exclusive: Qhubekani Nkala interview

Posted by admin on March 09, 2009

In's first exclusive interview of the new year, we talked to Qhubekani Nkala - the former Alexandra Sports Club all-rounder and operations manager at Zimbabwe Cricket. You come from quite a strong cricketing background, what are some of your fondest memories as a player? At what point did you decide you wanted to move into cricket administration?

Qhubekani Nkala: My fondest cricket memories are many and varied. The most salient include the following. In 1992 I was voted the Best All-Rounder on our National Tour of Namibia. Actually I had the best bowling and batting average so they created a Best All-rounder award to avoid a one man show. That was special. I was also the first black captain of cricket at Falcon College which produced the likes of Heath Streak, Andy Waller, Guy Whittall, Craig Wishart, Brian and Paul Strang to name a few. I also remember my first century against Lomagundi in 1993. That is always a poignant moment in a batsman's career. Another special moment was breaking a wicket when I was about 15 years of age. I was reasonably speedy for my age without being terrifying. For a teenager however breaking a stump signified express pace. I enjoyed the accolades that followed.

I decided to join cricket administration in 2004. It was soon after the 'player crisis' and I felt the exodus of administrators would create an opportunity. Indeed I was passionate about contributing to the game that as a school boy I ate, slept and dreamt of. There can be few sights that better a green field, shocking whites, a gentle breeze, a caress through the covers for four and the African sun and clouds looking down with approval! I say this in all confidence as I am still single! Indeed that opportunity was created after I consulted with senior officials who understood my cricket pedigree if one can call it that. Until 2006 you were the operations manager at Zimbabwe Cricket. What were your duties in that job?

Qhubekani Nkala: My duties as operations manager were at the best of times exciting, challenging and rewarding. My primary duty involved arranging the International Tours in line with the ICC Future Tours Programme. This is a most intricate duty. It is amazing how as a spectator you arrive at the ground and there are comestibles, beverages, tickets, security, medical teams on standby, national flags flying in the breeze, marshalls etc. This I had to make happen! The checklist alone for International Tours is a book in it's own right. However I loved the thrill of the planning, execution and the gratitude one feels when the teams board their flights homeward bound. I certainly don't take credit for managing this alone as there are a number of administrators who assist in championing this exercise. Of great assistance was my PA at the time Janice Johnny! I was also responsible for arranging the fixtures and all the concomitant logistics for local First Class cricket and the premier National League competition. It always gave me great pleasure to be a part of building our young cricketers and I was truly honoured to be a servant of the game in that capacity. ZC have always dismissed claims of "quota systems" being used in squad selections. Are you able to shed any light on these claims from your experiences at ZC?

Qhubekani Nkala: I am unable to shed light on the issue of quota systems being officially adopted by ZC. However following on from the 'players crisis' I believe it would be naive to consider that this issue did not play a significant if not pivotal role in the build up to the crisis. There was a sentiment that black players were not given the same opportunity as their white counterparts. This was exacerbated by the real power wielded by the stranglehold of the predominantly white administration. Simultaneously some vociferous and influential black administrators with the backing of promising black players had begun to emerge. All this inter alia meant the player crisis was inevitable and to an extent unavoidable. I say unavoidable as I believe there was an element of complacency and intransigence on the side of the erstwhile administration. However ultimately I believe cricket was the loser and ZC never managed to recapture their previous glories. Post the player crisis I believe the quota system was irrelevant as de facto the only remaining players were black save for one or two white younger players. Hence during my tenure this issue was irrelevant. What was "the final straw" that led you to resign from ZC?

Qhubekani Nkala: I was forced into a prickly situation involving my counterpart from another country. I felt that the decision making and leadership that needed during this time was sorely lacking. Effectively I was being forced to compromise my credibility as an administrator to meet the whims of my superiors. This nasty experience led to me being issued with a warning letter. As an accountant by profession ethics is as synonymous to me as drought is to the desert! In addition I was known to be a passive agitator for change of the ruinous leadership that characterised ZC at the time. I made a deliberate decision to dissociate myself from an organisation that did not espouse my beliefs and ethical background. In addition I would not subject myself to the ignominy of being 'fired'. I have never and will never be dismissed from any employment as a result of incompetence. Hence my position had become untenable and the inevitable would come to pass if I had remained. With no value to add I took the higher moral and ethical ground and duly resigned. After you resigned you said there was a "lack of direction" and there were reports that your views about Zimbabwe cricket differed to others in the organisation. What were some of the key issues that made you feel this way?

