There's a scene in Lethal Weapon 2, in which Danny Glover's character enquires at the South African consulate about the possibility of travelling to the country. "You don't want to go to South Africa.... you're black!" comes the response, in a thick Afrikaaner accent. While I count Perth as one of the nicer places I have spent time in, with it's unique suburban city feel, much more of what we saw at the WACA this past weekend, and people may be forced to rethink.
Perth is said to be home to possibly the largest South African diasporic population in a single city. In South Africa, the process of emigration is colloquially referred to as "Packing for Perth"
This large population is both interested in cricket and well aware of the meaning of the term "Kaffir." My own experience in Perth suggests that most of the locals, particularly the segment of the population that shows up to watch a Test match, are equally aware.
The administrators at the WACA have gone on record as saying that they were unaware that the vitriol heaped on the South African players was racially offensive, but the simple facts above tend to give lie to their claim. Calling Makhaya Ntini a "Kaffir," and Shaun Pollock his "Kaffir Brother," is simply unconscionable.
The real fear here is that this was a lot more than a bunch of drunken yobs mouthing off. You don't usually hear targeted calls of "Kaffir Brother" from that crowd. The possibility exists that the slurs emanated from elements in the crowd who had left their own homeland as the Apartheid regime came to an end. At the time, the majority cited crime and personal safety fears as their reason for leaving. One simply hopes that what we saw at the WACA was not an awakening of long dormant sentiment. If it was, then humanity has even further to go than we might have thought.
At the end of the day, the denizens of Perth have no excuse. Not for the behaviour that was on display, and even more gallingly, for the failure to nip it in the bud. In this most sensitive of socio-political situations, it simply wasn't good enough. I'm certainly heartened by Ricky Ponting's strong condemnation of what happened.
Many years ago, an individual I met asked me if I knew why Melbourne was the greatest city in the world. I must confess to considering it to be my favourite city in Australia (of those that I have visited), but I was not remotely prepared for the explanation. "Because there are no black people there," this person said. That was 15 years ago, and I hope against hope that such attitudes are not permitted to prevail, least of all in and around the gentleman's game.