SA Cricket must cut ties with Zim

2009-01-02 00:00

SOUTH Africa needs to rethink its relationship with the spiteful crooks running Zimbabwe.

Likewise in this euphoric hour, Cricket South Africa (CSA) ought to cut its close ties with the charming creeps plundering Zimbabwean cricket.

As could be told from the spirited performance these last few weeks, CSA is doing an awful lot right. All the more reason to cast aside a bloated and benighted board with money in its pockets and blood on its hands.

Some of the leading lights at CSA stood firm against apartheid and now must reject the tyranny of Zanu-PF. In both cases the common man was crushed by a ruthless elite.

Over the years CSA has backed the Zimbabwean rulers to the hilt. Black Africa has produced some of the greatest leaders the world has known, but cricket fell into the hands of lesser men.

Percy Sonn started the rot by backing Zanu-PF and Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) in the face of mounting evidence of their greed. Nobody is so blind as the zealot. Sent as an observer, Sonn declared legitimate an election every sane person knew had been rigged and in his cricketing capacity supported ZC’s senior officers, Peter Chingoka and Ozias Bvute, wealthy thugs whose fondness for whisky matched his own.

This unholy trinity came to be called the Black Label Brotherhood. Nor did Sonn spare his own country, once intervening to demand the inclusion of Justin Ontong and the omission of Jacques Rudolph, thereby scoring a political point and harming the careers of two promising players.

Sonn’s death merely paved the way for Ray Mali, a man with all his predecessor’s faults and none of his intelligence. Already compromised by his antics in one of the homelands set up by the apartheid government, Mali forged a friendship with the ZC elders, paid them a visit, drank their grog, took the guided tour and returned to say that Zimbabwe was well on its way to taking first place in the ODI rankings.

It was a betrayal of underpaid and intimidated black cricketers and honest officials. Presumably he fell for the spiel about ZC trying to make the best of a bad job. And so he ignored the suffering and sided with the tyrant.

Norman “Stormin’” Arendse was CSA’s next senior officer, a forthright, clever, outspoken, well-connected lawyer whose firm had done a lot of work for ZC.

Against expectations Arendse led CSA away from its close links with its neighbour across the Limpopo. By then ZC’s finances were coming under closer scrutiny, as was its legitimacy and ties with a despised government.

Pictures had been published of overgrown grounds, reports had spread of unpaid bills and wages and jobs for the boys, with 14 officials accompanying the last Under 19 tour and so forth. Where had the tens of millions provided by the ICC gone?

Meanwhile Chingoka invested millions, built a house in Cape Town and kept his family in London. Bvute spent most of his time in New York and bought a house in the richest suburb in Harare, not far from the 47-bedroom house recently constructed by the governor of the Reserve Bank.

Perhaps, too, Arendse had heard about the threats to Tatenda Taibu that caused him to flee the country. Now Taibu is fighting ZC again, demanding that the accounts be presented in court as a way of proving that the assault case mounted against him is nothing more than a ruse to silence him.

Under Arendse, CSA stopped inviting Zimbabwean teams to play in its domestic competitions. Previously it had allowed Zimbabwean squads to attend its High Performance Centre in Pretoria and arranged A team tours.

Obviously the players were not to blame. Eventually it realised that cricket and politics could not so easily be separated. ZC has lent broadcast vans to Zanu-PF at election time and Chingoka is a business partner and close ally of Solomon and Joyce Mujuru, a ruthless pair who have risen to eminent positions in Zanu’s military and political establishment.

But Arendse clashed with his chief executive and handed in his papers. He has been replaced by Dr Mtutuzeli Nyoka.

By all accounts the newcomer is capable and careful, so it was discouraging that in his first pronouncement he sent an olive branch to Chingoka, thereby following in the footsteps laid by numerous Indian officials, including the suave and supposedly sophisticated Mr Bindra. India’s position on Zimbabwe is cynical and pathetic.

If sporting boycotts were valid in the apartheid years they are valid now.

Despite Nyoka’s opening remarks, CSA has not restored full links with ZC. Elsewhere the world is slowly waking up. As someone assisting 36 impoverished Zimbabwean students, I have long been aware of the collapse of hospitals, justice, free speech, schooling and hope.

Bright girls have been forced into prostitution, brilliant students sweep streets to avoid starvation, critics are killed, and all the while the corpulent cats widen their girth. Australia’s new government has added Chingoka and Bvute to its banned list. England banned them ages ago.

Far from protecting them, CSA should seize their houses and funds and distribute them to struggling cricketers and their dependents.

CSA is right. Cricket must become a truly African game. All the more reason to suck out the poison.

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