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Aurora Cricket Club
05 May 2010
Chris Merrett

Aurora, the multiracial Pietermaritzburg cricket club, was formed in early 1973 to challenge the idea that mixedsport was illegal and to test the attitude of white dominated sporting bodies. A careful approach was made for affiliation to the Maritzburg Cricket Union (MCU) in order to ensure that if Aurora's case were rejected it could only be on racist grounds. In an unusual move the MCU passed it on to the Natal Cricket Association (NCA) for advice. Considerable press coverage ensued and the white provincial and national cricketing bodies refused to make unequivocal policy statements, being wary of confrontation with Government. In spite of warnings from Government, the MCU admitted Aurora to its second division on I I September 1973, having been advised by lawyers that the club could play on public grounds. It thus became the first mixed club to be admitted into a white league, and there was considerable Press speculation on the intriguing possibility of fixtures with the Police Cricket Club, which had abstained from voting.

The reaction from Government was aggressive, interpreting the move as a challenge to its 'multinational' policy, referring to Aurora members as politically motivated agitators working toward confrontation, and arguing that it had to consider interests higher than sport. Friendly matches passed without incident: against a University of Natal lnvitation Side at Dalry Park, at which uninvited spectators had to be turned away; versus Michaelhouse at Balgowan; and against a Kloof lnvitation Side. A projected match against a touring Rhodesian Stragglers team was cancelled as some of the visiting players were wary of upsetting the South African Government. Dr Koornhof, Minister of Sport, invited three club committee members to Pretoria, entertained them at his home and tried to persuade them to withdraw Aurora from the white league. After a general meeting of the club it was decided to defy the Government. The latter issued Proclamation R228 (1973) altering the provisions of the Group Areas Act in an attempt to prevent Aurora playing, although lawyers felt that multiracial sport had not been made illegal as the Proclamation was vaguely worded and probably ultra vires. Dr Koornhof saw the situation differently, though in a statement devoid of any measure of prophecy: 'I have had Aurora googlies and bumpers . . . but I am still here and not out. Figuratively speaking I am going to score a century for my country and get us back into world sport'.

Bad weather thwarted Aurora's first appearance in white league cricket until 13 October 1973, when University of Natal was met at Alexandra Park, and Aurora became the first club to play a multiracial match on a public ground in South Africa. During the day policemen had been spotted lurking in bushes around the ground and watching the match from a distance through binoculars. At 5.15 p.m. they took the names of the players and some spectators. They temporarily confiscated the film of a press photographer, took the name of the twelve year-old scorer and had to be persuaded not to remove the scorebook. No prosecution followed, probably through Government concern about publicity.

Aurora continued its multiracial activities under the MCU, but the basic structure of Pietermaritzburg cricket remained unaltered. One team, Voortrekker, twice failed to fulfil fixtures against Aurora in the light of the Koornhof proclamation. In a bizarre twist to the normal traditions of the game, a team list was handed in to the police after each league to keep them away from play. In the season 1976-77 'normal' cricket was played by amalgamating the white, African and non-racial bodies, but few clubs were mixed and various tensions caused its collapse before the end of the season. The main cause was the general nature of apartheid society and more specifically its intrusion onto cricket grounds. Most black clubs withdrew to form the South African Cricket Board affiliated to the South African Council on Sport (SACOS). Although Aurora continued to play under the banner of the MCU, opinion within the club doubted if it was achieving its original aim: no other club had followed its lead; normal social relations had proved difficult in terms of the Liquor Act; and racism had appeared in the form of selection policy and personal insults. encouraged by the clear non-racial principles and practice of the SACOS aligned bodies, Aurora affiliated to the Maritzburg District Cricket Union in June 1978. It so became and remains to date a significant contributor to anti-apartheid sport in Pietermaritzburg in terms of both players and administrators.

Source: Pietermaritzburg 1838-1988: a new portrait of an African city, edited by John Laband and Robert Haswell (Pietermaritzburg University of Natal Press and Shuter & Shooter, 1988), pp 248.

Comments: [Post a Comment]
Posted by Genni Tobias on 20 Sep 2011

I was a member of this great cricket club and even scored for it. This brings back great memories. we had the most vocal supporters club: win or lose we celebrated after every match.

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