The lockdown period in South Africa may not have seen much cricket played, but there was barely any shortage of off-field drama.
For a country ravaged by racial tensions, the George Floyd incident certainly shook many feathers. In the wake of the incident in the United States, South Africa found herself divided once again in a moral battle of racial supremacy and tolerance. All of it started with the Protea speedster Lungi Ngidi taking a knee, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. While his gesture found support from his teammates including all race and colour, few former cricketers were quick to point out the documented white genocide in South African farms.
A lone instance of racial prejudice in the US seems to have had bigger repercussions for South Africa, and South African cricket especially, rather than in the States.
Such was the polarisation caused by the incident that Cricket South Africa had to call for a ‘culture camp’ to revive the team culture on the principles of pluralism and racial diversity. Even the ‘3T’ cricket saw changes in the names of team captains, following the breakout.
Recently, Cricket South Africa has also announced plans to pursue aggressive racial quotas for team selection both in the provincial and national level. This comes despite the fact that the Board has achieved its quota requirements for the entire calendar year 2018-19 – (the 2019-20 numbers are yet to be released).
At present, Cricket South Africa seeks to pursue a 6:5 quota reservation in favour of non-white cricketers on average per year, to embrace cricketers from less-privileged backgrounds to pursue cricket both at the provincial and national level. This change was announced in 2017 from the previous quota requirements of 7:4 in favour of white cricketers.
While all this seems to encourage the promotion of black and Asian cricketers for the South African national team set-up, the lack of willingness of CSA to pursue merit has also seen a massive exodus of potentially good white cricketers to England and other places.
Prior to the appointment of Graeme Smith as director and Jacques Faul (who has been replaced by Kugandrie Govendar) as CEO, CSA’s higher echelons were dominated by black administrative officials, backed by the ruling ANC. One of them, the former CEO, Thabang Moroe was fired recently over serious misconduct, as revealed by independent forensic auditors in a report.
Similarly, the relationship between the SACA (South African Cricketers’ Association) and CSA was at its lowest until the appointment of the Smith-Faul duo. Administratively, cricket is still at a standstill. Players are pursuing greener pastures abroad over poor racial quotas, declining salaries and an inflated Rand.
The national cricket team has been a disappointment in itself since the beginning of 2019, when they lost a home Test series against a dilapidated Sri Lankan outfit. The Board seems to be pursuing everything apart from cricket. Culture camps and the pursuit of new aggressive racial quotas to embrace changing demography have now become the new normal in South African cricket.
This comes at a time when there is still no guarantee whether Cricket South Africa can organise provincial cricket this summer. The premier T-20 competition – the Mzansi Premier League – has already been called off. CSA, which recorded losses as high as 200 million Rand in 2018-19 is projected to lose another 400-600 million Rand this season, much of it owing to the lack of cricket and the troubles over sponsorship renewal.
The main ODI team sponsor, Momentum has already signalled its intention of pulling out of a renewal with Cricket South Africa after its contract expires in April 2021.
To further complicate the matters, the announcement from sports minister Nathi Mthethwa to intervene in the operations of Cricket South Africa over recent allegations of serious misconduct has also invited concerns from the ICC, which within its purview can ban the country from international cricket.
There is no denying that Cricket South Africa is on a feared slippery slope downhill with barely anyone up to the rescue. The policies of Cricket South Africa, aided by the tolerance of the ruling party has cornered the country into a severe crisis.
While many expected South Africa to show their badge of Protea fire in these moments of turmoil, it is quite clear that there is no leadership to steer the sinking ship. Cricket has become a full-fledged government business in South Africa and is certainly following the Zimbabwean way, and this time there is no stopping it.