Johannesburg - Khaya Zondo was unfairly discriminated against on racial grounds by former Proteas captain AB de Villiers, Cricket SA’s Transformation Ombudsman, Adv. Dumisa Ntsebeza states in the Social Justice and Nation Building’s final report.
The report was made public by CSA on Wednesday.
Zondo was left out of South Africa’s starting team for the final One-Day International between India and South Africa in Mumbai in 2015, despite being part of the 15-man squad, while Dean Elgar, who was flying in to India to be part of the Test squad, was selected to play instead.
“Mr Zondo was a victim of the exclusionary culture which persists within the cricket ecosystem,” the Ombudsman stated. “Mr De Villiers was willing to flout the (National Selection Panel) policy just to ensure that a black player was not placed in a position which he deemed as requiring greater experience.”
“It is then puzzling that the preferred choice is a white player who does not specialise in the position that was open and had no experience in the ODI series at the time,” Ntsebeza said.
“My only conclusion is that Mr De Villiers unfairly discriminated against Mr Zondo on racial grounds. His actions were arbitrary and irrational as there was no justifiable purpose for Mr Zondo’s replacement. His conduct was motivated by underlying unsubstantiated bias with respect to the competence of black players,” Ntsebeza concluded.
The SJN report contains parts of De Villiers’ explanation for why he felt Zondo shouldn’t play in that match, including bizarrely, that he didn’t know Zondo was part of the squad who could be picked and that he thought he was only there to gain experience.
Zondo had been called into the One-Day squad after an injury to Rilee Rossouw, and with David Miller out of form and JP Duminy injured for the last match of that series, was the obvious choice to start in Mumbai.
The issue was the catalyst for a dramatic split along racial lines in the national team. A group of black players wrote a letter to Cricket SA’s Board at the time, signing it ‘#BibsMustFall’ stating that they were tired of only being viewed as good enough to be squad members but not to start matches for the Proteas.
In his written submission, De Villiers said that at the time he was told by the national selectors that Zondo was only there to get experience. Linda Zondi, then chairman of the selection panel and Hussein Manack, the selector on tour with side, both submitted to the SJN that that wasn’t the case.
The SJN report finds that De Villiers' reasons for that thinking were “incoherent and unsubstantiated.”
It also outlines how De Villiers went “to extreme lengths to ensure a white player (Elgar),” was given an opportunity ahead of Zondo, despite Zondo fulfilling the necessary criteria in terms of form and skill to be picked.
When De Villiers didn’t get his way with the selectors, he approached Cricket SA’s chief executive, Haroon Lorgat, who was in India at the time, to get the selectors to drop Zondo. Lorgat told De Villiers to take the matter up with Manack and Zondi, as is prescribed in CSA’s National Selection Policy.
In his submission De Villiers acknowledged that he was wrong to go over Zondi’s authority.
“Whether knowingly or unknowingly, Mr De Villiers’ arbitrary conduct had the effect of stifling Mr Zondo’s career progression,” the report stated.
During his oral submission in August, Zondo said he had lost all respect for De Villiers, when the then Proteas captain explained to him why he wouldn’t play that match.
“I remember in the moment of him explaining himself to me, losing all respect for him as a captain, and as someone I looked up to as a cricketing hero of mine because I could not believe this guy was trying to justify himself to me, and it came across as if I should accept this decision because the decision came from him,” Zondo told the SJN.