CAPE TOWN – Thabang Moroe would have been forgiven for not wanting anything to do with cricket after his first task as acting head of Cricket South Africa was to unravel the mess that was the T20 Global League.
It was Moroe’s responsibility to explain to South Africa why CSA could not afford a “$6-$8million per year” drain on its financial reserves for the next five years (R400m-R540m over the entire period). He did not duck the issues, and was quite up front in his reasoning, terming it a “no brainer” and that “the best thing to do is stop the bleeding, take stock and come back stronger”.
However, that would not have been the first time that Moroe would have contemplated walking away from a game that had promised him so much when still a wide-eyed teenage fast bowler from Soweto. His raw talent earned him, along with good friend Enoch Nkwe, a supposed “golden ticket” out of the townships.
Moroe made the long journey to Johannesburg’s elite suburbs, where a scholarship granted him entry to the prestigious King Edward VII School - better known as “KES” - while Nkwe, who would go on to play 42 first-class matches for the Highveld Strikers and Lions, attended St Stithians.
The break-up of this friendship had a profound effect on Moroe. As a 13-year-old boy he was placed in a hostel in completely foreign surroundings without any form of mentorship or support structure. It was only after realising that he was suffering psychologically, that Moroe was transferred to a dorm with other boys from a similar background, which was referred to as “The ANC dorm”.
“I got given a bursary by the Gauteng Cricket Board to King Edward, but then everyone forgot about me. I was taken from the township, thrown into this school where there is a completely different standard of living and expectation. I immediately felt lost when I arrived at the school. I wasn’t even wearing adequate uniform. I had no textbooks. I had no friends. Immediately I was on the back foot,” Monroe said in an interview during the first Test between the Proteas and India at Newlands over the weekend.
“Even on the cricket field I felt out of place. I only had my spikes and shorts. I had no kit. I remember two of the guys telling me that I don’t belong there and that I wasn’t wanted at that school. I still made the team.
“I was lucky enough that our boarding master at the school realised I was going to struggle at KES. I didn’t have ‘tuck’ money. They put me in a special dorm where there were other black African kids. It was here where I met a host of guys who helped me. I could share certain things I was going through with them, and they would tell me ‘it will get better over time, we will help you with adjusting, but the rest you need to man up quickly!’”
Moroe’s relationship throughout his time at KES was a strained one - on and off the field. It is this, in addition to the experience of hailing from Soweto, where access to basic facilities is a struggle that forms the basis of his passionate drive to see the game transformed in SA. It is for this reason that despite “turning my back on cricket” after his school years, he returned to play for Dobsonville Cricket Club close to his home.
It was a journey that took Moroe from club captaincy, under the mentorship of Gift Mathe, through to the chairmanship of Black African Clubs, a coalition of central and southern Gauteng clubs, the Gauteng Cricket Board presidency, and eventually the hot seat of CSA vice-president.
“Sports is politics. Sport has the power to bring communities together and tear us apart. You see how we tend to behave as administrators, coaches, selectors... we all say we are here to serve the game, but we do everything in our power to harm it because we don’t want people of certain colours to participate. This is not just a black-and-white issue,” Moroe said.
“Go to Gauteng and you will see how white Afrikaners struggle because they are just as much segregated as black Africans. It is the same with coloureds and Indians. Cricket is truly still an elitist sport.
“I will challenge anyone that tells me otherwise. How many administrators have you heard on radio and television say ‘for you to make it, you must go say to Saints, you must go to KES’ you’re telling that little boy that if you don’t get a scholarship you are not going to make it regardless of how talented you may be.
“Nobody has ever told Heino Kuhn that because he comes from rural cricket ‘you are a miracle because you don’t come from KES or Saints’. I really don’t have anything against these schools, particularly KES, for everyone who knows me within cricket will tell you how I fought with the selectors and my board colleagues for Stephen Cook to be a Protea. He was my captain at KES.
“I have an issue with the mindset because that’s what’s holding this sport back. Until we are one and all representing this country, this flag, and everyone walking into the stadium that all cheer us on, we will never win the World Cup.”
Despite still only being the “acting chief”, Moroe recently raised eyebrows in Port Elizabeth when he alluded to the fact that there could be significant changes to CSA’s memorandum of understanding with the South African Cricketers’ Association (Saca), which serves as the players’ union. Looking ahead, Moroe could be the central role player in a pending battle with Saca, especially due to his experience gained in business analytics while holding a top position at cellular giant MTN.
“Ultimately the people that make money for cricket is Cricket South Africa it’s not a union,” he said. “I just have a view on how a company should be run from the management point of view and how a company needs to engage with a trade union.
“If CSA is trampling on peoples’ rights the union must step in. If CSA decides to take a different direction in growing cricket, there is no room for a union there because we are not trampling on peoples’ rights - we are protecting the sport that we have been put in charge of administering.”
Moroe is not your typical suit-and-tie administrator. In fact, he prefers a tight-fitting golf shirt that shows off his heavily-inked muscular arms.
But whatever happens over the course of the coming months, be assured that the 34-year-old has the tenacity of a street fighter who won’t back down on his belief systems anytime soon.