Graeme Smith. Picture: Gallo Images/Bertram Malgas
Graeme Smith. Picture: Gallo Images/Bertram Malgas

No-one does high drama quite like Cricket SA (CSA). This week, after a flurry of backstage activity, it decided to postpone its 2020 AGM, which was scheduled for this Saturday, September 5.

CSA is facing a barrage of criticism for its handling of various issues — not least the fact that it refuses to release a 468-page forensic report into the chaos at the organisation. You could argue that postponing your AGM at the 11th hour is like going to bat in a Test without your pads on, but it gives CSA time to get its ducks in a row (a possibly unfortunate, if apt, analogy).

As a result of the postponement there will be a more robust engagement between CSA’s two tiers of government, the board and the members’ council. The council is made up of presidents of the 14 cricket provinces, who hold the board to account.

It will also, hopefully, move CSA closer to releasing the report it commissioned from Fundudzi Forensic Services in the wake of the "precautionary suspension" of then-CEO, Thabang Moroe, last December.

Last week, after Moroe had been on full pay for nearly 10 months, the organisation finally terminated his employment contract "with immediate effect".

Thabang Moroe. Picture: Gallo Images/Lefty Shivambu
Thabang Moroe. Picture: Gallo Images/Lefty Shivambu

But the matter of how to handle the forensic report has proved far more difficult.

How, readers may ask, has it come to this?

Last week Anne Vilas, newly elected president of the Central Gauteng Lions (CGL) who sits on the members’ council, wrote a strongly worded letter expressing her dismay that the report hadn’t been circulated widely.

"CSA is in the worst crisis ever experienced," she wrote, "and the current board and company secretary [Welsh Gwaza] do not seem to have the ability or desire to expeditiously solve that crisis."

CSA, supported by its lawyers, Bowman Gilfillan, said it stood by its decision not to circulate the forensic report. It said there was nothing to fear, as no-one had been implicated in it falling foul of the Companies Act.

Privately it is understood that board members (the report in its entirety has been seen by only a few people who sit on the audit and risk committee) are worried that showing the report to the members’ council will lead to it being seen by the media.

The irony is that it was the members’ council that commissioned the report, said a former CSA insider. "Now you have the board citing possible leaks as a reason not to show the members’ council a report they themselves commissioned — it’s absurd."

Anne Vilas. Picture: Business Day
Anne Vilas. Picture: Business Day

Last weekend, an agreement was reached. CSA and Bowman Gilfillan offered a partial compromise by saying members’ council presidents could view the report by appointment in the law firm’s offices in Joburg, Cape Town or Durban — subject to signing a nondisclosure agreement.

"People forget that the original intention with the forensic was for it to form part of a turnaround strategy," said the insider. "We wanted it to help restore trust in CSA and cricket. Now it’s just become an albatross around CSA’s neck."

When asked on Monday if she was going to read the report at the Joburg offices of Bowman Gilfillan, Vilas said she was. But she added: "It is going to take me a full day to get through it at that length."

Others haven’t been so fortunate. The players, represented by the SA Cricketers’ Association, haven’t been allowed that privilege. "We did request a copy of the report from the previous president [Chris Nenzani] and may have to proceed with a Promotion of Access to Information Act application to obtain it," said CEO Andrew Breetzke.

Protecting their own

There is another part to Vilas’s three-page letter. She and her board are furious that having been asked to make nominations for independent directors by CSA, none of the nominations they put forward has been proposed for election at the AGM.

It’s an indictment of CSA that it is now claiming it "did not have an opportunity to deliberate on the nominations", according to Vilas’s letter. "This is simply not good enough," she writes, "because the current crisis is a direct result of CSA not having strong independent directors."

It’s especially poor since the list of nominations for independent directors put forward by the CGL is impressive. Steve Budlender, senior counsel and cricket fanatic and Geoff Budlender’s son, is one, as is Denver Hendricks, a long-time sports administrator of note. Garth Hulley, senior counsel, is another well-respected nominee, as are Barney Pityana, Ilhaam Groenewald and Norman Arendse.

Why go through the charade of asking for nominations, asks the CGL, if CSA is reluctant to do its job?

Such dilatoriness suggests that the current independent directors on the CSA board — Eugenia Kula-Ameyaw, Dheven Dharmalingam, Marius Schoeman and Vuyokazi Memani-Sedile — are being protected. And Memami-Sedile is not only head of CSA’s nominations committee but was due to stand for re-election at the AGM herself.

By postponing the AGM, CSA has bought itself time to address the concerns. That said, it remains an organisation in governance and organisational freefall, one riven with cabals and serial inefficiencies.

The acting president, Beresford Williams, took over from Nenzani — who resigned two weeks ago — but inspires little confidence. And there have been increasing concerns raised (by Vilas and others) over the competence of Gwaza, the company secretary.

A careful look at CSA’s subcommittees shows Gwaza either sitting on many of them or there as an invitee. Take the Cricket Pipeline committee, for example. It includes Gwaza and acting CEO, Kugandrie Govender, as one of four permanent invitees, making it 10-strong with its six regular members.

The committee is crucial to CSA’s transformation mandate but only one member, Graeme Smith, has first-class cricket experience. What gives?

Hats off to Gauteng, though, because they were brave in sticking their necks out in backing the Vilas letter. Unions are notoriously vulnerable to the withdrawal of patronage and in cricket this takes the form of Test matches, ODIs and T20s simply not being allocated to uppity unions.

The Wanderers has a "Pink Day" ODI planned for the 2020/2021 season and there were concerns that if Gauteng rocked the leaky CSA boat too hard, matches would be stripped from the schedule.

As it is, it looks as though the Mzansi Super League (MSL) is unlikely to take place this year and with first-class cricket starting only in November and the fixture list yet to be confirmed, there are fears that CGL might yet rue the consequence of its actions.

Justice delayed

Amid these ructions, CSA has announced the appointment of a transformation ombudsman. Dumisa Ntsebeza will "be tasked with managing an independent complaints system" for former players who believe they suffered "opportunity cost" at the hands of the system.

The parameters of Ntsebeza’s brief are not yet known, but it seems those most deserving of retrospective compensation are those denied opportunity under apartheid, rather than those who might have suffered neglect or racism but were nationally contracted players under a democratic dispensation.

One such player was the legendary Amin Variawa, who played in a now almost-forgotten friendly between Saeed Abdul Haque’s XI and Johnny Waite’s XI at the Natalspruit grounds in April 1961.

Ali Bacher. Picture: Gallo Images/Deon Raath
Ali Bacher. Picture: Gallo Images/Deon Raath

Haque and Waite were good friends and, at the end of the summer, they decided to put on a two-day friendly in the interests of bringing cricketers of different races together.

Ali Bacher, one of the few remaining players from the match who is still alive, recounts that though nominally a friendly, it contained the best talent the then-Transvaal had to offer. Waite’s side included Springboks (Waite, Russell Endean) or those destined to become Springboks (Bacher, Ken Walter, Mike Macaulay).

Their opposition was similarly gifted.

Not only did they have Variawa, who top-scored with 107 in the Haque first innings, the highest individual knock of a low-scoring match, but their side contained Tiffie Barnes, Doelie Rubidge, Solly Chotia and Lobo Abed. The low scores make sense, given that the match was played on a matting wicket. With its prodigious bounce, hessian (or matting) wickets were always tough, but the Haque XI outplayed Waite’s team to win by 20 runs.

Had it not been for Variawa, they wouldn’t have got close. Variawa is long deceased, having died in a car accident on the road from Lenasia to his home in Potch, but perhaps it is he and others like him who are most deserving of retroactive compensation.

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