#FREE YAGGA….From What, Himself?

Over the past week I have observed a kind of petition being circulated under the tagline #FreeYagga, in various media platforms including social media. The intent of its proposers is (as they claim) to free former Jamaica and West Indies cricketer Lawrence Gorge Rowe form what they termed “banishment” and exclusion from receiving any National honors for his past contributions to Jamaica and the Caribbean Region. This after Rowe surreptitiously agreed in 1981 to lead a team of “Rebel” West Indian cricketers on tours of South Africa between 1982 and 1984. Rowe, who had fallen out of favour with West Indian first team selectors had reportedly told former Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley that there was no truth to the information that he was headed to South Africa. When the reality of Rowe’s presence in South Africa, worst as captain hit, Jamaicans of all stripes were fit to be tied.

FREE YAGGA....From What, Himself

Jamaica’s Leadership in the fight against Apartheid
For proper context, Jamaica had in the mid-1970s been at the forefront of the promotion of efforts to dismantle the system of Apartheid that had been implemented by the all-White South African government since 1948. This declared policy of Racial Segregation dictated 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 and 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.

Gleneagles 1976 and Lausanne 1979
In that same year 1976, the then Prime Minister Michael Manley provided solid leadership in hammering out the Gleneagles Agreement in Scotland which sought to reduce South Africa’s partition in the global economy. Three years later at Lausanne in Switzerland, Manley again led the arguments which called for a complete ban on all sporting and cultural contact with South Africa, a policy which was adopted by the more than 200 members of the Commonwealth and supported especially by Jamaicans at home and abroad. Their response (shared across the wider Caribbean) was to initially ban the participating players from this ill-advised tour. To most of us the decision of the players spoke to tilted moral compasses on their part. In Rowes case, many (me included) likened his behavior to being treasonous. Over time though, the responses across the region generally, and in Jamaica specifically, softened. Participants returned home, granted some headed for pastures in the USA with their tainted earnings. Some sang a Sankey, and one player (Ezra Moseley) was even selected to play for the West Indies first team. Jamaicans for the most part accepted the players who returned but there was no consideration of them for national duties.

Sabina Park
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 had made in a radio interview that he had done nothing wrong by going to apartheid South Africa in 1983 and 1984 and refused to apologize to the Nation. The then JCA President, Mr. Lindel Wright reportedly 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 apprised 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. Today, thirteen years later, another socially unconscious crew seems to be at it again, publishing a new campaign under the hashtag #freeyagga.

Unquestionable talent
Again, it is important to provide 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. It is inarguable that cricket was what he knew and that accepting a contract of service was the way he could earn a living. Having said that, decisions have consequences, and taking the decision to go to South Africa was certainly going to be consequential for him, especially if he intended to leverage his earlier earned fame in local and other sporting circles.

Social consciousness
I recall a conversation years later with a former West Indies fast bowler who stated that he too was vigilantly pursued by the organizers. According to him, the monies being offered were ridiculously lucrative, yet he and others stood their 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 and others chose the money, and essentially, nothing is wrong with taking such a decision, if they understood the consequences. Rowe and his accomplices accepted the Racists’ monies and lied his way to South Africa. His penchant for denial continued when he refused to express any contrition about 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, as he still maintained that he had done nothing wrong.

Decisions have consequences
Every decision that we all make, has 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.

About the Author

Richard Hugh Blackford

Richard Hugh Blackford is the host of a 2-hour music-driven internet show Sunday Scoops on yaawdmedia.com each Sunday from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm. The show focuses on Foundation Jamaican Music and takes its audience on a nostalgic but historical musical journey, peeling back the years of Jamaican musical development as the hosts explore the careers of Jamaican artistes. Sunday Scoops provides interviews with personalities, and discussions on Jamaican music and other topical issues.  The show is co-hosted by noted DJ Garth Hendricks.

Photo – Deposit Photos

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