TELFORD VICE, Bulawayo
THAT three of the four players Cricket SA (CSA) banned for dabbling in match-fixing on Monday are black will not surprise those who have followed a story that has been seeping like a bad smell into the national consciousness since November.
The surprise is that, unlike Thami Tsolekile, Ethy Mbhalati and Pumi Matshikwe, the other player punished – Jean Symes – is white.
Symes is among few white players whose names have been whispered with the many who have been rumoured to be implicated in the scandal.
None of the white players so tainted were central to the whirl of rumours that abounded and were mentioned sparingly only.
In the same way that AIDS was once regarded as a disease almost exclusive to gay men so match-fixing was painted as a problem prevalent only among SA’s black cricketers.
The racism is inescapable. So it is to be welcomed that the myth has been exploded.
As CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat said at the press conference at Newlands where the bans were announced, “I don’t believe corruption is unique to any particular race or creed.
“Bookmakers will attempt to corrupt anybody they believe they can get to.
“All players need to be very vigilant about the risks of corruption.
“They all happen to be from a particular franchise (three are Lions players) or a particular area (all four live in Gauteng), probably friends with the person who acted as an intermediary (Gulam Bodi, who was banned for 20 years in January).”
Now for the hard part. Between them Tsolekile, Mbhalati and Matshikwe account for 890 representative caps across all formats. They are senior players regardless of any considerations.
What does their removal from the system in such inglorious circumstances mean for CSA’s increasingly ardent efforts to darken the game?
“Any senior players who are lost to the system is one too many,” Lorgat said.
“The fact that they happen to be black players is probably a particular issue because we are so focused on transformation.
“Yes, it does impact us.”
It also gives ammunition, however illegitimately, to those who would seek to foster unhealthy divides within cricket.
To them the game is not only played in whites; it is also played mostly by whites.
This view is as false – far more blacks play and follow cricket than whites – as it is reprehensible. But it’s out there.
Particularly if you are white, you won’t have to listen too carefully to hear something along the lines of, “We let them into cricket, showed them how to play it and did everything we could for them. And look how they repay us.”
Retired judge Bernard Ngoepe, the independent chairperson of CSA’s anti-corruption unit, took the debate in a slightly different direction.
“You can look at me and decide whether I’m white or black,” Ngoepe said. “But I don’t subscribe to the notion that because you come from a poor or disadvantaged background you should open yourself up to corruption.
“That should never be justification for being corrupt.
“Millions of people come from poor backgrounds but they live their life clean in accordance with principles. “I’m speaking for myself. I’m one of those people who does not accept as justification an excuse for somebody who steals, who kills, who murders, who is corrupt, saying that, ‘It is because I come from a poor family’.”
But Ngoepe, a former judge president of the North and South Gauteng high courts, nonetheless had softer words for the culprits.
“We must also, despite some malpractices, accept that they, too, love the sport,” he said.
“They are human beings; they have an understanding of their responsibility towards the sport themselves.”
Even so, Lorgat confirmed CSA had reported the matter to the police, as they are required to do in terms of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
CSA were, however, “comfortable that’s it’s contained in these players”.
As bad as the situation was, SA Cricketers’ Association chief executive Tony Irish told reporters it could have been worse.
“If it hadn’t been for education programme I don’t think the players would have come forward and revealed what was going on,” Irish said.
“This investigation would never have happened.”
SACA, he said, would still be there for the punished: “Anything that we do that involves cricket won’t be applicable to them.
“But these are human beings, these are players who have gone astray. They are still individuals.
“They are guys who perhaps need support and assistance in other ways. We will probably look to assist them in that way.”
And, despite everything, there was some good to be taken out of what looked like a mess.
“This is the best education a player can get, to see what happens when it does go wrong,” Irish said.
“These sorts of things become huge wake-up calls for players.”