Although, the scars appear to be evidently fresh for Ngxoweni, he is still cautious to suggest that, sometimes the system allows only those it might believe will eventually prove not to be good enough, to go through. He says this due to the fact that, since he completely excluded himself from the South African domestic cricket scene, he isn’t too sure, who exactly calls the shots. “I don’t know if it’s still predominately white people (to put it bluntly) who own the franchises and still make the decisions. It was very interesting for me when I went to visit Malibongwe (Maketa), when he was the head coach of the Warriors and he said, his job has become even tougher because he needs to meet all these quota criteria’s for his team” he says.
Ngxoweni then eludes to the powers that be, using their shortcomings of the past to place the current crop of black cricketers and coaches under more scrutiny, and feels had they not oppressed black players back then, the much vilified quota system wouldn’t even be necessary today. “Now this to me, whether it’s the government or CSA implementing these policies, are putting pressure on these franchises, they didn’t need to be at that point in 2020, because this would’ve been a lot easier had they not sabotaged back then (exclaims), all the talent or even undermined black players aspirations as cricketers” he said. He then gives more insight on where things tended to go south for players of colour all of a sudden. “When it came to the business end, that’s where things started to change. It was so easy at school level, there was nothing better than being better than all your counterparts nationally. Then all of a sudden when you turn professional now you not good enough?” he asked in a perplexed tone.
He then admits he doesn’t know if that is still the case for players in the country, so he can’t say it is a form of sabotage for certain but has a theory about it regardless. “But yes! It gives them an opportunity to have all black players tarred with the same brush, that they aren’t good enough”. He then identifies a potential issue. “For me, maybe where this system is flawed is the management of these kids from being spotted at high school to when they are polished to be professionals”.
That then seemed to spark Ngxoweni deep into thought, as he digs equally deep within his heart to recall a personal story. “Another thing I forgot to tell you, when I turned professional after getting a R500 a month contract (laughs), I couldn’t even get endorsements (raises tone). The only time I got kit endorsements was when USB (CSA) they sent kit through Laser, a cricket equipment label from back then. So I couldn’t even get a sponsor after all my achievements!” he recalls still, seemingly in disbelief all these years later
He continues to detail his ordeal and its effects on him. “So I had to be at practice borrowing pads from right handers and I am left handed, that obviously demoralizes you and you end up losing your self-confidence, because you out there and all you can think of is that “I don’t even look the part aesthetically, and I kept on asking “where can I get sponsorship?”, because the other kids would write to GM and get their sponsorships”.
He however, feels that probably doesn’t occur to often as South Africa was still a young democracy back in the days of his struggles and has a feeling things would’ve changed for the better on that front years on. He then reveals that something a lot of people miss about the system, which is that, it doesn’t necessarily hit one in an obvious, black and white sense. “In a nutshell what I am saying is there were so many ways to demoralize you as a player (of colour) back then, and that’s where the real sabotage was and that’s why we still having these conversations now in 2020, the problem started years ago!”
Ngxoweni then speaks on the differences between his generation, and the new generation of players of colour, citing that many of them are able to go to good schools because their parents can afford to send them there, and not many are-unlike back in his day- coming through cricket developments and receiving bursaries to attend those schools through being special talents. “ Number one is that players like Kagiso Rabada, Lungile Ngidi, and Andile Phehlukwayo, Im not sure if they were on cricket bursary’s at school” he admits. “But these are kids that went to private schools which makes it a level field, because number one, (in my time) there used to be jokes around the changing room. We used to be called developMUND players, jokes that still happen today (quota player label)”.
He then reveals the segregation he often saw and experienced. “Back then, we would be sitting in the changing rooms, the minute you were more outspoken and you wanted to mingle and mix more with the guys(white guys) you could feel that they were pushing you away and black players sat in one corner while whites sat in another.” He then details the differences in pressure they had to face, claiming that the margin for error was a lot smaller for players back then, and they had to work overtime to earn their stripes.“However, what the difference was back then, I mean we talking about a talented group of players in Ngidi, Rabada and Phehlukwayo, they perform on the big stage, which is what we had to do as well back then, in order to not feel like you were being selected because of your skin colour. It was at the back of consistent performances, because the number of so called quota players was a lot less then”.
He then goes back down memory lane, and offers an example from his era in the u/19 set up. “When we toured England it was myself, Walter Masemola, Linda Zondi (now convener of selectors), and Makhaya (Ntini), and no one would even argue that we didn’t deserve to be there”. He then goes on to name drop some very prominent names that he was ahead of in the pecking order then, which only makes one wonder why or rather, how he didn’t become South Africa’s next test superstar. “This is a team where I was even picked ahead of Paul Adams, then the following year Robin Peterson was my 12th man at SA Schools level, so you had to be exceptionally good to make it. There were even more good players but a lot of them were undermined because they didn’t go to former model c schools”.
That is what he feels is not necessarily the case with some players of colour that get the opportunity now, and feels as if, some have rather used the quota system negatively by becoming too complacent, knowing that it has already put them in a comfortable position regardless. “ I haven’t been watching cricket at a franchise level”. he admits, but I sometimes switch on the TV and see a guy with an average of 19 batting at five for example, and that’s when I think to myself, “why is he there?” regardless of being black his clearly not good enough”
“This is where I feel the difference lies, some of the kids are pushed through there and get all these opportunities, making things too easy for them, because they know they going to get the contract then they don’t take their game seriously, even more when a kid comes from a family where he can afford”. He then suggests that maybe even the different financial positions of some of the players of colours’ families, as opposed to those of his era, could be an influence on the attitude and hunger that the two generations have approached their opportunities with
“We talking back then, Makhaya who came from the rural areas, myself, whose mother couldn’t even afford to buy me cricket equipment for example, I grew up with a single mother. So to us it was like, I had to do everything to make sure that I keep that going” he highlighted. He then brings up a rare incident in which he “dropped the ball” in, that ended up having effects that, although he feels were exaggerated, still haunt him to this day. “When you young you make mistakes but it would be like a tiny mistake and you would pay massively for it, something like missing a practice session. So ultimately the difference is that to the new generation it is just a sport and they know as black players they will get all the opportunities then we did back then”.
