Dark days back in local cricket: Mnangagwa’s name dragged into ragging muddy fight

Spread This News

By Staff Reporter

PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s name has been dragged into the acrimonious fight for control of local cricket with the game facing the barrel as the International Cricket Council (ICC) meets this week to determine the fate of one of the longest serving associations outside the European and Asian powers of the game.

The story of how Zimbabwe descended back into the abyss is yet to be told but the role played by new Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) chairperson Gerald Mlotshwa makes interesting reading and a perusal of court papers by reveals a well-calculated plan that few could have dreamt of.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa. His son-in-law is now at the heart of the problems in the game of cricket in Zimbabwe

Sources at ZC claim that several months before his appointment as SRC chairman Mlotshwa who is President Mnangagwa’s son-in-law, already seemed to have had a plan to topple the Tavengwa Mukuhlani-led Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) board, court documents have revealed.

The SRC last month suspended the ZC board for defying a directive not to hold an elective annual general meeting, amid allegations of corruption, mismanagement and electoral process violations.

But the move, which has left Zimbabwe facing possible suspension by the ICC due to government meddling, was apparently only “a smokescreen for a plot” hatched by Mlotshwa, a lawyer, from the time he started representing former national cricket team coach Heath Streak in his labour case against ZC.

On 20 April 2018, about 14 months before he was named SRC chairman, Mlotshwa petitioned the government sports agency to dissolve the ZC board and replace it with an interim committee pending fresh elections.

The interim committee would – he suggested in his correspondence copied to the then Sports Minister Kazembe Kazembe and the ICC –investigate Mukuhlani and members of his board, amend the ZC constitution and conduct a forensic audit into the financial affairs of the ZC.

Insiders told in briefings that two weeks before Mlotshwa petitioned the SRC and a group calling for the ouster of the ZC board had met with Kazembe to protest, among other issues, against Streak’s as national team coach in the aftermath of Zimbabwe’s failure to qualify for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 in England and Wales.

With politicians David Coltart and Temba Mliswa, both known to have vested interests in the affairs of cricket in the country, adding their weight to the anti-Mukuhlani crusade, Kazembe responded by ordering the SRC to conduct a forensic audit at ZC.

Coltart did not hide his views on social media.

As the onslaught intensified, the ICC in turn responded by warning the government not to interfere in cricket affairs and pledged its commitment to the task of enabling ZC to restructure its financial, cricketing and management affairs so that the sport could flourish once again in Zimbabwe.

But in order to ratchet up pressure on ZC, Mlotshwa reportedly started pushing local cricketers to form a player association to ostensibly advance their interests.

Zimbabwe international cricketer Brendan Taylor is said to have become the frontman for the new movement and, in an effort to convince his fellow players to join the planned player association, the star batsman in leaked WhatsApp messages said Mlotshwa was a “powerful” man who would use his connections to the highest political office in the country to get rid of the Mukuhlani-led ZC board.

Mlotshwa is married to President Mnangagwa’s daughter.

Although he according to sources succeeded in convincing senior white players Taylor, Graeme Cremer, Craig Ervine and Sean Williams to boycott Zimbabwe’s home series against Pakistan and Australia in July 2018 over “labour issues”, the mooted player association suffered a stillbirth as the majority of the players questioned Mlotshwa’s involvement and real motives.

The anti-Mukuhlani efforts received another blow when the ICC, happy that ZC had met the strict conditions of an ICC-controlled spending process, started releasing monthly cash distributions that enabled ZC to run its operations smoothly and pay staff salaries on time.

This was followed by a visit to Zimbabwe by the then ICC chief executive David Richardson and chief financial officer Ankur Khannafor a workshop with ZC designed to work out together and agree a strategic business, financial and cricket plan for ZC moving forward.

In the meantime, with Mukuhlani declaring there was nothing to hide, ZC cooperated with the forensic auditors appointed by the government, through the SRC, to investigate the local cricket board’s corporate and financial affairs.

As ZC’s ICC-supported turnaround strategy started gaining traction, Mlotshwa filed in the High Court of Zimbabwe an application seeking an order to liquidate ZC for allegedly failing to pay off his client, Streak, and “other debtors”.

Among a host of other issues cited as the basis for the application was the claim that the Mukuhlani-led board of directors had allegedly mismanaged loans and grants advanced to ZC by the ICC.

