On June 20, 2011, the Board of the Jamaica Cricket Association (JCA) took a decision to name the players’ Pavilion at Sabina Park in honour of Mr. Lawrence George Rowe. One week later, a release was issued by that Board's honorary secretary Fritz Harris, stating that the JCA was revoking its decision of the naming of the Pavilion mainly due to subsequent comments Rowe made in a radio interview that he had done nothing wrong by going to apartheid South Africa in 1983 and 1984. The then JCA President, Mr. Lindel Wright told the Jamaica Observer that the local body had been “embarrassed” by Rowe’s utterances to the media. He made no mention of the firestorm that the ill-advised decision had raised, as many Jamaicans who were very well appraised of the Apartheid issues of South Africa were very much alive and their own social and political consciousness has remained undimmed despite the passage of time. Thirteen years later, another socially unconscious crew seems to be at it again, publishing a new campaign under the hashtag #freeyagga.
South Africa's Apartheid Cruelty
To gain a better understanding of the issue, in 1948, the all-White South African government declared a policy of Racial Segregation in that country dictating that the more than 23 million Black South Africans must live in separate areas from the Whites. The policy forbade any kind of social contact between the two Races, including the establishment of separate public facilities for both groups. The policy was enforced with absolute brutality, including the killing or jailing of any opponents of the policy. So it was that on Wednesday, June 16, 1976, I became aware of this brutality when I learned that earlier that day, the South African police opened fire on a crowd of students demonstrating against the South African govt's decision to ban the use of tribal languages for teaching in schools and to offer all instruction in Afrikaans. More than 170 children were butchered (there are reports that the overall deaths were closer to 700) with more than 1000 injured). That day has remained forever etched in my consciousness as I was just about to leave high school (Camperdown after two years of sixth form).
I recall a conversation with former West Indies fast bowler Mikey Holding years later where he stated how he was vigilantly pursued by the organizers. According to him, the monies being bandied were ridiculously lucrative, yet he stood his ground. It wasn't that he was vilifying those who suited up for the "Honorary-White" circus, but that his own moral compass made the refusal an easy decision, as he had to live with his conscience. Yes, he was making a bit more money playing West Indies Cricket, but even if that had not been the case, his position would have been no different. His own moral compass would never have allowed him to do that.
Rowe's consequential decision
Lawrence George Rowe himself made a consequential decision, despite having the benefit of the views of people who recognized the conflagration that would have unfolded if he signed on and warned him of the pitfalls. He chose the money, and in the process, pissed on the efforts Jamaica had been making in its fight against the Apartheid regime in South Africa, including the enforcement of the 1977 Gleneagles Agreement isolating South Africa and to bring about an end to its racist Apartheid policies including the 1979 Lusaka decision to ban that country's participation in sports. Michael Manley who was the Jamaican Prime Minister at the time had been a leading voice in the anti-Apartheid struggle. Reportedly, Rowe lied to Manley when asked directly about his participation in the so-called "Rebel" tour, which he subsequently served as team captain.
Rowe's brief batting brilliance
For context, Lawrence Rowe was at one time regarded as one of the game's premier batting stylists beginning his Test cricketing career against New Zealand in 1972 at Sabina Park with 214, and 100 not out. Two years later he caressed a scintillating 302 versus England at Bridgetown, Barbados sandwiched between 120 at Sabina, and 123 at Queens Park Oval, underlining his class as a stroke player. That was short-lived however as his final hundred 107 versus Australia in the first Test at the Gabba down under was underlined by a loss of form in the remaining Tests and a humiliating 5-1 trashing by the Australians. Rowe never regained a place in the regional side even at a time when the regional side's second stringers played.
Free Yagga... from what?
Enter the Sporting ban period and Rowe accepted the Racists' monies and lied his way to South Africa. His penchant for denial continued when he refused to express any contrition for his decisions. To make matters worse, his equally socially unconscious enablers are at it again even after their decades long failed attempt to name a portion of the Sabina Park facility in Rowe's "dishonour" as they are attempting to again take it on themselves to again try to whitewash his sins and impose him on us as a cricketing hero. This time their rallying cry is to "Free Yagga." My question to them is 'to free him from what?' Surely, Rowe is free to come and go to and from Jamaica as he likes. If anything, Rowe is in a prison of his own creation.... a prison in his own mind. His insensitivity to the hurt he caused Jamaicans and Black people around remained absolutely staggering, and it was only after the JCA pulled their ill-advised decision that he offered an apology.
Live in the minds of his fans Every decision that we all make, have consequences. Rowe and his counterparts made a decision that paid them handsomely. However, that decision has produced consequences that disqualifies him from being accorded any kind of National recognition or awards. We will all regale over the brief period when his phenomenal gift enraptured us. I saw him at Sabina in 1972 when he scored the 214 and 100 not out. I saw him again in 1974 when he made 120 against England at Sabina. He was peerless... but that was it. The good he did was corrupted by the decision he made, and that will serve as a lesson for future generations.