I've already noded about Zimbabwean cricket before: Statement by Henry Olonga and Andy Flower and you'll find there a short summary of events leading up to that particular incident. The aim of this node is to provide an update on events that have occurred since Andy Flower and Henry Olonga spoke out against the 'death of democracy' in their beloved Zimbabwe. The cast of characters in this unfolding drama is huge. So what I'm going to do is provide you with a bare outline of what has happened and then I'll comment on the unfolding situation. If you don't want to read through the press release, then just scroll down; it's a long press release and if you look at some of the headings in bold, you'll know what the main concerns of the players were.
On April 12, 2004 thirteeen members of the Zimbabwean cricket team put out the following press release:
We, the undersigned, are deeply concerned about the decision taken by the Zimbabwe Cricket Union Board on Friday the 2nd April 2004 which has had the effect of terminating Heath Streak's Captaincy of the Zimbabwe Cricket Team. We have been aware of the general concerns that Heath has raised with the Board for some time and they are concerns that we share. Heath has also assured us that he did not threaten to resign as alleged by the Board, but merely stated that if the concerns were not addressed he would "consider possible Retirement". Knowing Heath's dedication to the Game and to us as his team mates we have no reason to doubt his version is correct.
It is important to reiterate what some of those concerns are, as we are perturbed by some Press reports and Statements made which convey that the sole issue surrounding Heath's dismissal relates to the Selection Panel and that in some way Heath's concerns were racially motivated. Furthermore, we believe that some local press in Zimbabwe is not reporting this matter fully or accurately and this therefore leaves us with no option but to make our position clear.
The concerns, in summary, are:
1 - Selection Panel
We have been concerned for some time about what we consider to be the unprofessional manner of selection. There has been interference of a non-sporting nature. There has, in our view, been racial and ethnic discrimination in the selection of the National Team. We must stress that we wholeheartedly support the Development Objectives of the ZCU and the need to take the Game to the majority of Zimbabweans. However in our view, there has been so much interference that deserving Players of all races have been excluded from both the National Team and the Zimbabwe A Team solely because of their race or region from where they come. For example a Board members instruction to re-select a Team already ratified by the ZCU as well as threats made by yet another Board member of "Boycotts and Pitch Invasions". These were made on discriminatory grounds! This interference has gone way beyond the Developmental Objectives of the ZCU's own policy documents, including the Mission Statement, which reads that it "will develop cricket for the benefit of all Zimbabweans without discrimination of any kind". We believe that problems of this kind can be rectified if minimum qualifications for Selectors were introduced, as we have suggested, and if those responsible for the interference in team selection are made accountable and if necessary disciplined in a transparent manner by the Board. We should also stress that the minimum qualifications proposed by the players are not discriminatory and indeed it would in our view be easy for a selection panel to be established with a majority of qualified black Zimbabweans. Names that come to mind would be Ethan Dube and Mpumelelo Mbangwa (Providing he is willing to give up his commentary) both of whom are qualified, ex-national players who could also solve the problem of Matabeleland being represented on the Selection Panel.
The points Heath raised were:
-No conflict on Panel ie; Directors of Board, ZCU Employee, Commentator, National Coach or Captain.
-To be considered as a National Selector – have one of the following qualifications:
i) Level 3 Coaching Certificate with 5 to 6 years experience as a First Class Coach.
ii) To have played 5 or 6 years of First Class Cricket.
iii) To have represented the Zimbabwe National Team.
To only have a maximum of 4 Selectors with the Convenor having Casting Vote.
To consider paying Selectors on a Professional basis as they are making decisions that affect Players who rely solely on income generated from playing Cricket.
2 - Players Association
We are aware that Heath has been pressing for the financing (as is the norm in other Test Playing Nations) of a Players Association Representative who will relieve pressure that Heath currently has in the absence of such representation. This Players Representative must be elected without the interference of the ZCU, as this person is there to represent the Player body and their issues. Only recently has the ZCU agreed to the shared financing of this Representative with the Players.