Mlotshwa also claimed that the ZC directors did not have “proven track records or experience in sports administration”.

However, before the court could hear the matter, on 14 March this year Mlotshwa withdrew the liquidation application as well as another case, in which Streak had filed a US$1 million defamation lawsuit against Mukuhlani.

The liquidation case had apparently been weakened after ZC managed to settle Streak’s salary and compensation claims, while Mlotshwa had also been worried by the ICC’s steadfast support for the Mukuhlani board.

For the first time in many seasons, ZC successfully hosted all its premier franchise competitions – the Logan Cup, Pro50 Championship and Domestic T20 Competition.

In May, ZC continued to attract positive headlines after hosting the ICC Women’s Qualifier Africa 2019 tournament which was won by Zimbabwe.

Before the euphoria created by the national women’s team’s conquest had even died down, Kazembe, now acting as Sports Minister in place of Kirsty Coventry who was on maternity leave, named Mlotshwa as the new chairman of the SRC.

Within days of his appointment, Mlotshwa – now armed with the Sports and Recreation Commission Act that he, for months, had been imploring the SRC to use against ZC – pounced on the Mukuhlani administration.

On 13 June, the SRC wrote a letter directing ZC not to hold its elective Annual Genral Meeting (AGM) that was scheduled for the following day in Victoria Falls.

Prior to the ZC, AGM, the 10 provincial associations that are affiliated to ZC held their own elective provincial AGMs.

The provincial electoral process, which includes the nomination of provincial board candidates by affiliated clubs in good standing and the setting up of a nomination court to verify the credentials of the nominees, was followed to the letter as stipulated in the provincial and ZC constitutions.

Outlining the reasons behind its directive, the SRC claimed it was in possession of a court application filed by one of the Mashonaland Central board candidates, Zorodzai Damiso, who was seeking to have another nominee, William Chaitezvi, disqualified from participating in the provincial board elections.

“It is important to note that the applicant in the matter was seeking an interdict to stop the Mashonaland Central province from proceeding with its elections for the provincial chairman, not the ZC AGM,” a senior ZC official said.

Meanwhile, the SRC under Mlotshwa also claimed it had received complaints regarding the nomination process in Harare province.

As fate would have it, the Harare Metropolitan Cricket Association immediately wrote to the SRC denying ever making any formal complaints regarding the nomination process or the provincial electoral process in Harare.

 Despite receiving the SRC directive, ZC opted not to violate the provisions of the ICC statutes.

After consulting the ICC and satisfied that ZC had complied with all constitutional and statutory requirements, delegates representing all the 10 provincial associations made a resolution that the ZC AGM should proceed as originally planned, the SRC attempt to interfere notwithstanding.

Mukuhlani was retained as chairman of the new-look ZC board.

The SRC reacted by suspending the board as well as ZC acting managing director Givemore Makoni.

David Ellman-Brown, Ahmed Ebrahim, Charlie Robertson, Cyprian Mandenge, Robertson Chinyengetere, SekesaiNhokwara and Duncan Frost were named as the interim committee to run cricket in the country.

Once Zimbabwe cricket was plunged into chaos, claims of racism, the emergence of a “sinister white force” emerged.

This was followed by the announcement of Vincent Hogg as ZC’s interim managing director.

As the court documents seen by this publication show, a plan as already in place, whether ZC had defied an SRC directive or not.

The SRC actions have, unfortunately, resulted in the ICC withholding funding from ZC that the local association has been receiving monthly cash distributions under the well-publicised controlled funding mechanism agreed last year.

So, without the June allocation, ZC was forced to cancel the women’s national team’s tour of Ireland, throwing preparations for the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 Qualifier, to be held in Scotland in August-September, into disarray.

ZC has also been unable to process the June salaries for players and staff.

The involvement of the SRC, a government agency that ostensibly oversees all registered national sporting associations, has left the future of the game of cricket in Zimbabwe uncertain.

ICC policy dictates that member boards must manage their affairs without interference from government or public bodies.

The consequences of violating the ICC constitution could be as serious as the suspension of membership and funding.

The ICC will discuss Zimbabwe’s fate at the world cricket governing body’s meeting in London this Thursday.