Qhubekani Nkala: The key issues that I differed with administrators was on the treatment of players and the rapacity of certain administrators. Players welfare, remuneration, playing conditions etc had deteriorated to an alarming level. So much so that players and coaches alike were not afforded the best possible facilities, skills and equipment to enable them to prepare appropriately. In addition there was clear evidence of improper financial control and abuse of resources. One example of such behaviour was the purchase of an Outside Broadcasting van at a time when players were informed their remuneration was hampered by a lack of funds. The travels at the expense of ZC, lifestyles and attitudes of senior administrators was not congruent with a cash strapped organisation. Claims of financial abuse were later confirmed by the appointment of an ICC fraud investigation team which proved there was improper financial control/transactions. The extent and magnitude we may never know. Suffice to say the principle of abuse is the damning factor which in itself highlighted the extant managements attitude to risk and fraud. Zimbabwe Cricket have done some good things which do unfortunately go unnoticed, such as allowing school children free admission to ODIs - a tradition that has spanned several decades, and bringing the game to high density areas like Emakhandeni and Chitungwiza. Were there any other advancements made by the ZC board which people might not know about?

Qhubekani Nkala: Tragically a lot of good done by ZC was motivated by hidden motives and agenda's. For example the assistance given to establish Takashinga as a powerhouse in cricket circles was largely to appease the vociferous and at times belligerent black administration which began to wield significant player power. One must view this in light of the vacuum created by the departure of the white players during the player crisis. The remaining young black players although talented remained inexperienced, highly malleable and impressionable. As a result of the above the second largest province created a stir as they wanted their own 'Takashinga'. Hence in appeasement, Emakhandeni was built. I have personally visited the venue. The surrounding soil is sandy, there is no possibility of borehole water and the location, although built in a predominantly black area is not easily accessible by all. In addition the support facilities e.g. cricket nets are poor. A lot of support given by ZC was to avoid provinces becoming independent and hence relying on patronage for any support. If I create a bleak view then this was the reality. One personal highlight was convincing ZC to support a number of players financially to attend Falcon College which is the Mecca of sport amongst Zimbabwean schools. I suppose progress, no matter how slow, is progress! When you were working at ZC, did you get to see most of the matches and travel on the overseas tours? What would an ordinary attendance be like at Harare Sports Club for an international - did the crowds vary depending on whether it was a weekday or weekend?

Qhubekani Nkala: While at ZC I did not travel abroad with the team. However I attended all the First Class and International matches played locally. The crowds remained poor at best and were largely supported by children of school going age. Week-ends remained popular where admittedly the crowd number, although low overall, would show improvements over week-day attendance. International tours such as India and New Zealand significantly improved the crowd attendance as these teams travelled with genuine super stars. However the First Class matches were poorly attended with numbers not much above a couple hundred if that! It is my belief that the shenanigans within ZC administration and the poor cricketing results arising from such effectively alienated the paying public. Hence the proliferation of school children who formed most of the crowds. David Coltart was recently appointed the Minister of Education, Culture, Art and Sport. He has hinted that the current ZC administration could be removed - as an experienced administrator, would you consider returning to ZC if this happened? Are there any other former administrators that you think might return?

Qhubekani Nkala: Zimbabwe for all that is said and done is a beautiful country that has merely been mismanaged one way or the other. Any visitor to Zimbabwe will tell of the beautiful weather, the peaceful and friendly locals and enchanting countryside and natural beauty. I believe it would be a fair generalisation to say that a number of officials would return to ZC given the opportunity. I would certainly throw in my lot with those returning. However I would only consider returning if I could successfully apply for the top 'executive' position with the sole mandate and authority to clean-up-house over a fixed term contract. I would like to be remembered as someone who made a difference. However personally this would create a conundrum as I am currently establishing myself working abroad in South Africa where opportunities loom large. Fortunately we know not how the Gods decide and I am merely a pawn trusting that I will be inspired to make and take the right choices and opportunities as they arise.

Thank you to Qhubekani Nkala for his wonderful insight of the inner workings of Zimbabwean cricket!