3 - Minimum Wage
We are aware that Heath has proposed that there be a Minimum Wage for all the Players contracted with the ZCU. We were particularly heartened by this move made by Heath as it is not an issue that affects him personally as his contract terms (being a senior Player and Captain) has been favourable. This was an initiative that he had undertaken on behalf of all Players regardless of race and in particular on behalf of young up-and-coming Players. As far as we are aware the Board has not given this issue it's urgent attention. Some youngsters are ending their six-month Contracts and others are at crossroads in making alternative career choices. Therefore, it is with great urgency that the ZCU identify future Players and incorporate them into long-term plans. We should stress that many of us are holding favourable Contracts in terms of finance and our concern is not to improve our own conditions but rather those of our teammates who are not presently on livable wages considering the inflation rate that prevails. We would also like to encourage young people to identify with Cricket as a career option.
4 - National League Cricket
We propose that National League Cricket be reinstated in the forthcoming season and that Clubs be given financial support to enable the upkeep of their infrastructure, which are in dire straits. We are deeply concerned by the collapse of some cricketing establishments, especially at Government school level and believe that money should be directed this way to secure the future of the Game. The unnecessary expenditure of Board Member Overseas Travel could, we believe be channeled into more important areas ( eg the survival of Clubs in Zimbabwe and scholarship programmes).
5 - Refusal to meet with Heath
Heath has advised us that he has during the last few weeks requested meetings with Board Members and in particular the Chairman of the ZCU to discuss the abovementioned concerns and that he was advised that neither the Chairman nor some Board Members found it necessary to meet with him. Once again we have no reason to doubt his word on this matter as he has expressed his frustration in this regard both to Mr Hogg and ourselves on frequent occasions. Indeed the manner in which Heath was treated last Friday, by not being afforded the courtesy as National Team Captain of a hearing with the Board (before they decided to terminate his services) confirms in our minds the contempt with which we are viewed and treated by certain elements of the Board. This comes as a particular surprise as Heath has continually supported and defended the ZCU along with giving 10 years of service and dedication to his country. Seemingly, despite being Zimbabwe's leading test wicket taker of all time, no effort was made to dissuade Heath to reconsider his position in the future of Zimbabwe Cricket.
6 - A minority controlling the Board
We are reliably advised that the decision taken on Friday to terminate Heath's Contract was made by 3 Board members. We further understand that these 3 members of the Board effectively bulldozed other Board members into accepting their position. We do not believe such action to be in the interests of Cricket and must in fact have been motivated by a non-sporting and personal agenda. We are deeply concerned that such a momentous decision was taken in the absence of esteemed and wise Board members such as Mr Justice Ebrahim, Mr Clive Barnes and Mr Kevin Arnott. The later incidentally, excused himself late in the meeting prior to Heath's issues being tabled. Furthermore, we fail to understand why Heath's issues were tabled at the end of the meeting under "Any Other Business". In our view, this was an extremely important matter and it would seem the decision was rushed through with no window being allowed for further discussions with Heath or for other opinions to be sought. It would seem that Heath's views were also mis-represented in this meeting.
7 - Intimidation of Players and Cricket Journalist
We have been made aware that at least one black journalist Mehluli Sibanda and at least one black Player (who has asked us not to reveal his name for his own safety) have been phoned and threatened by a member of the Board not to side with Heath.
We suspect that other black members of the Team have been phoned and threatened in the same manner. We strongly object to this conduct which is not only unlawful but completely against the spirit of Cricket.
8 - Threats
We have been reliably informed that a Provincial General Manager and Chairman of a Province both threatened to Boycott the fourth ODI vs. Bangladesh, along with making threats of a "Pitch Invasion and Digging up the Wicket" at Harare Sports Club. This was due to the Teams racial balance which they felt contained too few Players of colour. This Team was selected on Merit by the National Selection Panel and ratified by the Vice-Chairman of the ZCU along with being released to the Media. It was only after 5 hours of persuasion going well into the night, that the Vice Chairman managed to convince the above not to carry out their threats. The 5 hours of persuasion not to follow through with threats made is in direct contrast to the way the ZCU handled Heaths concerns!! This is even more ironic bearing in mind, Heath was trying to improve the State of Cricket in Zimbabwe rather than to destroy it as the above appeared to be.
