Hansie Cronje: new revelations
The death of Hansie Cronje, South Africa's disgraced former captain who was killed in a plane crash in the Western Cape in June 2002, may have been no accident, according to a report in the latest edition of Observer Sport Monthly. The report alleges that Cronje, who had been banned for life from cricket for his part in the match-fixing scandal, may have been murdered to ensure that the full extent of the corruption never reached the light of day.
Cronje, who had been forging a new career as a businessman, was killed along with two pilots when his chartered plane crashed in mountains near his estate in George, a small town on South Africa's Garden Route. It later transpired that Cronje had missed an earlier flight and had arranged a lift in a cargo plane, but at the time no suspicious circumstances were reported. Given that Cronje was a devout Christian, it struck many as being the ultimate act of divine retribution.
But Gavin Branson, the chief executive of AirQuarius, the owners of the crashed plane, is one of many people who remains troubled by the circumstances. "There are a lot of unknowns about what happened," Branson is reported as saying. "I think it will be a long time before the [Civil Aviation Authority] report comes out. I have a million questions that I haven't even started asking yet. We'd been flying that route daily and in far worse weather without experiencing even a hint of trouble."
The investigation is destined to take a long time, especially as there are unconfirmed rumours that the ground landing system at George Airport had been tampered with. "I understand that police have found evidence of sabotage," one investigator is reported as saying. "But they're reluctant to go public on this. The full cost of a follow-up investigation would be too great in a country that is already riven by crime. It suits the police to have a closed case."
"A lot of people wanted Cronje dead," adds the source. "They feared that he would one day tell the full truth, and then many more would be implicated. I know people who have looked closely into what happened but who were warned off by threatening phone calls. They're scared of getting a bullet in the head."
Cronje, who first stood in as South Africa's captain at the age of 24, finished his career with a record of 27 victories in 53 Tests, making him South Africa's most successful captain in Test history. He scored 3,714 runs at an average of 36.4, including six centuries, and to this day remains revered by many of his former team-mates, despite his spectacular fall from grace.
At the King Commission in 2000-01, which investigated the extent to which match-fixing had permeated the game, Cronje confessed to what he called "an unfortunate love of money". He claimed to have accepted at least $130,000 from illegal bookmakers, although recent revelations suggest that he possessed as many as 72 bank accounts in the Cayman Islands. His death, one way or another, has ensured that the full story may never be told.