YESTERDAY, Zimbabweans woke up to shocking news in our sports section, exposing racist rants by cricketer Mark Vermeulen on Facebook.
While the internet has improved access to information, the downside is that it offers those with extremist views a largely unrestrained place to vent their hate. On websites and social media, people rail anonymously against blacks.
Unfortunately it is difficult to tell someone who is ranting and raging on the Internet from one who will pick up a gun the next day and go and kill someone because they are black.
Is it not surprising that Vermeulen can, in this day and age, call black cricketers “apes” even expressing regret at the “education” they supposedly got from whites? Suggesting that black cricketers would have been a lot happier in a mud hut, eating grounded maize, is the craziest thing that one can say to a fellow athlete.
Our cricket had made so much progress in normalising race relations between whites and blacks, but with Vermeulen’s rant, Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) finds itself many steps back.
We believe ZC shouldn’t be dealing with race issues in the sport, due to nasty experiences in the past.
Indeed, extreme bigotry — once expressed openly at events like Ku Klux Klan rallies in the United States, apartheid in South Africa and the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in Zimbabwe — can often go unseen.
It is even dangerous and devious in that it is harder to call it out, and it is harder to acknowledge.
Even those who subscribe to Vermeulen’s radical views may not know when someone is likely to go from online ranting to real-life violence.
Is it not true then that sometimes that hatred goes beyond angry text on a screen, occasionally with tragic consequences?
Sport is a unifier, yet it seems there are a few among us who are still stuck in the past, who see colour rather than a fellow teammate.
Although Vermeulen has a history of disorderliness, his latest gaffe is probably the most disgusting and disappointing of them all.
How he could spew so much anger and hatred against black cricketers with such reckless abandon is perplexing. To think that Vermeulen expects forgiveness for such a racist rant and hopes to still interact with fellow athletes, defeats reason.
What is most disappointing is that having been out of international cricket for a while, it was a black coach, Stephen Mangongo, and a black convenor of selectors, Givemore Makoni, who gave him the opportunity to resurrect his international career.
He played against South Africa in a Test match, but was left out of the tour of Bangladesh because he struggled against spin bowling, which they were anticipating on the sub-continent.
It could have been easy for the selectors to ignore Vermeulen because of his reported unstableness, but they embraced him. This goes to show that he did not deserve that recall in the first place.
Vermeulen’s actions must be condemned together with like-minded individuals across the country and elsewhere. No doubt, whites are no better than blacks and it is important for ZC to conclusively deal with this matter. Such players should be banned from anywhere near sporting activities.
Cricket players that have vowed to boycott the game if he were to be included in any team are justified and we urge authorities to resolve this matter urgently and bring finality to it.
Clearly, Vermeulen does not need another chance in the sport. Sportspersons are role models. There are many children aspiring to play international cricket.
Yet, it is people like Vermeulen who really spoil the future of cricket in this country. Surely, an apology will not be enough to erase what he thinks about black people and whatever injustice he was subjected to does not justify this.
This should be a lesson to Zimbabwe to deal with race relations across the board.