and I lost it. I was pointing my bat in his face. I had just been through the hardest thing any player can go through and they had no understanding of what it was like to be in that position and were making fun of it. Instead of these guys not having something to say, they saw fit to comment and belittle and ridicule. They saw it as a joke," he added.
Current South Africa coach Mark Boucher too is expected to attend the SJN hearing soon.