Blaming it on South Asia

Published : Jul 08, 2000 00:00 IST

South Africa's cricketing fraternity betrays its racial prejudices in its justification of the Cronje affair as a fall-out of the Indian subcontinent's corrupting influence.

SOME things never change. This is particularly so in respect of the exceptionalist perception that South Africans of a particular kind have historically cherished about themselves, and which, in the new South Africa, is in danger of becoming universal.

From day one when the news from Delhi broke about Hansie Cronje's involvement in bribery and match-fixing, the response of South Africa's Cricket Loving Public (CLP), a category which has been defined and explained earlier (Frontline, May 12 and J uly 7, 2000), to the disclosures that a beloved icon of South African cricket is a liar and a cheat has again and again underlined this perception. Initial denials are now replaced by defiance: So what? Further, the infection, it is maintained, was essen tially alien; there was nothing basically wrong with the game as played in South Africa. Eleven days of hearing of the King Commission during which many more lies have been exposed, has not affected this perception.

According to a report in the Johannesburg-based Business Day (June 29, 2000), the United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA) has evolved a strategy to 'protect' South African cricketers 'from approaches of unwanted elements' during the team's to ur of Sri Lanka beginning early July. The South African team will play three Test matches against Sri Lanka and a triangular limited-overs tournament involving a third country, Pakistan. The report quoted the Managing Director of the UCBSA, Ali Bacher, a s saying that "our strategy is, firstly to convince the country that the team going to Sri Lanka under Shaun Pollock is 'clean' and secondly, to protect the players".

The report makes clear that perils and the 'unwanted elements' against which the South African team needed to be 'protected' are not related to the security situation in Sri Lanka.

It is assumed by the CLP that in the best of times teams from South Africa touring the 'subcontinent' (a standard usage in South African media to denote South Asia) have to face insurmountable problems related to doctored pitches and crooked umpires, wea ther, health, travel, hotel, food, water, smelly fans and crowds - quintessentially and metaphorically, the debilitating and enervating environment of 'subcontinental heat and dust and corruption'. Reports and analyses appearing in the South African spor ts media, largely produced by and catering to this CLP, in the run-up to every tour to the 'subcontinent' are full of dire warnings and prophecies, writing off the prospects of the team even before it sets out, not because of the quality of the oppositio n the team may face which, as South Africans of true grit they can easily brush aside, but because the alien environment is simply loaded each and every way against the South Africans. Such media reports and analyses are recycled every time a South Afric an team sets out to the 'subcontinent', as has been the case with the prognoses of the South African team's prospects that appeared before the 1996 World Cup, South Africa's visit to India in late 1996 and early this year, as well as before the team's vi sit to Pakistan last year.

ALL this was of course Before Hansiegate (BH). Now, in the days of After Hansiegate (AH), a new peril has been added - that of 'undesirable approaches' bent upon subverting and corrupting a group of fundamentally honest young men, committed to the highes t principles and practice of sportsmanship.

This deeply entrenched antipathy to the 'subcontinent' mired in corruption, any contact with which was bound to be contaminating, has informed every stage of the Cronje affair. It was rampant when the scandal broke. It persisted even after the admission (partial, as it has now turned out) by Cronje in the early hours of April 11 that he had 'not been entirely honest' in his denials of involvement in match-fixing and taking bribes. It continues even now, when more dirt has been spilt.

South African cricketer Lance Klusener and Herschelle Gibbs, who deposed before the King Commission.

This passage from the cross-examination of Ali Bacher on June 12 by Jeremy Gauntlett, counsel for the UCBSA, perhaps best reflects these perceptions about immaculate South African cricket exposed to 'international infection' now that it is no more in the laager but has become part of the wider world.

Gauntlett: Dr Bacher, would you tell the Commission as to when you first, looking back, would think that there were indications emerging of some kind of contamination in international cricket starting to wash into South Africa?

Dr Bacher: With pleasure, sir. If I reflect back, and one must reflect back because it has been an extraordinary period for South African cricket, the last ten years. Playing in the subcontinent for the very first time, playing the West Indies. It has be en a learning experience, a new experience for all of us.

The transcript of the proceedings (pages 444 ff.) has more references to the 'new experience of playing international cricket in the subcontinent' and to 'international infection'. Clearly, the fact that the scandal was unearthed by the Indian authoritie s has never been forgiven. Some section of the South African media reporting the proceedings of the King Commission continue to refer to 'bumbling and corrupt Indian policemen'. Above all, there has not been a word of regret, let alone apology, from the UBCSA for all the silly things its officials said not merely between April 7 and 11, but even subsequently.

The antipathy, which has to be located in the historic antagonism of the CLP towards India and Indians, including especially South Africans whose ancestors were of Indian origin, was also evident in the testimonies of many of the players and officials, n otably in the testimony of Ali Bacher and Cronje, both of whom made a special mention of the 'problems' that South African teams faced in the 'subcontinent'. Bacher's testimony was especially crude and vicious in this regard, with wild and unsubstantiate d allegations against Indian and Pakistani cricketers, and Pakistani umpire Javed Akhtar. However, the most astonishing part of his testimony was his general thesis about the practice of match-fixing in the 'subcontinent'. This, based on a letter Bacher said he had received from a friend, presented an utterly fantastic account of an encounter on a flight between Johannesburg and Durban between this friend of Bacher and a stranger who, this friend was convinced, was the Pakistani fast bowler, Shoaib Akht ar, travelling under a false name in this country - though at that very moment Shoaib Akhtar was in West Indies as part of the Pakistan cricket team, a fact vouched by team records and eye witnesses - and detailing to this friend many juicy details of su ch practice by Indian and Pakistani players.

