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LULL BENEATH THE JACARANDA TREE
Frank Deford
December 10, 1973
For a brief moment the clouds of prejudice parted and South Africa gloried in color as Arthur Ashe almost won a tennis tournament and light-heavyweight titleholder Bob Foster outpointed Pierre Fourie
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December 10, 1973

Lull Beneath The Jacaranda Tree

For a brief moment the clouds of prejudice parted and South Africa gloried in color as Arthur Ashe almost won a tennis tournament and light-heavyweight titleholder Bob Foster outpointed Pierre Fourie

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"Shame, shame...."

The next evening, Ashe had dinner with a wealthy white liberal. A financier, he was brilliant and persuasive, and held the audience in his grip. "A game," he suggested at dessert, "we will have a game." He would play the role of Arthur Ashe upon his return to America, and the others at the dinner table would be members of the press. He would illustrate how Ashe could field questions honestly but to everyone's mutual best advantage. The predictable questions came: Were you surprised? Might you return? And the answers flowed back smoothly. But somebody suggested another: "Mr. Ashe, how can the world believe South Africa is sincerely advancing toward justice if, in the week it shows off Foster and you, it bans a man without trial or even reason?"

The financier grimaced, and was suddenly himself again. "But that is not relevant," he snapped. "What has that man to do with South Africa allowing Arthur Ashe to play here?" The real Arthur Ashe looked again at the man who had been playing Arthur Ashe. "Besides," the businessman said, a cold smile creasing his face, "that man is just a lightweight." Ashe's eyes dropped. The game, as always, was over.

Don Mattera is the name of the lightweight who had been banned from living. It was he who wrote the poem about Ashe. They had met at Ellis Park earlier in the week. At the very time they talked, Mattera's banning order was being processed. He is 37, with a wife and six children, so gentle a man that he berates himself for his own passivity. He is a journalist and a poet, but he lives in a hovel with no plumbing and no electricity. He writes his poetry by candlelight.

Ashe saw him for the last time when he came down from the black journalists' meeting. Mattera was still there by the stairs, waiting with the man from BOSS. He took Ashe's hand, and those of his friends. "Go well, brothers," he said. "Go well." The jacaranda will come to bloom five more times before Don Mattera is allowed to be a person again.

When Ashe and Foster left South Africa last week, almost all the purple petals had fallen to the ground, spring was done and the place was itself again, with just the usual colors.

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