AB de Villiers and Khaya Zondo bat together for the Proteas during a match in 2018. Pictrure: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
AB de Villiers and Khaya Zondo bat together for the Proteas during a match in 2018. Pictrure: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

SJN Hearings: Linda Zondi blames AB de Villiers for Khaya Zondo selection saga

By Stuart Hess Time of article published Oct 21, 2021

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Johannesburg - Linda Zondi said he was “very upset” when he found out that Khaya Zondo was not in the Proteas starting side for the final One-Day International against India in 2015.

That incident has hung over the Social Justice and Nation Building hearings and been used by many who have testified before the Transformation Ombudsman, Adv. Dumisa Ntsebeza as proof of racism at the highest echelons of South African cricket.

Zondi, the convenor of selectors at the time, said he had talked to the on tour selector Hussein Manack and another member of the panel, Ashwell Prince the night before the match - a decider in that five match series - and it was decided that Zondo would play.

ALSO READ: WATCH: Khaya Zondo tells SJN he lost all respect for AB de Villiers after the then Proteas skipper blocked his selection

Manack told the SJN in August that he deeply regretted not standing up to skipper AB de Villiers who had insisted that Dean Elgar, who wasn’t in the ODI squad for that tour and who had just flown into Mumbai from South Africa ahead of the subsequent Test series against India, should play on account of being a more experienced international player than Zondo, who was still uncapped.

“I’m glad Hussein came to the hearings and confessed that he had pressure … I was clear with him (at the time) that I was very unhappy with the decision,” Zondi said on Thursday.

Zondi told the hearings that because David Miller was out of form in that series, Zondo was a natural replacement. Matters became somewhat complicated when JP Duminy was injured, but according to Zondo, that meant that all the selectors had to do was find a replacement for Duminy in the squad.

“For me there was no issue; Khaya had been the second best batter for the SA A side in a tour earlier that year to India, he was in form and it was in his position in the middle order. It was a no brainer for me as a convenor and us as a panel that Khaya must play. That was made clear to the selector, Hussein.”

“When Hussein came back to me after I asked ‘what happened,’ he told me that after the discussion the night before the game, where we made the decision that Khaya would play, he shared the information with AB de Villiers the captain, and De Villiers was not happy with the decision and in his unhappiness, he felt AB had put him in a corner.”

When Manack testified to the SJN he said he’d gotten the impression that De Villiers would refuse to take the field if Zondo was picked. “The captain was extremely adamant that he didn’t want Khaya in the team,” said Manack.

ALSO READ: Hussein Manack says he regrets not standing up for Khaya Zondo after AB de Villiers blocked his selection

“I just felt the fall out of me standing my ground at that stage, would have, I think, made things worse for the team and made things worse for Khaya, because if he played, after I’d insisted he played, and he didn’t score runs and the team lost, I think he would have been blamed for it. So all those things were going through my mind. I still look back at the moment and think; should I have been stronger? Should I have stood my ground?”

“The captain was extremely popular in India, and if the team had lost and he goes out and says, ‘we lost because of this selection.’.... I do regret it, but I had no choice, I was boxed into a corner,” Manack explained.

The issue was further complicated by De Villiers taking his unhappiness to CSA’s then CEO Haroon Lorgat who was in India at the time, although Lorgat told him he needed to raise the matter with the selectors.

Zondi told Ntsebeza that both De Villiers and Manack were wrong. “AB knew I was the full time convenor. At any stage if he was not happy with the decision of the panel, he should have contacted me first and said he was not happy and explained himself.”

“The selector acting on my behalf was also wrong, where he was under pressure, he knew the decision was final from us.”

In his testimony to the SJN, which was made public the day after Hussein testified, Zondo said he had lost all respect for De Villiers. “The captain (de Villiers) called me over to the side, away from the rest of the team and mentioned to me he was the one who felt I should not play. He was trying to explain himself and he was taking full responsibility for the decision,” Zondo said.

“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 subsequently informed the SJN that he would respond to Zondi’s submission based on what was said.

Zondi remarked that he never thought about whether his instructions were ignored because he is black. “The issue of whether they didn’t come back to me because I was a black convenor, I didn’t have time to entertain that. They took a decision, which went against my decision, but I wasn’t there. It was unfairly done. (Zondo) should have played.”

Zondo’s non-selection in that match 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.

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