Cricketer examines social trends

By Eva McEnrue

A leading South African historian and the only white first-class cricketer to play with black cricketers during the apartheid era is a spring 2011 UK scholar-in-residence.

Andre Ordendaal is teaching the course “Sport and Society: Historical Perspectives on South Africa from the Earliest Times to the Present.” The class teaches students about South Africa and the world through sports analysis.

“Sports are incredibly important to the societies of both Kentucky and South Africa,” history post-doctoral scholar Lauren Kientz said. “His class gives UK students time to reflect on the different ways sports reflect larger social trends, as well as the ways that sports push change.”

Ordendaal was studying the beginnings of black political protests in the 1880s when he came across indigenous columns from the Xhoxo tribe describing black Africans playing cricket.

“Cricket is a sport known for honor,” Ordendaal said. “This was social evidence that a black, educated, middle class formed the first political protests. By playing cricket, they were declaring that they were equal.”

Ordendaal pushed for freedom by playing cricket as well.

“As a South African in the 1980s, you had to choose where you wanted to position yourself in the struggle for democracy and against apartheid,” he said.

Ordendaal left the South African Cricket Union to join the non-racial Cricket Board in 1984, making him the only white cricket player to leave the privileged white teams to play with the black teams during the apartheid era.

“It was the heart of the segregation era, but my choice opened up a new world for me,” Ordendaal said. “I heard the door slam behind me, but I was freed from the shackles of apartheid. It was a step towards equality.”

He received the Presidential Award for Sport in the Lifetime Achievement category in 2002.

Ordendaal is chief executive of the Cape Cobras, one of six national cricket teams in South Africa. The team won the SuperSports series in the 2009-10 season, qualifying for the World Champions League competition. The team will compete for the trophy this October in India.

Ordendaal has written numerous books detailing the experiences of blacks during the apartheid era. Many prisoners and activists read his book detailing the African National Congress’ history.

“It provided them with much- needed perspective on their contemporary fight,” Kientz said.

Ordendaal’s most recent book, “The Story of an African Games,” is the first to cover in detail the history and experience of black African cricketers in South Africa.

Ordendaal aided in the establishment of the Robben Island Museum, which was previously the prison that held anti-apartheid activists Nelson Mandela and Ahmed Kathrada.

“Robben Island was a place of pain,” he said. “It now displays the triumph of the human spirit.”

Ordendaal served as the museum’s first director.

He is an honorary professor in history and heritage studies at the University of the Western Cape where he also aided in the development of the Mayibuye Centre for history and culture in South Africa, a multimedia archive against the apartheid era and the struggle for democracy in South Africa. Mayibuye means “let it return.”

“It is special to have lived to see South Africa make such huge strides with freedom and democracy,” Ordendaal said. “I was involved in two very different eras; I have lived a rich life.”

He will return to South Africa in May.