Cricket’s belated stand against Zimbabwe

2008-06-27 00:00

Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) decision to suspend their supportive relationship with Zimbabwean cricket has been a long time coming. No longer can Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) take part in domestic competitions, send students to the Academy or rely on CSA to watch their back. Previously CSA officials have been willing to play the game on Zimbabwe’s terms, pretending that it is all about post-colonial reconstruction, reminding all and sundry that Africa is not run along the lines favoured by the Bloomsbury set and pointing out that black Africans are brothers in blood and must not be driven apart.

Paraded around the better parts of that country and plied with whisky, senior CSA officials were turned into collaborators. Some managed to persuade themselves that ZC was immune from the viciousness loose in the land, a haven of civilization in a brutal world. This contention does not survive scrutiny.

Some observers object to the way sport has been dragged into politics. But that is not happening.

Politics is about whether you vote Labour or Liberal, ANC or IFP, Republican or Democrat, MDC or (heaven forfend) Zanu-PF. It is about the eternal debate between right, left and centre. And it is all a matter of opinion. No sensible person allows politics to affect their judgment of another.

But the situation in Zimbabwe is not about politics. It is about the crushing of hope, the repression of a people. And it has all been documented and filmed and shown on television around the world. Finally it has provoked horror, but it has been going on since the regime lost a referendum in 2000. That ANC observers ignored the violence and rigging at subsequent elections merely exposed them to ridicule. When a senior ANC observer told international journalists that the 2002 election had been fair the entire press conference burst into laughter.

Lovemore Banda, ZC’s deceptively cheerful media officer, argues that ZC has nothing to do with the Zimbabwean government but that is untrue. ZC’s outside broadcast van has often been used by Zanu-PF. Peter Chingoka, the long-standing and utterly compromised chairman of ZC, regularly entertains government ministers and other sinister types at cricket matches played in Harare.

He enjoys close relations with the highest offices in the state, and acts under the protection of the vice-president and her military husband. He is a dreadful man, the worst the game has produced.

Not so long ago senior ICC officials met Chingoka, his thuggish partner Ozias Bvute and the minister of sport and were appalled by their poisonous racism. These creeps had the same effect upon regional cricket officials and MPs from both parties.

Chingoka, Bvute and their cohorts continue to pillage the game. They invest millions in companies, send their families to the most expensive cities in the world, build houses in the most expensive suburbs on the continent and meanwhile pay their players a pittance (US$100 a month by some reckonings).

As Zanu-pf has presided over the destruction of a nation, they have overseen the destruction of a game. Fields are overgrown, pitches unprepared and, despite the best efforts of the schools, standards are falling and despair is increasing. Yet the administration grows ever more wasteful and nepotistic.

Banda himself is nothing more than a parasite. By all accounts he was so rude to a white CSA official during his country’s visit in 2006 that a report was sent to the CSA Board. Presumably it was brushed under the carpet. But brotherly love does not require sycophancy.

Not that CSA has been the only cricketing association to ignore the destruction in Zimbabwe. In that regard David Morgan, the biggest of the wigs at the ICC, has let the cat out of the bag.

Asked about the ICC’s position on its most detestable member, Morgan explained that it was not easy for the game’s governing body to act in unison because of the “close relationship between Zimbabwe and India”. It is a relationship, shrewdly pursued by those in charge in Zimbabwe, that disgraces cricket’s most powerful and populous nation.

In the past England has also been hypocritical towards Zimbabwe, playing them at home but not away, condemning Mugabe and then sending back refugees. Australia has not been much better.

These nations make a lot of noise and do precious little. It was easy for them. At last the international and cricketing communities have reached a single mind. Zanu-PF is vile and ZC is its cricketing partner. Both bodies ought to be regarded as international lepers. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission awaits. Until justice returns to that benighted land it must remain in political disgrace and sporting isolation.

•International crciket writer Peter Roebuck is based in the KZN midlands.

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