Book tells story of cricket star barred from representing SA due to racism

Lately, references to racism in sport have raised their ugly head again, with a number of top sportsmen, particularly cricketers, having their say.

Interestingly, almost 130 years ago, a similar saga was sensationalised in the South African and English press.

It was the story of a young fast bowler, William Henry “Krom” Hendricks,  who had played for a Malay XV111 cricket team against the touring English side of 1891/92.

One of the players from England, a top-order batsman who had also played against the most prominent bowlers of England and Australia, later stated that Hendricks was the finest fast bowler in the world.

An inaugural tour of England by South African players was arranged for 1894 and it was generally understood that Hendricks would be a member of the touring party.

However, there was considerable opposition to the bowler going on tour.

The main opposition stemmed from some powerful men in the Cape, including arch-imperialist Cecil John Rhodes, Afrikaner Bond leader JH “Onze Jan” Hofmeyr and the SA cricket captain William Milton, who had represented England at rugby and was on the committee of the Western Province Cricket Association.

There is no doubt that white players would have lost face if they were dismissed by Hendricks in domestic matches and though he had some support from players from the Transvaal, he was never selected for a first-class team.

A suggestion then came that Hendricks should go on the tour as the baggage master, a position which Hendricks refused via a letter to the press.

He added that he was not Malay and that his father was of Dutch descent and his mother was from St Helena Island.

Whenever Hendricks played, large crowds came to watch.

Ironically, when two of the top non-white clubs in SA clashed at Newlands, Milton was prepared to allow Hendricks to play there as he was such a huge drawcard and his presence would result in a bigger crowd than usual through the turnstyles, resulting in more revenue for the cash-strapped union.

In club matches in Cape Town, Hendricks would go on to set some amazing bowling figures.

On one occasion he took nine wickets for no runs as he proceeded to decimate the opposition.

Hendricks continued to be the scourge of batsmen in the lower leagues until he was well in his fifties. Hendricks was a proud and upright man of integrity to the end of his life in 1940.

In a recently released book published by Penguin Books, Too Black to wear Whites, authors Jonty Winch and Richard Parry have done a great amount of research to relate the true story of Hendricks.

The book reveals the colour prejudice of Rhodes and his cronies, which resulted in the first person to be formerly barred from representing SA at sport solely on the basis of the colour of his skin.

It is a highly entertaining story as it reveals life in and around Cape Town of well over a century ago and unfortunately, the emergence of segregation in sport.

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