Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent
Nathi Mthethwa, the South Africa sports minister, has asked the members' council of Cricket South Africa (CSA) to recognise the interim board "immediately", and warned the body that if it failed to do so, he would use his statutory powers to intervene in the matter. In a letter to the acting president of the members' council, Rihan Richards, Mthethwa said he would "not hesitate to impose the sanctions available" under the country's National Sport and Recreation Act.
The act gives Mthethwa the power to withdraw funding from CSA and strip it of its status as the governing body of cricket in the country, but it does not allow him to remove the members' council. That is because the members' council, which is also the highest decision-making body at CSA, is made up of 14 elected provincial presidents, and removing them would effectively overrule all the country's domestic cricket boards, who are independent entities in their own right. Instead, Mthethwa's department has ownership over the national badge and can grant and revoke the right for organisations to use it.
If Mthethwa were to intervene as outlined above, his actions could be regarded as government interference, which is prohibited by the ICC and could cause further sanctions for South Africa. Mthethwa has, however, looped the ICC in on all his communications to CSA so far, including his decision last month to step in as requested by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC), which reached a standoff with CSA over the same issue.
CSA has been plagued by governance-related issues since September 2017, when it parted ways with former CEO Haroon Lorgat following the failure to launch the now-defunct Global T20 League. That tournament, and the reasons that it did not take place, formed part of the forensic report that CSA commissioned earlier this year, which was used to fire Lorgat's successor Thabang Moroe for financial misconduct. The report is not available to the public and has only been seen by three former CSA independent board directors, those on the members' council that were willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and Mthethwa himself. It is due to be scrutinised by interim board, whose remit is to act on recommendations of the report.
Lorgat is part of the interim board and his presence has caused the greatest apprehension among the members' council, which has cited a conflict of interest in having Lorgat on board. Mthethwa clarified that Lorgat would recuse himself from all discussions relating to the Global T20 League. However, the interim board chair Zak Yacoob said he thinks the members' council is using the Lorgat issue as a reason to prevent the interim board from doing its work.
"Lorgat is just an excuse. That they've got too much to hide is the only inference that can be drawn," Yacoob said. "That is my opinion and they can prove it wrong by saying, 'Come into our offices and have a look and you will never find anything that we did wrong'. If that's the case I will withdraw my opinion and apologise."
In a defiant press conference on Friday afternoon, Yacoob explained that the members' council had deceived Mthethwa into believing they would ratify the interim board and work with them in order to avoid a ministerial sanction earlier. "I suspect the members' council feared administration and feared the repercussions the minister is now promising. To avoid that, it falsely agreed with the minister and now reneged on it," Yacoob said. "We believed that the members council would legitimate us. The minister believed that the members' council would legitimate us and they didn't. In other words, they broke their promise. And they broke their promise because we began interfering too quickly and too soon and it just became very uncomfortable."
In the two weeks it has been in operation, the interim board have already made significant inroads into understanding CSA, most especially by promising to investigate the lack of ball-by-ball coverage in the first-class competition, to consider the domestic restructure and to be involved in discussions over the way South Africa would vote at the next ICC meeting, which will decide the chairperson. Mthethwa said he was impressed with the "speed, vigour, passion and independence" of the interim board, but the members' council saw it as interference. Further, the members' council expected the interim board to report to them, which the interim board refused. "We are not prepared to be told what we do by anybody. It's not to say we won't take anybody into account, but we won't take instructions. It's not to say suggestions are not allowed," Yacoob said.
In fact, the interim board levelled the same accusation at the members' council, purporting that the council had shown no accountability over their role in the administrative bungling of the last few years and Yacoob believes they are unlikely to shift from that position. Asked if he believes CSA can self-correct, Yacoob said, "No chance at all. Everything we have seen in the last two weeks, shows us they have no chance to self-correct. But miracles do happen. It may be that Mr Richards goes to church on Sunday is convinced by some priest but let's see."
By Sunday, the members' council would have met and decided whether or not to work with the interim board and the future of South African cricket could lie in Mthethwa's hands.