But for Ngxoweni at this point, it can only be an unfortunate “could’ve, would’ve, should’ve but didn’t” get those same opportunities as the likes of Rabada, Ngidi and Phehlukwayo. When quizzed on some of the key moments in his journey, that he wishes he could go back and alter in his favour, moments that, if had gone to plan would’ve had him right up there with Ntini as one of the most prominent Eastern Cape born test players, he produces a list.
“Again for me the one period was after I finished school. Had Border cricket sent me to the national academy, I reckon things would’ve been completely different from there” he said passionately.” He then admits he wasn’t a man without flaws during that period though, but also that the weight of his punishment was unjust but still should’ve never determined his eventual fate in the sport. “Under the same breath, being young, having just finished school, I missed cricket practice and we were going to play a touring Pakistan u/19 side. I had already had some good games and I kind of knew I would be in the side, because Mr Majola would sometimes leak the news to me” he says.
He continued by saying: “When I missed that practice and Richard Pybus decided not to take me on the road with him, that also changed everything because it meant, because I missed a game, it was probably reported as me being dropped. So SA U/19 wouldn’t take me. This would’ve been three years of SA U/19 on top of the three years of SA Schools” he pointed out. He still feels that one game should’ve not been a be it and end all for his career, still. “That still doesn’t matter because I could’ve been injured and not been able to play for the u/19’s, that made no difference in terms of Border cricket looking after my progression, so for me that was the biggest one and the biggest disappointment because when you go to the national academy that’s a big step its almost like an SA U21 squad so that was the moment for me”.
“Financially also, had Border cricket gave me a better contract then maybe I would’ve persevered, came back from England and fought harder to be in the provincial team. I was also scared to move to the other provinces because I was scared of how I would be treated. But it was all too much hardwork for me, I felt like I deserved more and so I decided to stay in Europe for 10 years, take the opportunity to live where there is a better standard of life” he said.
He then bemoans the lack of fair chances he got at Border cricket, saying all he would’ve wanted was the same opportunities as some of his teammates and how that could’ve potentially served as the catalyst for a different path. “ It might have changed if I was given the equal opportunities to play a couple of first class games. They didn’t even give me that chance to gauge if the levels were too high or not. Had it come, I would’ve obviously wanted to perform like I always do when I toured with the u/19’s playing against the likes of Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Flintoff. But just to not even getting an opportunity, not getting a contract while finding out im being mugged off with R500 while other kids were getting more. I was still feeling so poor while I felt I had done so much to put myself where I felt I should’ve been”
In acknowledging that things didn’t work out for him, as well the circumstances behind all of that, he issued out some advice to the new generation, hoping it would save them from experiencing similar situations in the future. “I would tell them just persevere, because we are where we are right now in 2020 because the road has been paved for them” he said. They must also never take anything for granted in life and if sport is what you enjoy and love doing, just grab it by the horns and run with it. There will be chances now because we are here to look after younger generations, just listen to your elders, people that have been there, that have been hurt, when they give you advice take it and run with it”
He then begins to take a financial aspect of the game, claiming the new generation have a bigger advantage and one they should not be shy from taking and using. “Yes, I took a different route and I’m not a multi-millionaire playing IPL (laughs) but I’m not complaining. They should also remember that it’s a business, they are lucky because we were never shown the money, we didn’t understand that it’s a business, a profession, so don’t just take your talent for granted, think of yourself as a doctor or lawyer, but on the cricket field” he said.
Although, he didn’t quite have the opportunity to safe guard a cricket career of his own, Ngxoweni did not let such a setback determine his life story, and he was able to revert and focus on his other interests, which he is now pursuing, and rather successfully too. “I have always had a passion for music as well, then I kind of got into the music scene through being a dj, and my ex-wife and I started a business with the concept being music, fashion and art because she was into fashion, then I moved to Spain and while I was there I had a full time residency, which was like a fulltime job at a restaurant, which then also opened a branch in Abu Dhabi where I have also been frequenting for the grand prix every November, in fact last year I was supposed to be there on a full time basis but because of the economic climate things didn’t work out”
Although clearly excelling in life outside the game, and being appreciative of the life it has given him, Ngxoweni isn’t shy to admit that his love for the game has not died down and would love another venture in its administrative side. “I have been interested in getting back into cricket, for example when Makhaya was struggling to open his cricket academy when I came down to the country, firstly I was wondering, how Makhaya could struggle to open a cricket academy being who he is. But then we started up a smaller private academy called Beginners Cricket in East London, which didn’t last long because Makhaya was travelling a lot as a guest for a lot of functions nationally”.
He then speaks on his previous proposal to CSA. “I also knocked on their door in an attempt to be part of their support system, in terms of trying to help look out for young black talent and giving them guidance with issues that led to some of us eventually not making it through”
He then concluded by reiterating his desire to come back to the country and get involved in one aspect or another, including a possible stint behind the mic. “I would love to come back to South Africa, I have even thought of going into commentary, but by the looks of things those roles seem to be reserved for former Proteas”. He said cheekily.
“But it’s not just me, I’m sure there are a lot other guys who feel strongly about how they were left on the sidelines, it would be nice to see those kind of people getting the opportunities to be part of developments simply because they know how they work, having been part of the system from a very young age till being denied the opportunity to turn professional. They would know exactly how to address the issue as opposed to politicians who are currently hogging such roles”.