Cronje's confessions

Print edition : June 24, 2000

Hansie Cronje's testimony before the King Commission of Inquiry implicates players and bookmakers from the Indian subcontinent, who he claims pressured him and his teammates to underperform and throw matches.

THE King Commission of Inquiry into allegations of bribery and match-fixing in South African cricket, headed by retired Cape High Court Judge Edwin King, which began its hearings on June 7, had held just six sittings when it adjourned on June 15 for thre e days. Two of these sittings did not last throughout the morning session. On June 13, the Commission rose well before lunch and adjourned for a day, Judge King explaining that such adjournments were "almost inevitable in proceedings of this nature".

The second abridged session was on June 15 when Hansie Cronje, the former Captain of the South African team and the central character in the match-fixing scandal, presented his testimony, live on television and radio, and before an overflowing audience i n the hall. Although the formal reading into record of his 23-page statement took less than an hour, King decided, after consulting Cronje's psychiatrist, Ian Lewis, that he was under stress and so not fit to be cross-examined immediately after rendering his testimony. So he adjourned the hearings midway through the morning session, until June 20.

Hansie Cronje, former captain of the South African team, takes the oath to testify before the King Commission on June 15.-MIKE HUTCHINGS/ REUTERS

Over three weeks elapsed between the decision to appoint the Commission, announced on April 11 and formally approved by the Cabinet on April 12, and the notification of the Commission on May 4. More than a month passed before the Commission began its pub lic hearings on June 7. Initially it was expected that the Commission would complete its work and submit a report by the end of May. When the Commission was appointed in early May, it was expected that the report would be submitted by end of June. Howeve r, Judge King made it clear at the outset that only an interim report would be submitted by the end of June.

The Commission's Terms of Reference are: 1. The disclosures and allegations about Hansie Cronje receiving payment from a bookmaker during the South Africa-England-Zimbabwe One Day International (ODI) triangular tournament in South Africa in January this year; 2. Whether any South African player or official received or promised payment over and above the normal salary and sponsorship fees between November 1, 1999 and April 17, 2000. During this period, South Africa played Tests and ODIs at home and abroa d (including Sharjah) against Australia, England, India, Pakistan and Zimbabwe; 3. The allegations about an offer of money made to the South African team to throw an ODI during its 1996 tour of India. The Commission, however, has the power to widen its i nquiry if it considers it necessary or if new evidence emerges.

THE most startling aspect of the inquiry is the offer of immunity made by the National Director of Prosecutions to Hansie Cronje, in return for 'full disclosure'. The offer was apparently made the day before the hearings began and without any consultatio n with Judge King. It is true, as Judge King explained to Cronje before he began reading his statement on June 15, that the offer of immunity was contingent on his, Judge King, being satisfied that Cronje had indeed told the truth and the whole truth (wh ich, he helpfully added, citing from the scripture, would 'set him free'); nevertheless, the offer appears to be extraordinary.

The parallel and precedence for the offer of immunity, it is argued, is the amnesty process of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). However, that process required those seeking amnesty to apply formally, spelling out what offences and crimes th ey were seeking amnesty for, attend an amnesty hearing in public (unless the amnesty committee decided otherwise) which the victims or survivors of their crimes had a right to attend, make full disclosure and also fulfil other requirements spelt out in t he TRC legislation and subject themselves to close questioning and cross-examination. In any case, the decision whether one was given or denied amnesty was announced well after the amnesty committee's hearings.

In Cronje's case, immunity from prosecution was offered even before the man deposed before the Commission. Interestingly, when Ali Bacher, the managing director of the United Cricket Board of South Africa, was recalled on June 13 (his testimony rendered during the best part of the previous day comprised unverified claims and allegations), he conceded that no such offer of immunity had been made to Herschelle Gibbs though Gibbs had told him on June 2 of what he would be telling the Commission. Gibbs admi tted that he had accepted an offer of money from Cronje to under-perform during the tour of India early this year.