The parable of a good man seduced by evil forces in an evil environment is the stuff of all morality tales, beginning with the story of Adam and Eve. Indeed, Cronje has situated his predicament in precisely these terms. Only, these moral and theological givens have secured additional support from the political history of settlement and theft and conquest and dispossession of the majority of the people, indentured slavery and segregation, all vital components of institutionalised apartheid, the apogee of settler and colonial ideology which officially maintained that the majority of South Africans were not citizens of the country of their birth.

THE Commission which rose on the morning of June 15, soon after Hansie Cronje read his 22-page statement into record (Frontline, July 7), resumed its sittings only on June 21 when Cronje was cross-examined. The cross-examination went on the whole of June 21-22 June and the better part of the morning of June 23. Two other witnesses deposed and were cross-examined after Cronje. They were Marlon Aronstam, the gambler and bookmaker from Johannesburg, mentioned in Cronje's testimony as the person from whom Cronje received Rands 50,000 (amended during Cronje's cross-examination to Rands 53,000) and a leather jacket, in return for 'making a game of' the nearly washed-out Centurion Park Test against England in January this year; and Hamid 'Banjo' Cassim , sweetmeat shop owner and businessman, also from Johannesburg, who introduced Cronje to 'Sanjay' (Sanjay/Sanjiv Chawla) during the fourth One Day International (ODI) against Zimbabwe in Durban on February 2 this year. It was during this meeting in Sanja y's hotel room that Cronje received from Sanjay a 'cellphone box containing U.S. dollars' (in Cassim's account, it is an envelope that Sanjay took out of the hotel safe), "in case I changed my mind" about throwing a match - an encounter that led inescapa bly to further encounters in India, conversations on tape, the denials when caught out, and the continuing drama of the inquiry by the Commission.

One of the problems that the Commission continues to face is the absence of an officially certified and authenticated copy of the transcripts of the taped conversations between Cronje and his Indian contacts, excerpts of which have been released by the D elhi police. The cross-examination of Cronje was especially hampered by the absence of such a transcript, enabling his counsel to object fairly enough to any reference to them. Judge King at some points allowed questions arising out of the transcript to be put, and later advised the leader of evidence, Shamila Batohi, not to refer directly to the transcript. It was all very unsatisfactory. It is perhaps time that the bad vibes generated immediately in the wake of the outbreak of the scandal, between the Indian and South African authorities, are cleared, for reports from India suggest a similar lack of cooperation from the South African authorities in respect of the Indian request for an authenticated voice sample of Hansie Cronje to match the voice on the tape.

Notwithstanding the stonewalling of Cronje and the objections by his lawyers, the leader of the evidence was able to extract further admissions from Cronje, adding and modifying his carefully prepared affidavit. Further contradictions emerged during the testimony and cross-examination of Aronstam and Cassim. There is little doubt that Cronje will have to put in another appearance before the Commission, when it resumes its sittings possibly towards the end of August or early September, to explain these a nomalies.

Cronje's cross-examination also had some odd features, indicative perhaps of the state of his mind and character in general. What should one make, for instance, of the three snide remarks that Cronje directed at Shamila Batohi during the cross-examinatio n? First, when Batohi asked him questions about what the expression 'playing' in the transcript of the tapes meant, Cronje insisted that it meant just that, that the players in question were 'playing' in that match - even though that expression is used o nly in respect of four players. Smilingly, he told Batohi that the passage referring to 'Gibbs and myself' playing, if given any other construction, might suggest that there was something 'kinky' going on between Gibbs and himself. (Titters and snickers from the predominantly male and pale advocates and cricket officials and audience.) Second, responding to a question about Shane Warne, Cronje told Batohi that he knew of Warne "talking dirty on the telephone". (More titters and snickers.)

It is interesting that such crude responses were not directed to other advocates, even those whose cross-examinations were as close as that of Batohi. Could it be that Batohi, black, of Indian origin, and a female, encapsulated for Cronje everything that he (and the CLP still solidly behind him, if one were to go by the responses in web sites and radio talk shows) views as part of an alien element tormenting him, a good Christian fallen among pagans?

However, it is unlikely that the inquiry by the King Commission (formally, the 'Commission of Inquiry into Cricket Match Fixing and Related Matters' headed by the retired Cape High Court Judge, Edwin King) will consider the affair in any historical and p olitical context. Take for instance the allegations of bribery and corruption. The most notorious instance of bribery and corruption in South African cricket goes back to the early 1980s when bribes were offered left and right to numerous international c ricketers to induce them to play in South Africa. The cash was sourced from slush funds of the government and business. This was done not to 'keep cricket alive' but solely to secure the breach of the international sports boycott on the apartheid regime - which was then a powerful weapon against the regime - and one of the strategic objectives of the regime to defeat the liberation forces.

The King Commission, which adjourned on June 26 after 11 days of hearings, is unlikely to resume its sittings soon. It has also deferred the submission of its Interim Report to President Thabo Mbeki. When the Commission began its sittings, it was expecte d that it would submit an Interim Report on June 30. That report will now be submitted on August 11, and the Commission will resume its hearings only thereafter. Still a long haul ahead.

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