The Jamaica Cricket Association (JCA), led by my good friend Lyndel 'Mud' Wright, committed a grave error of judgement when it decided to name the players' pavilion at Sabina Park in honour of Lawrence Rowe. It would appear that the JCA, in arriving at its hurried and insular decision, focused only on Rowe's performance on the cricket field between 1972 and 1980, but turned a blind eye to his inexplicable behaviour since then.
Between 1972 and 1980 when Rowe played for the West Indies, he had everyone literally eating out of his hands. Rowe is perhaps, next to George Headley, the most technically gifted and graceful batsman that Jamaica has ever produced. He made batting what it should be - an art. He made making runs what it should be - breathtaking; and he made cricket what it should be - enjoyable.
Rowe became what is described in cricket circles as an immortal when, in his debut match against New Zealand at Sabina Park in 1972, he made a double century, 214, in his first innings, and 100 not out in his second innings. Later, his peerless, fearless and chanceless 302 at Kensington Oval in Barbados left Bajans and West Indians dizzy with the Roweistic style of batting.
Rowe and South Africa
Regrettably, Rowe's actions off the field ran contrary to his brilliance on the field. By 1980, only eight years after his debut, Rowe's fortune began to wane. He was not picked for the 1981-2 England tour of the West Indies. He also developed problems with his eyes and suffered from hay fever, which made him allergic to grass. Despite this, he still had some amount of cricket left in him, and his attractive batting style made him a prime target for those with sinister motives.
The South African government was, by 1983, feeling the heat of isolation by the international cricket community because of its racial policy which led to the exclusion of black cricketers from its Test team. Because of its inhuman policy of racial segregation, the South African government was seeking ways to entice cricketers to visit South Africa in order to give legitimacy to their crime against humanity.
In 1983, the apartheid regime of South Africa pounced on Rowe. It dangled blood money before him and, before long, he agreed not only to be the captain of a cricket team to South Africa but to help scout for other talents in the West Indies. In Jamaica, he induced Richard Austin, Herbert Chang, Ray Wynter and Everton Mattis to join him. From the wider Caribbean community, others also jumped at the apartheid bait. These included Alvin Greenridge, Ezra Mosely, Colin Croft, Emmerson Trotman, Wayne Daniel, Franklyn Stephenson, Sylvester Clarke, Gregory Armstrong, and Alvin Kallicharran.
According to the late former Prime Minister Michael Manley, Rowe, despite the pressure from the West Indian cricketing public not to go, had long made up his mind. Manley, in his 1995 revised masterpiece, A History of West Indies Cricket, wrote:
"Tremendous pressure was now placed on Rowe to turn back from a course that could only bring disgrace and disaster upon his head. The cricket authorities and governments were united in their abhorrence of apartheid and their determination to use every possible weapon to fight it. There was not a chance that they would overlook the action planned by Rowe and his 'rebel' team. Nor were they likely to respond with a tap on the wrist. At this juncture, the same intermediary made several attempts to meet with Rowe in the hope of dissuading the island's finest bat since Headley. Rowe would not agree. His mind was set, and, in due course, in February 1983, the team flew to South Africa."
Lawrence Rowe, despite the continuous protestations by freedom-loving and democratic-minded people in Jamaica and the West Indies, ignored all the calls not to betray his fellow African brothers and sisters suffering under the evil system of apartheid. Not only did Rowe ignore the calls in 1983, but he went back to South Africa in 1984.
For his callous disregard for the racial segregation which existed in South Africa at the time, and for defying the international ban imposed on apartheid South Africa, Rowe and members of his rebel team were not only banned by the West Indies Cricket Board of Control but also by their clubs and country for life.
Others Have Apologised
In later years, the ban was lifted, and during the period a number of the members of the 'rebel team' apologised for their acts of folly. Not Rowe. To this day, he is of the view that he did no wrong. This is what Rowe had to say on radio (RJR's 'Beyond the Headlines') on June 21, the day after he tendered his so-called apology for going to South Africa.
"I am not saying I did wrong. The whole point about it is that history will prove if I am wrong. History will prove that. If we check it out, some of our own national heroes were crooks. Paul Bogle was vilified and then he became a national hero. So you don't know, probably when I am gone, probably 40-50 years from now, I might be a national hero; wherein what was extremely negative and thought of as being wrong, might be positive 40-50 years from now."
It is this kind of unintelligent backwardness by Rowe which has set him apart from all the other persons who committed the treachery of going to South Africa during the days of apartheid.
In 1959, Frank Worrell received an invitation from the South African Cricket Union to lead a West Indian team to play in South Africa. Worrell accepted. There was an outcry by the people and most governments of the region, and he decided not to go.
In 1970, Garfield Sobers accepted an invitation to play in racist Rhodesia. He went. Sobers was told, thereafter, in no uncertain terms that without an apology, he would be banned from most Caribbean territories. He promptly apologised and, to this day, regrets his decision of having gone to Rhodesia.
C.L.R. James, the doyen of West Indian cricket intelligentsia, always felt that apartheid "sought the isolation of the Africans not only from the whites but also from progressive black voices". He, therefore, felt that progressive blacks going to South Africa during the period of apartheid was a good thing because it would help to isolate the apartheid regime. But James had a caveat. That is, any such visit must be met with the approval of the progressive voices in South Africa.
Jimmy Cliff, also regrettably, visited South Africa during the period of apartheid. He has since then apologised on a number of occasions in interviews, and certainly he has never said that what he did was right, nor foolishly declare that in 40-50 years' time he might be made a national hero for doing so.
There are those persons who argue that after 28 years, Rowe should be forgiven. Certainly one must always be able to forgive, even if one chooses not to forget. But how can Rowe be forgiven, if he himself is of the view that he did no wrong and believe that one day he might be immortalised by the Jamaican people for having committed such egregious act?
Rowe, no doubt, and persons who would wish for us to gloss over the action of the JCA seem to have forgotten what apartheid was all about, and how Jamaica, as a small but proud country, stood up and gained respect in the international community because of its resolute abhorrence of the system of apartheid.
Jamaica against apartheid
In response to the institution of apartheid in 1948 by the racist South African government, Jamaica, under the astute leadership of Norman Manley in 1957, became the first non-independent country in the Western Hemisphere to impose unilateral trade sanctions against South Africa. This position was maintained by succeeding governments, until Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected president of South Africa in 1994.
The efforts to tear down apartheid in South Africa and to allow persons like Nelson Mandela to be free went beyond just the implementation of trade sanctions by Jamaica. Our country was also in the forefront of the push to expel South Africa from the Commonwealth, their suspension from the United Nations in 1962, being barred from the International Olympic Committee in 1970, and the implementation of the Gleneagles Agreement in 1977, which was instrumental in the isolation of South Africa in the area of sport.
The oppression which continued unabated in South Africa at the time of Rowe's visit was an insult to every human being. He and his team members were paid by money generated by a racist regime. They stayed in hotels which were impacted by racial segregation and they defied the request of the anti-apartheid campaigners, including Nelson Mandela, who was sent to prison because of his fight against apartheid.
That is why ace fast bowler Michael Holding, at the time, was so strident in his criticism of Rowe and the other 'rebel team' members. In his book, titled Whispering Death, Holding described them in the following manner;
"These men are selling themselves. If they were offered enough money, they would probably agree to wear chains. They would do anything for money."
The only decent thing for the leadership of the JCA to do is to reverse itself on this matter and apologise to the country for having made an error in naming the players' pavilion after Lawrence Rowe.
Delano Franklyn is an attorney-at-law and KC Old Boy. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.