Apart from Cronje, 11 present and former cricket players have testified until now. Pat Symcox (June 7), Derek Crookes, Daryll Cullinan and Herschelle Gibbs (June 8), Henry Williams, Pieter Strydom and Nicky Boje (June 9), Lance Klusener and Mark Boucher (June 12), and Jacques Kallis and Dave Richardson (June 13). Further, three cricket officials - Rory Steyn, UCB security consultant on June 8, Bronwyn Wilkinson, UCB communications manager on June 9 and Ali Bacher on June 12 and 13 - and an official of t he South African Reserve Bank have also testified.

Of these, the testimonies of Gibbs and Bacher were the most revealing. Bacher's testimony dealt almost solely with alleged instances of crooked umpiring and match-fixing in, and by the players of, what is referred to in the South African media as 'the su bcontinent'. However, the most astounding part of his testimony was the claim, based on a letter from a friend, in which this friend claimed that he had as his fellow traveller on a Johannesburg-Durban flight on April 18 "an attractive young man of dark complexion with a slightly foreign accent" who he inferred was Shoiab Akthar, the Pakistani pace bowler; and who in the course of the flight proceeded to enlighten Bacher's friend about match-fixing practices 'worldwide' including Pakistan.

The concluding part of the letter, which is now part of the Commission's record as Bacher's testimony, has revealed South African perceptions about the 'subcontinent'. Impressed by his fellow passenger's knowledge of cricket and wishing to confirm that h e was indeed Shoiab Akthar (the two apparently never exchanged names) Bacher's friend found from the reservation chart that the seat (4-A in Executive Class) was booked not in the name of Shoiab Akthar but in the name of 'Mr. A. R. Mayet'.

Bacher's statement, quoting his friend's letter, goes on: "Information from the immigration authorities at Johannesburg International Airport suggests that no Akthar entered the country on any day in the three months prior to April 18. Strangely, neither did a Mr Mayet." One can only ask what is so strange about not finding an entry for a Mr.A.R. Mayet in South Africa's immigration records since Mayet is a common name among South African Indian Muslims? However, Bacher's friend's and Bacher's own 'shock of discovery' on not finding the name of Mayet in immigration records is quite natural since it arises out of the conviction that men of 'dark complexion' who look like Asians with names such as Mayet ought to be aliens, though there are over a million South African citizens fitting one or other of this description.

This piece of information is offered as clinching evidence of the "mysterious" presence of Shoiab Akthar in South Africa on April 18, in the midst of Pakistan's then ongoing tour of West Indies. But then, this is of a piece with the strongly entrenched p erceptions about the 'subcontinent. John, Sunil, Mukesh Gupta (MK), Hamid Cassiem 'Banjo', Mohammed Hanif Kodavi (Cadbury), Sanjay (Sanjiv) Chawla are names of persons essentially undifferentiated from the cricket players of India and Pakistan or indeed Indians and Pakistanis in general, are now common currency among South Africa's CLP, though few of these names are correctly spelt - not surprising since Mahatma Gandhi's name too is routinely misspelt.

Indeed, from Day One of Hansiegate, the image of an honest and upright Christian seduced and corrupted by an alien people in an alien environment has been an essential component of the morality tale that Hansiegate has already become. The 'surprise' at n ot finding the name of a Mr.Mayet in the immigration records is only part of this broader perception about the 'subcontinent'. Indeed, several witnesses, including Cronje and Bacher, specifically refer to the perils that cricketers from South Africa face in the 'subcontinent'.