9 - Questionable Practices
Once again, we have been reliably informed (and can be officially verified by that source if necessary) that a Board member suggested during the above selection meeting that Mark Vermuelen be offered "a double match fee, NOT to play" in the ODI that he'd already been selected for and been informed of!! The suggestion was made to try and pave the way for Stuart Matsikanyeri, who had been dropped, to play. It was only after the National Coach and Heath refused to be involved in dealings that would bring the Game of Cricket into disrepute (ICC Code of Conduct), that the suggestion was retracted.
We are in this regard deeply aware of the fact that this document may only be signed by white Players who are less susceptible to these threats and that our action will be portrayed as racist. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are all deeply patriotic, to Zimbabwe Cricket, to all our colleagues and to Zimbabwean cricket supporters of all races. However, we refuse to bow to this unacceptable conduct and we trust that reasonable members of the Board and the ICC will support our stance.
We believe we have done everything possible in the last two weeks to find an amicable solution to this matter. Two Representatives and our Lawyer met with the ZCU Lawyer on the 2nd April. It was agreed that everything possible would be done to try and solve our differences. On the 6th April, we met with the Chairman of the Board, Mr Hogg and the ZCU's Legal Representative. We spent three hours in this meeting and it was agreed that a Negotiation Party be formed to meet with the ZCU later in that week. On the 9th April, a Negotiation Committee was formed and we met with the Board at 3:30pm on this day. We tabled an Agenda where the main objectives were to improve dialogue and to voice concerns about a suitable selection criteria and issues surrounding Heath's unfair dismissal.
From the outset, the meeting was conducted in an extremely hostile environment with insinuations made by some individuals within the Board that our Negotiation Committee had a hidden agenda. One member of the Board stormed out of this meeting and others were very animated and aggressive during proceedings. The ZCU Lawyer, excused himself from the proceedings early, even though our meeting was premised on the basis that the ZCU Lawyer would be present throughout all negotiations.
The Board then issued instructions that aggrieved Players must fulfill their Easter weekend First Class Fixtures despite these players having already been given permission earlier that morning by their direct boss, Mr Hogg to stand down for the weekend fixtures, in the interest of seeking closure on negotiations. The Board said that any player who did not make himself available for play the following morning would be held "in breach of Contract", and that Managing Director Mr Hogg had no "authority" to act as he did in granting their exclusion from the weekend's fixtures. Aside from being contradictory with Mr. Hogg's assurance that the players could stand down, this ultimatum was not we felt, in the spirit of negotiation.
We believe the sole issues of discussion at this meeting were:
The inconsistencies and inadequacies of the selection process, lack of accountability and transparency therein. We reached consent on this matter and the ZCU agreed that the Selection mechanism was not working correctly. We proposed two new Selectors to replace Ebrahim (a busy Board Director) and Marsh the National Coach with Dube or Mbangwa. The Board stated that they would consider our recommendations, but would not necessarily adopt them and would revert by Wednesday 14th April on the outcome of this matter.
The meeting was in Deadlock over the issues surrounding Streaks dismissal and the Captaincy.
It is completely incorrect, that 9 and a half out of 10 issues (tabled at the meeting) were met as the Chairman of the ZCU has stated (on foreign Television). The ZCU merely agreed to look into the selection issue, the majority of our issues were canvassed at length but on the two most important issues, in our view, no agreement was reached. Our collective position is, we remain committed to the possibility of rectifying the current state of affairs. However, we believe given the lack of goodwill between the stakeholders, that dialogue through an independent mediating body (at a neutral venue) is the only way forward in finding an amicable and acceptable position for both the ZCU and aggrieved Players.
We have been placed in an invidious position by the developments of the last week. Cricket is our entire life and we all consider it a great honour to have been able to represent our Country. However, if we do not make a stand in support of our Captain and the Team we believe that incalculable damage will be done to the Game.
We believe that politics should play no part in Sport and that the ZCU has fallen prey to a small clique of people who do not have the interests of Cricket at heart but are simply motivated by non-sporting considerations. Remembering that the ZCU have often stated that they are an apolitical organization.
In all the circumstances we believe that we have no option but to collectively stand up for our principles.
