Aaron Phangiso played a key role in advocating for South Africa's reserve players to be paid a portion of match fees to ensure that those who do not play many matches on tour, such as himself, are compensated. Phangiso, who was part of South African squads from 2013 to 2018, could have played in 97 international matches but only featured in 37. He did not play a single game at the 2014 T20 World Cup or 2015 50-over World Cup, growing frustrated with both non-selection and non-payment. Speaking at Cricket South Africa's Social Justice and Nation-Building hearings, he explained how he campaigned for reserve players to be paid as well.
"If you were wearing a bib, there was one match allocated to four players. I went and spoke to our team manager and told him I have got a problem with this. I told him that on tour I am one of the few guys that miss out on a whole lot of games and we need to relook at this," Phangiso said, detailing one chapter of the five he submitted to the SJN.
"The team manager saw reason and said, 'let me speak to the senior guys in the team and see how we can rectify this.' I had a meeting with two senior players and said this is where I stand. The response that I got was shocking. It just showed that people will always think for themselves. The response I got was, 'Phangi, you expect that a guy sitting on the bench must get the same amount?' And I said, 'Yes, why not? How does that affect you as a player? It's not coming out of your salary. I got into a lengthy discussion with them and I showed them reason and they did see a bit of reason and they said yes, we will go back and talk to SACA (the South African Cricketers' Association). Two days later, the guys came back to me and said they spoke to SACA and the best that we can do is to add an extra match fee. Instead of four guys sharing one match fee, they were sharing two. I still don't think it's fair. You can play only XI. Are the other guys worth any less? No. That's how I feel."
ESPNcricinfo has confirmed that South Africa's match fees per game were increased from 12 to 13 in the 2018 MoU signed between Cricket South Africa and the SACA - which governs, among other things, player salaries, and that this has been increased again, to 14 match fees, to cater for bigger squads during the Covid-19 pandemic. South African players' match fees are R25,000 (US$1,700) per ODI and R12,500 (US$850) per T20I, which means bench players' amounts had increased in ODIs from R6250 (US$425) to R12500 (US$850) and T20Is from R3125 (US$213) to R6250 (US$425) in the time Phangiso played to R16,666 (US$1140) and R8333 (US$570) since November 2019.
By then, it was too late for Phangiso, who last represented South Africa in 2018 and said in the hearings he felt he should have played more. He narrated numerous incidents of being told to "wait for your time," as a specialist spinner in a cricketing landscape that favoured quicks. But he expressed confusion about not getting a game at the 2014 World Cup, which was played in Bangladesh, and only playing two of South Africa's four matches at the 2016 T20 World Cup, in India.
Phangiso said he understood he was considered next in line to Imran Tahir but felt there were instances when they could have played together, as they did at the Lions franchise. "I understand Imran was doing well. But in games Imran and I played together we dominated and did well as a combination." Phangiso said.
His biggest disappointment, however, was the 2015 World Cup where he also didn't play a game despite South Africa qualifying for the knockouts, with a group game to spare. Phangiso revealed he felt isolated on that tour but also suffered some of the aftermath of South Africa's exit.
"I was happy to go to a World Cup again, thinking I would get the chance to contribute, but going into the tournament as the only (black) African player was also tough. I am not sure a lot the public can relate to what it's like being the only person of your own race," he said. "You are away from home. We are there for more than a month-and-a-half, all alone, no game time, no nothing. And then to come home and know you have disappointed everyone. People ask if you think you are not good enough to play and what happened? You get into a mental state, I wouldn't say depression, but it's exhausting."
Like the other participants at the SJN Hearings, Phangiso also spoke extensively about racial discrimination he endured as a player, especially in the early days of his career. Phangiso started playing in the South African domestic set-up in 2004, when transformation targets demanded all franchises field four players of colour in their XIs and all provincial teams, five.
"You would just be there as a number. There were times when one would take the field and not do the discipline one specialises in," he said, recounting an incident from a match in 2005 when he only bowled five overs out of more than 110 for Northerns.
"I was on the field for three days and I didn't bowl (much) and I actually started crying on the field and my current coach (Mandla Mashimbyi of Northerns) came to me and said: 'don't worry, all will be fine, you will get your turn'. Those are the words we tell ourselves: 'keep pushing the struggle'."
The SJN hearings are due to run for the next two weeks after which transformation ombudsman Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza, will produce a report and recommendations to CSA.