The disclosure by Gibbs that Cronje had offered $15,000 each to him and to Henry Williams in return for under-performing in the fifth ODI against India at Nagpur early this year (duly confirmed by Williams the following day), was the first of the many se nsational disclosures made during the hearings. However, there are some ambiguities in the testimony. As Gibbs says (as also stated by Cronje on June 15, made under oath), the offer required a commitment from Gibbs to get out before he reached 20 runs; a nd for Williams to bowl badly, conceding at least 50 runs in his allotted ten overs. It is true that the King inquiry does not have certified copies of the transcripts of the tapes allegedly made in India and released by the Indian police, though it has allowed reference to the transcripts as they have appeared in the media to be made during questioning and cross-examination. To the extent one can follow, the media have carried two transcripts, neither of which is complete or continuous. The first, rele ased in New Delhi on April 7, was apparently made on March 13 and refers to the expectations of those who promised payments about the under-performance of the South African team the following day at the 3rd ODI in Faridabad - the reference to Gibbs scori ng less than 20 (he got out for 19) as well as to Strydom, Boje and Gibbs 'playing'. In respect of this match, Cronje says in his testimony that he had "untruthfully told Sanjay that Boje, Strydom and Gibbs were involved" but makes no reference to Gibbs scoring less than 20 in that match.

The second transcript, apparently obtained by The Melbourne Age which appeared in the weekend newspapers (April 15-16) in Cape Town, has references to Derek Crookes and Henry Williams opening the bowling, and other details about various stages of South A frica's innings in the fifth ODI in Nagpur (March 19) where indeed Crookes and Williams opened the bowling, but no reference to Gibbs; and other details about the captain's plans for the South African innings. Far from getting out before 20, Gibbs went o n to score 74 runs in that match before he was run out.

During the cross-examinations until now, the reference has been only to the fifth ODI, and to the promises made and not kept in respect of that match, suggesting that there is a consensus that the transcripts refer only to conversations relating to the f ifth ODI. It is to be seen if the issue will be referred to during the cross-examination of Cronje. The problem is that Cronje says that for the most part he was 'stringing along' the bookies.

This brings us to Cronje's testimony, a classic example of the reversal of the well-known legal ruse of the 'denial that affirms' in being that is in essence an affirmation that denies. The denial mode, an integral component of apartheid, remains central to the statement. Even while acknowledging that he had been in contact with gamblers and bookmakers since January 1995, received money at four different stages, three of them in South Africa, conveyed crucial information and decisions about the course o f the South African innings he planned to take as captain in advance to the bookies, offered bribes to his team mates and induced them to lie and so on, Cronje maintains that he never threw or fixed a match. Not merely did no money change hands in respec t of any of the matches during the Indian tour early this year (paragraph 55 of the statement), "there was no manipulation of games or results in South Africa, and I supplied no information in respect of the matches in South Africa" (para 41).

Almost all people mentioned in Cronje's testimony as being involved in the offer of bribes, even those who made such offers in South Africa, are persons from the 'subcontinent' or South Africans of Indian origin. This is perfectly in tune with the percep tion of the CLP from the day the scandal broke: that the fundamentally honest and upright South African cricket players have been seduced to sinful ways in the uniquely corrupt environment and mores of the 'subcontinent'. "There is a problem in the subco ntinent," is a refrain, like other melodies in every testimony.

One of the most startling parts of Cronje's testimony lending weight to this perception is his claim that he was introduced to gamblers and bookmakers by Mohammed Azharuddin, the former Indian captain in the course of the third Test against India in Kanp ur during South Africa's 1996 tour. This, in Cronje's version, is where he yielded to temptation and took the first steps down the slippery slope.

"On the evening of the third day of the third Test against India at Kanpur, I received a call from Mohammed Azharuddin, who was friendly with a number of South African players. He called me to a room in the hotel and introduced me to Mukesh Gupta ('MK'). Azharuddin then departed and left us alone in the room. MK asked me if we would give wickets away on the last day of the Test to ensure that we lost. He asked me to speak to the other players and gave me approximately U.S. $30,000 in cash to do so. I le d him to believe that I would. This seemed an easy way to make money, but I had no intention of doing anything. I did not speak to any of the other players and did nothing to influence the match. In the event, however, we lost the Test. I had effectively received money for doing nothing and I rationalised to myself that this was somehow acceptable because I had not actually done anything" (Para 16).

