Worcester’s MP Robin Walker has praised Worcester City Council’s award of the freedom of the city to former Worcestershire and England cricketer Basil D’Oliveira, in recognition of his contribution to the anti-apartheid cause in South Africa.
Born in South Africa, Mr D’Oliveira moved to England in 1960 and settled in Worcester in 1964. He played for Worcestershire between 1964 and 1980 and represented England in 44 tests. In 1968, the England team was due to play in South Africa but Mr D’Oliveira was left out because of South Africa’s apartheid rules preventing black or mixed-race players from competing against white players.
Following national outrage, Mr D’Oliveira was called up to the England squad but South Africa cancelled the tour. The affair led to a dramatic turn in international opinion against the South African regime and is credited as being a landmark on the road to the eventual fall of apartheid in the early 1990s.
The move to grant the freedom of Worcester to Mr D’Oliveira was led by Councillors Jabba Riaz and Andy Roberts, and was supported unanimously in a council vote this week. There will be an official civic ceremony in September, at which the freedom certificate will be presented to Mr D’Oliveira’s family.
Robin paid tribute to Basil D’Oliveira in a 2013 speech in Parliament following the death of Nelson Mandela, saying:
“The battle to overcome apartheid had some unlikely heroes and we have heard a great deal today about the most inspirational of all. Another inspirational figure to whom this House recently paid tribute was the Capetonian, England and Worcestershire cricketer, Basil D’Oliveira, who lived in my constituency for many years. His role in showing the cricketing world the unreasonable nature of apartheid and South Africa’s colour bar and in helping to strengthen the sporting embargo against apartheid has been well documented. He was no active political campaigner, but in many ways his quiet dignity was a greater challenge to the regime at that time than a more outspoken approach would have been.”
“It is typical of the great Madiba’s generosity of spirit that he personally invited D’Oliveira to have lunch with him in 1996 during a coaching trip to South Africa. At the end of their time together he rose from his chair, hugged Basil D’Oliveira and said: “Thanks for coming, Basil…You must go home now. You’ve done your bit.””
Commenting on the council’s vote this week, Robin said:
“This is a hugely welcome move and my thanks go to Councillors Riaz and Roberts for putting forward this motion. I know how much it meant to my father to be granted the freedom of the city, and I am sure that Basil D’Oliveira’s family will appreciate this honour being granted in his memory.”
“I was glad to be present at the at the investiture ceremonies for the two previous Freemen – Cecil Duckworth and Mike Layland – and I look forward to celebrating Basil’s timely honour later this year.”