We do not want a situation, where we are forced to review our positions with the ZCU, and to this end we would like to seek further dialogue in the suggested manner. We are deeply conscious of the effect that non-closure would have on the Game not only in Zimbabwe but also throughout the world, and believe that unless we take action the cancer that is eroding the Game in Zimbabwe will not be dealt with. If the Board gives an undertaking to resolve seriously and in the immediate future, what we consider to be the reasonable issues of concern raised by Heath and by us in this document, then we will all immediately reconsider our positions.
Finally we appeal to the Chairman of the ZCU, the reasonable remainder of the Board and members of the ICC to act against those on the ZCU Board who have been responsible, in our view, for these very distressing developments.
We all look forward to the day when we can once again represent Zimbabwe in a fair and transparent environment for the Game we are all so passionate about.
Harare Monday 12th April 2004
Immediately, all hell broke loose. Heath Streak
, the captain was sacked on the grounds that he had said that he would resign if he was not given a team of his choice. The Zimbabwe Cricket Union said it was accepting his resignation. To which Streak replied that he had threatened resignation, but had not actually resigned as yet. As this farce continued, Streak was replaced by Taitenda Taibu
as captain of the team.
Realising that their side was severely depleted, the ZCU tried to broker a deal with the players and a new selection panel comprising Stephen Mangongo (convenor), Max Ebrahim, Richie Kaschula and Mpumulelo Mbangwa was convened. Mbangwa had been personally endorsed by Streak as an knowledgeable former Test player, while the other new addition to the panel, Kaschula, was a spinner for Rhodesia in the 1970s. But the rebels were not satisfied. Sri Lanka was to start touring Zimbabwe in a few days (the first one day international is being played today) and urgent action was needed. Streak and the rebels, (their number has now been increased to 15 with the addition of Charles Coventry and Gavin Ewing), failed to turn up for a first class match, which was anyway washed out. This was the final straw as far as the ZCU was concerned. When the final squad for the Sri Lanka tour was announced, none of the rebel players were in the squad, there were six new players- mainly from the Under-19 World Cup squad and finally, both sides in this conflict are now suing each other.
There are other reasons why this entire controversy has assumed the proportions it has. England has consistenly refused to tour Zimbabwe and did not play any of the 2003 World Cup matches held in that country. They felt that playing cricket with Zimbabwe would legitimise the regime of Robert Mugabe. But the England and Wales Cricket Board, fearing heavy financial losses has now come around to the view that it might tour Zimbabwe soon. The fact that Sri Lanka is touring the country currently and that Australia has agreed to tour the country in the future, also put pressure on the ECB.
So what do I think of all this?
First, I think there is a case to be made for boycotting all forms of international cricket with Zimbabwe, and if countries think that is an extreme measure to take, then they must at least play under protest, or make their views clear. I think it's unfortunate that England has taken the lead in this matter. As a white cricketing nation, and a former colonial power, its actions are bound to be looked upon with immense suspicion and charges of racism has abounded. All the non white cricketing nations (and power in cricket currently resides with the sub continent) have said that they would tour Zimbabwe.
But I am willing to stick my neck out and say that these non white cricketing nations, and in particular India, should reconsider the stand they are taking. It's not enough to blindly come to the end of another non white cricketing nation. The subcontinent has often felt that it is marginalised by countries like Australia and England. These subterranean charges of racism came to the forefront when Australia refused to play World Cup matches in Sri Lanka in 1996 and the Mike Denness and Sachin Tendulkar affair exploded. In the former instance, India and Pakistan fielded a historic joint team against Sri Lanka to show that there was no security hassle. I completely support the stand of the BBCI and the PCB in this regard, and I think Australia was the loser in not playing her matches in that World Cup. BUT, having said that, I don't think solidarity with a non white cricketing nation is such a good idea this time around. Each case ought to be judged on its own merit, and I fear that the sub continental cricket boards have failed to do just that.
There is enough evidence to show that the ZCU is increasingly being controlled by the Zanu-PF. The emergence of a political hard core has been made public, and suspicions that Vince Hogg, the chief executive, and the chairman Peter Chingoka have become little more than powerless figureheads proved to be true. Hogg's attempts to broker deals with the rebels had the rug pulled from under them when his offer to allow them to miss the last round of Logan Cup matches was overruled by Ozias Bvute, a board member with no authority to do so. But his power comes from on high. And the increasingly impotent Chingoka has fallen right in line with the new powers behind the throne. Last week he used the Herald to claim that the rebels were all part of a plot to "destroy Zimbabwean cricket".
