Lungi Ngidi takes a knee in solidarity with the global Black Lives Matter movement. Picture: Christiaan Kotze / AFP
Lungi Ngidi takes a knee in solidarity with the global Black Lives Matter movement. Picture: Christiaan Kotze / AFP

After spending my entire life as a nonpractising Scorpio, it was with quite a jolt that I learnt that those spoilsports over at Nasa have decided to change all the star signs.

Unlike the other major religions — I’m also a nonpractising Catholic, so I vaguely know of what I speak — astrology made the mistake of adopting a pseudoscientific holy writ, rather than relying entirely on surreal leaps of faith. So it’s pretty awkward when a bunch of scientists brings the force of astronomy to bear on the farce of astrology: "We didn’t change any zodiac signs, we just did the math," the jokers over at Nasa merrily tell us on their blog.

Apparently, the original zodiac signs arose because, 3,000 years ago, the Babylonians divided the sky into 12 equal parts, through which an imaginary straight line drawn from Earth into space would pass as the Earth orbited the sun. As they used a 12-month calendar, each month was assigned a zodiac sign to itself.

But, Nasa tells us, "even according to the Babylonians’ own ancient stories, there were 13 constellations in the zodiac. So they picked one, Ophiuchus, to leave out."

It’s a little like picking a cricket team in the schoolyard, I assume. The unpopular kid either gets picked last, or left out altogether. And in a lot of the popular fiction from the 1960s, star signs seem to be a device to pick up people at parties.

I’m reminded of the start of a song by The Doors, where lead singer Jim Morrison addresses the audience: "I don’t know how many of you people believe in astrology. Yeah, that’s right … that’s right, baby, I … I am a Sagittarius, the most philosophical of all the signs. But anyway, I don’t believe in it."

Would that really work if he declared, "I am an Ophiuchus"?

No wonder they left it out.

But now Ophiuchus is back. Some astrology believers are lamenting that "it’s now been revealed that everything we thought we knew about the zodiac was a lie". Which is something I feel they might have picked up earlier, but hey. They got there in the end.

And thanks to what James Kaler, professor emeritus of astronomy at the University of Illinois, is terming the Earth’s "wobble", it turns out 86% of people were actually born under a different constellation to their star sign, based on how the sky looks now.

So instead of a Scorpio, it turns out I’m a Virgo.

All this has caused quite the uproar in astrological circles, let me tell you. But not just the diehards; even those of us who sneer at astrology, or in fact never think about it, still know what star sign we are. And as empty a concept as it is, that the position of stars and planets have some sort of influence on our lives, it turns out that in some strange way people have taken comfort from knowing that others thought of them as having a star sign.

The fact that astrology is a language entirely devoid of truth doesn’t mean it’s a language that isn’t rich in meaning.

It seems a similar thing has happened with the response of some fans to the SA cricket team’s decision to take a knee in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

In line with the example set by many sports teams around the world, Cricket SA’s director of cricket, Graeme Smith, took the knee alongside former Proteas bowler Makhaya Ntini and others at the Solidarity Cup, the first live cricket match since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown.

The move was prompted by a call from current SA bowler Lungi Ngidi, pointing out the need for the Proteas to collectively show solidarity with BLM on the issue of racism.

If you only read the indignant responses on social media, you’d think Ngidi had called for an end to all white participation in sport, asked for the death penalty for Kevin Pietersen, and burnt a small effigy of Hansie Cronje taking a bribe.

In fact, what he said about the Proteas kneeling in solidarity was this: "It’s definitely something I believe we would be addressing as a team … And if we’re not, it’s obviously something that I would bring up.

"It’s something that we need to take seriously, like the rest of the world is doing. We need to make a stand. It’s something that will be discussed when we’re all together again in person. We obviously have spoken about it and everyone’s aware of what’s been going on … As a nation, we also have a past that was also very difficult in terms of racial discrimination and things like that."

As you’d expect, a certain type of cricket fan — and cricket player — was incensed by this. All the usual tropes have been hauled out indignantly, as well as the banal outrage.

"I only kneel to my God," blathered one hero. "That’s it, no more cricket for me," screeched another.

And, of course, some of our sad former SA cricketers (uniformly white, you’ll be surprised to hear), decided that they’d invented the catchy notion that All Lives Matter.

Boeta Dippenaar frothed at the mouth about BLM being a "Marxist system that seeks to break down the very system of family that we are built on" (I assume he meant the handy migrant worker system of apartheid, but who knows). He wrote on Facebook: "All lives matter. If you want me to stand shoulder to shoulder with you, Lungi, then stand shoulder to shoulder with me with regards to farm attacks."

It’s as if these intellectual giants have just discovered that the Earth is wobbly, and the age-old clichés in which they’ve chosen to define their lives have, like the star signs of astrology, suddenly shifted in the harsh light of reality.

And like those adherents of astrology, these believers in the idea of cricket as being about a universal truth, and one that somehow always turns out to be a white truth, are refusing to acknowledge that there’s a need to recalibrate, and start correcting specific wrongs.

It’s unclear quite why they feel that addressing racism in sport would be unfair to other types of human rights, but the obvious answer is probably going to be because they’d rather not confront the reality of their prejudices.

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