Former WI fast bowler cited the example of Makhaya Ntini and how even though he was a world-class player he is sometimes viewed as a statistic.
The term "quota" is an unnecessary burden for players of colour to carry and they should instead be recognised for their abilities and excellence. That was Michael Holding's message to Cricket South Africa's Social Justice and Nation-Building (SJN) commission, where he was invited as a special guest to close proceedings.
Holding, who authored the book Why we Kneel, How we Rise, has been outspoken on issues of race and inequality and called for a shift in mindsets about who is capable as South Africa's seeks greater inclusion.
"The quota system - I have heard that used on so many occasions when referring to South African cricketers of colour, that they are only there because the regulations say they have to be there," Holding said. "They are never given full credit for their abilities. That is something I have spoken to (former UCB managing director) Dr Ali Bacher about.
"I spoke to Ali Bacher about it in 2003 when I came to do [commentary in] the World Cup. I suggested then that is an unnecessary burden for players of colour in South Africa to carry. When you pick someone just because you think you have to have certain boxes ticked, whether they are good or not. They are carrying an extra burden because there will always be people who say they are only there because regulations say they have to be there."
Despite his critique of the word 'quota', Holding understood why South Africa, a country where white minority rule ended just 27 years ago, needs targets to rectify the wrongs of its segregated past but hopes they will give way to organically demographic representation.
"I understand initially why that was done. South Africa wanted to see a team and society that represents all of South Africa. And people in South Africa are in a hurry to see that. I suspect that people think that if it is not regulated it will happen very, very slowly and they want to see it happen quicker. I hope that eventually it will not be necessary."
He singled out Makhaya Ntini, the first black African player for South Africa and who has featured in Holding's book, as carrying the quota label throughout his 11-year international career.
"That is a burden that Makhaya Ntini carried throughout his career," Holding said. "He spoke about it when I spoke to him for the book and I think it is unfair. He was a fantastic cricketer, his record proves that, everybody knows that, and not just in the latter stages of his career. From the early stages of his career he proved his worth and that he belonged there but kept on carrying that burden of being pointed out as being there only because regulations said he should be there."
Ntini finished his career with 390 Test wickets, the third-most for South Africa after Dale Steyn and Shaun Pollock, but Holding said he was never considered a senior player in the national side and was often lonely. Last year, Ntini told on national television that he would run from the ground to the team hotel, and vice versa, to avoid being on the team bus, where no-one would sit next to him. Holding repeated and added to that story.
"That is something Makhaya Ntini explained to me. We all know he was extremely fit. We all know the stories of him running to the ground. A lot of people thought it was part of his training regime. When he spoke to me, he explained to me the reason that he ran to the ground and did not take the bus. Because when he went on the bus, he felt as though he did not belong because he was treated as though he did not belong.
"He would go for breakfast in the morning, he would sit at a table and his team-mates would come in and sit at another table and leave him by himself at his table. Other team-mates would come in and go and join their other team-mates and leave him at his table. He was trying to comfort himself by saying maybe they just have things they need to discuss among themselves. Later it grew on him that that was not really the reason. He was not considered one of them. He was not considered a full-fledged member of the team. I played cricket. I know about committees that are formed within teams, I know about senior members within teams. There were committees formed within the team, supposedly senior members of the team to discuss things, and he was never called to be a part of that committee. People who joined the team long after him automatically became senior because of the colour of their skin.
Although Ntini did not make a submission to the SJN, Holding hopes there are lessons to be learned from Ntini's anecdotes.
"Makhaya Ntini suffered all that. I am thankful to him to bear it out and still be so successful. That shows the strength of character of the man. Hopefully people will recognise, even those who did things like that perhaps did not recognise the hurt and the harm they were doing and the attitude that they had wasn't right, hopefully they will all learn and recognise their faults and their mistakes and they will be willing to learn and willing to change."
"I don't like the idea of scouts going out and handpicking people and taking them out of their comfort zone, somewhere else for them to try and develop. Go there and put the infrastructure in place."Michael Holding
While a shift in mindset is what has dominated discussions around South African cricket culture throughout the SJN, Holding also advocated for a shifting procedure, specifically the scholarship system which takes children out of disadvantaged areas and into elite schools. Ntini was one child, removed from Mdingi where he grew up and taken to Dale College, where he was forced to fit in despite not being able to speak English or having the same socio-economic background as his peers. Holding would prefer that growth happens in the areas where people are to avoid putting them in challenging situations and expecting them to prosper.
"What I would like to see is opportunities being equal and everyone being given an opportunity to develop," he said. "I don't like the idea of scouts going out and handpicking people and taking them out of their comfort zone, somewhere else for them to try and develop. I would like to see the development process start from where that person is from. Go there and put the infrastructure in place. If you are not as strong a person as Makhaya Ntini, if you don't have that strength of character, I am absolutely sure he would have fallen by the wayside.
"When I talk to him and hear what he went through - going to a school where he could not speak the language - he had to be a strong person of character to go through all that. Not everyone can manage that. I would love to see opportunities given to everyone all over, and not to put them in a foreign environment and hope that they develop, because that is what you are doing. You are hoping."