THE other reference to Azharuddin is Cronje's claim that Hamid Cassiem 'Banjo', the owner of a sweet shop in Fordsburg in Johannesburg and a known South African bookmaker, introduced him to "a man known to me only as Sanjay who he said was from London" ( Sanjay/Sanjiv Chawla) on the eve of South Africa's fourth ODI against Zimbabwe in Durban in the S.A.-England-Zimbabwe triangular in January-February this year. "I am also aware," Cronje says in his testimony, "that Hamid is a friend of Mohammed Azharuddi n" (Para 35).

Judge Edwin King, Chairman of the King Commission of Inquiry which is looking into the allegations of match-fixing in South Africa.-MIKE HUTCHINGS/ REUTERS

Indeed, if one were to believe Cronje's testimony, his acceptance of a bribe of $30,000 to throw the third Test at Kanpur was the first time that he ever actually received money, though he had received an offer of "I think about U.S. $10,000" from a 'Joh n' ("an Indian or Pakistani man") to throw the first ODI in the Mandela Cup against Pakistan in Cape Town in January 1995. Cronje says that he discussed the offer with Pat Symcox, and they agreed that they should not even put it to the team. The offer, a ccording to Cronje, clearly had been made with the knowledge of Salim Malik, captain of the Pakistan team, for when he walked on to the field, Malik asked him whether he had spoken to John. "I felt ashamed and embarrassed and, wishing to avoid even talki ng about the matter, merely nodded." In the event, Cronje virtuously adds, South Africa won the match.

Put simply, Cronje who had been able to resist the first offer of bribe made to him in January 1995 in Cape Town by someone from the 'subcontinent' whom he did not know, simply could not resist another offer of bribe when it was made to him a year later in Kanpur by another person from the 'subcontinent' whom too he did not know. The difference, clearly, is the environment of Cape Town where the virtuous man could remain firm in resisting temptation, and Kanpur where he simply stood no chance.

Will such formulations, and the underlying racism and moral arrogance, be questioned? Will he be subjected to the same rigorous cross examination as, for instance, Daryll Cullinan, whose reluctance to see through Cronje's double-talk produced the memorab le expression, 'theological ventriloquism' from the advocate for the UCBSA? One has the impression that Cronje's statement has already taken on the appearance of a confessional, rather than a carefully worded statement prepared evidently with the best le gal advice. The mood for the confessional was set by the Chairman himself who advised Cronje to heed the scripture and speak the truth, for 'the truth shall make you free'. The hearings are supposed to be a catharsis for the whole nation.

During his testimony, in answer to an obviously leading question from the UCBSA advocate seeking to draw him out on how he felt when Cronje made his early morning telephone call on April 11, Ali Bacher said that he felt 'devastated'. "It devastated this country, and I don't think this country has recovered." Which South Africa is 'devastated', one may well ask. Not the overwhelming majority of South Africans, if one were to go by the coverage of the scandal in the black press, or the attendance at the h earings, or in the interventions in radio talk shows and chat sites on the Internet. But then, such self-absorption, of which the denial and detestation of the 'other' is merely the obverse side, is typical of the CLP.

Finally, what does Hansiegate tell us about the game of cricket, as indeed about every other competitive sports played between national teams involving vast amount of money and the manipulation of the worst forms of national chauvinism, and are therefore of necessity immured in corruption? What lies Hansiegate tell us about the nature of the beast?

This is an aspect of international competitive sports that has never been honestly faced simply because the linkages between sports and other powerful structures of international capital (including the media which is a major manipulator of these destruct ive national passions) are very close. The most sensible thing would be to see Hansiegate as an aberration, an isolate and not an internally coherent phenomenon that represents all too accurately the material and moral culture of competitive internationa l sports played under rampant nationalist symbols. This also is consistent with a constant theme of the hearings - that while Hansie Cronje, yielding to greed in an alien and fundamentally corrupt environment, has perhaps disgraced the 'noble game', the institution of cricket itself is above reproach and needs to be protected and advanced at all costs.

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