The more things change, the more they stay the same.
A lot has changed since the last time the annual Khaya Majola Week was hosted in Makhanda in 1997. Back then, Makhanda was known as Grahamstown, while the annual cricket week was also in transition and had not yet been named the Khaya Majola Week.
At the time, it carried the name of the long-time sponsors of the prestigious event, and was known as the Coca-Cola Cricket Week.
In 1997, Khaya Majola was still a South African Schools’ selector. Serving with him on that panel was Imtiaz Patel – these days the Chairman of Multichoice.
Today, the Khaya Majola Week remains a vital, major stepping stone for cricketers in South Africa. Twenty-six years ago, the tournament produced Proteas’ Mfuneko Ngam, Robin Peterson (both Eastern Province), Monde Zondeki (Border), Victor Mpitsang, Morné van Wyk (both Free State), Justin Ontong, Henry Davids (both Boland), Jacques Rudolph (Northerns), Thami Tsolekile, Andrew Puttick (both Western Province), Johan Botha (EP B), Jon Kent (KwaZulu-Natal) and Gulam Bodi (Gauteng).
That’s an astonishing total of 13 future Proteas produced in that one week when the event was last hosted in the Eastern Cape town. Since then, the annual week has returned back to its format of all matches being limited overs, with the teams being divided into Platinum and Gold sections.
Besides those future South African internationals, there were four players who would go on to represent other countries, with Jonathan Trott (Western Province) and Michael Lumb (Gauteng) both playing for England, and Kruger van Wyk (Northerns) and Grant Elliot (Gauteng) turning out for New Zealand.
In 1997, the bowlers excelled, with Quinton Barnes of Griqualand West producing the best bowling figures of 7/41 against Border B, which is the sixth-best return yet recorded in the history of the week.
Two of the class of 1997 would also go on to play international rugby, with Conrad Jantjies (Easterns) and Werner Pieterse (Northerns) running out for the Springboks and Russia respectively.
Casting an eye towards this year’s tournament, the big challenge the players face is the fact that earning a South African Schools cap is more difficult than being selected to represent the SA under-19 team. The simple fact is that SA Schools’ selections are based on what the players achieve during the Khaya Majola Week. Miss out in the week and you miss out on selection.
Competition for SA Schools’ caps this year is going to be intense. Richard Seletswane (Gauteng) will be chasing a rare third cap after being selected for the national team in 2021 and 2022.
Four of his teammates of 2022 – Tristan Luus (Titans), Romashan Pillay (KwaZulu-Natal), Ludwich Schuld (North West) and Kwena Maphaka (Gauteng) return to the week with their sights set on a second cap.
Add to that the fact that national u19 players Aphiwe Mnyanda, Esa Gangat (both Eastern Province), Dewan Marais (Easterns), Thebe Gazide, David Teeger, Lhuan-dré Pretorius, Sipho Potsane (all Gauteng), Benni Hansen, and Oliver Whitehead (both Western Province) will also be in action in Makhanda.
Another seven players – Ntando Zuma (KwaZulu-Natal Inland), Juan Steyn, Martin Khumalo (both Easterns), Nqobani Mokoena (KwaZulu-Natal), Riley Norton (Boland), Esosa Aihevba (Gauteng) and Steve Stolk (Titans) are in South Africa’s provisional squad for the u19 ICC Cricket World Cup of 2024.
Gazide captained the SA Colts last year and would like to upgrade his cap. Alongside Gazide in 2022’s Colts line-up were Norton, Johnathan Muller and Dakalo Leketa (both Free State), all of whom will be aiming to take that extra step up to the SA Schools team.
Seletswane is joined by Ben van der Merwe (Border), Thurstin Murphy (Garden Route Badgers), Olwakhe Goqoza, Russel Peterson (both Eastern Province), Cormey van der Watt (Boland), Ntando Zumu and Thabisho Ndlela (both KwaZulu-Natal Inland) as a three-time participant in the Khaya Majola Week.
Van der Watt represented Eastern Province in Potchefstroom in 2021 before moving to Boland in 2022.
Van der Merwe could have boasted the unique distinction of captaining his province for three years in succession after leading Border in Potchefstroom (2021) and Cape Town (2022). He will, however, be the vice-captain in Makhanda.
He earned national hockey recognition earlier this year when he was selected for the SA Schools B side. His father, Cassie van der Merwe, is a former first-class cricketer who represented Free State and Border, and his younger brother Jacques will also be in action with him in Makhanda.
Riley Norton is seeking to add his name to a very prestigious list of school sports stars who have had the honour of representing SA Schools in cricket and rugby.
Norton already has an SA Schools rugby cap to his name, which he received at the end of this year’s Craven Week in George. If selected for the SA Schools cricket side, he would become just the third rugby forward to make the list of 14 players.
The only two forwards to have achieved that honour thus far are Malcolm Thompson (Maritzburg College, loose forward) and Frans Cronjé (Grey College, hooker).
Other famous sportsmen on the list of SA Schools rugby and cricket players include Herschelle Gibbs, Lee Barnard, Gerbrand Grobler, Conrad Jantjies, Helgard Müller, Errol Stewart, and Ruan de Swardt.