Heath Streak and his rebels have been accused of being racists and opposed to the blooding of black players into Zimabwean cricket. Frankly, I think that's a false allegation. Unlike the South African team, which has publicly spoken out against quotas in sport, the Zimbabweans have been far more welcoming of their black counterparts. Streak, unlike Shaun Pollock, has never made a public comment putting down a fellow black player, who had been selected. Further, I think it is no co-incidence that it is the white players who are rebelling. They know that they have the chance to emigrate to England or elsewhere and be safe. Most of the black players probably know that their families, property and even their life could be in danger if they spoke out in favour of Streak. Interestingly, three non white players: Dion Ebrahim, Douglas Hondo and Mluleki Nkala initially gave some indication that they might consider joining Streak. But since then they have backtracked and the reports coming from these three suggest at least a level of intimidation. e.g. take a look at this: one of the rebel players Dion Ebrahim is said to be related to the spokesperson of the selection panel Macsood Ebrahim, who has spoken out against Streak and others calling them 'racists'. The ZCU has claimed that the two are not related, although Dion in the past has admitted that Macsood is his uncle. Clearly, there are cliques within cliques and many layers to be unravelled before the truth will emerge!
In The Observer, a few days ago, Mehluli Sibanda, a black Zimbabwean journalist wrote an article saying that the selectors were favouring players from two clubs. This is what he says has happened to him since then:
"Since that article came out I have been receiving threatening calls on my mobile from a ZCU board member and I am convinced that he is making these threats on behalf of some people. He threatened me with unspecified action and also threatened to report me to the Minister of State for Information and Publicity in the office of the president and cabinet, Jonathan Moyo, that I am siding with a white man."
So to return to my principal point: why do I think we ought to take some form of action against Zimbabwe? Because there is little doubt that the ZCU is now so embroiled in politics, as to have lost all legitimacy. And that as Olonga argued, in an article a few days ago: 'Racism cuts both ways'. Playing cricket with Zimbabwe only lends legitimacy to what Robert Mugabe is doing in his country. Those who think that Mugabe is only correcting the historical wrongs of the colonial past, should stop and think about how he treats the black opposition in his country. Most of this is well documented, and readily available on the Internet and in print and it's fairly easy to access for those who are interested.
One very interesting point: the Commonwealth, of which India is an active member voted to throw Zimbabwe out after the fraudulent 2002 elections (again, if you think that Mugabe is right to take away land from white farmers, do you also support rigging of elections and killing and terrorizing of opponents?).
One disclaimer here: as a citizen of a former colony, I completely understand Zimbabwe's struggle to come to terms with its colonial past. Add to that the fact that I am currently studying on a scholarship that is named after the country's founder- a brutal, racist and frankly horrible man. I have absolutely no sympathy for those who've exploited Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans for centuries. Having said that, I find it hard to accept what Mugabe is doing. I know there is a case to be made for separating sport from politics. But if sport and politics are inextricably linked (as they are in Africa and in the sub continent), then perhaps we should consider the realities of such a situation and act accordingly.
Finally, as you can imagine, there are those who believe that what has happened in Zimbabwe is a case 'white mischief' against 'black power'. Their story, as taken from the Guardian runs like this:
A knot of unreconstructed old colonialists met secretly in their homes and at the Royal Harare Golf Club over the past two months, concerned that the game they once considered their own had been hijacked by the black majority. They encouraged Streak and his white team-mates to provoke a confrontation by demanding a change in the selection panel, then to strike and force the ZCU to sack them. This would weaken the team, demoralise the ZCU, stop the integration of blacks and whites on the cricket field and persuade visiting teams not to tour, thus robbing the union of millions in revenue.
I leave it to you to believe whichever version you want.
There's been a lot in the media in recent times on the situation in Zimbabwe. Please go to www.cricinfo.com for news and commentary. They also have a round up of various articles on Zimbabwean cricket that you could look at. If you disagree with me, in particular if you're Zimbabwean and you know more about the state of cricket in your country than I can gather from news reports, please do message me and I'll include what you have to say in this post.