Good aim, strong de­liv­ery

Tha­bang Moroe has risen to the top of cricket ad­min­is­tra­tion in SA af­ter beat­ing the odds that were once stacked against black play­ers and be­com­ing a bowler of note

Sunday Times - - News Tabletalk - By SYD­NEY SESHIBEDI Seshibedi is a pho­to­jour­nal­ist for Gallo Im­ages

● Black and navy suits with white shirts and sober ties are ubiq­ui­tous sym­bols in cor­po­rate power struc­tures the world over. But some chal­lenge the clas­sic ex­ec­u­tive look. Like Cricket South Africa’s chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Tha­bang Moroe, who loves colour. Ev­ery day he rocks up at work in a bright suit, and the en­ergy he brings to his en­vi­ron­ment is in­fec­tiously jolly.

His funky dress sense did not im­pede Moroe’s jour­ney to the colos­sal cor­ner of­fice, fur­nished with arm­chairs around a cof­fee ta­ble topped with mag­a­zines to help his guests re­lax, in the Jo­han­nes­burg sub­urb of Mel­rose where CSA’s new, big­ger and bet­ter of­fices are.

Moroe oc­cu­pied this po­si­tion be­fore his 35th birth­day. He has ex­pe­ri­enced far more in his life than you’d imag­ine, and there have been hard­ships as well as smooth sail­ing.

Born in Jan­uary 1983 to par­ents too young to raise him them­selves, Moroe’s first home was with his ma­ter­nal grand­par­ents in Mead­ow­lands, Soweto. Then he was sent to live with his aunt and un­cle in QwaQwa. As teach­ers, they were well off by fam­ily stan­dards.

The love he re­ceived from his aunt and un­cle con­fused Moroe into think­ing he was their blood son. Mem­bers of the com­mu­nity only deep­ened this con­fu­sion when they called him and his cousin twins. His cousin, the bi­o­log­i­cal daugh­ter of his aunt and un­cle, was born in the same year and they were both dark-skinned.

“I grew up think­ing my aunt and un­cle were my par­ents,” says Moroe. “When my real par­ents vis­ited us I called them sis­ter and brother. I thought they were my par­ents’ younger sib­lings.”

In 1989 he was sent to the home of his pa­ter­nal grand­par­ents, who lived in Or­lando West, Soweto. In QwaQwa, Moroe had com­pleted grade 1. Thanks to his teacher rel­a­tives, he had been en­rolled at an early age at a semi-pri­vate school. In Or­lando West, he at­tended Tha­ba­neng Pri­mary School, where he was put back in grade 1 un­til he quickly showed he did not be­long

I grew up think­ing my aunt and un­cle were my par­ents. When my real par­ents vis­ited us I called them sis­ter and brother

Tha­bang Moroe

CEO of CSA

there.

“On the first day the teacher gave us each a piece of paper and asked us to write our name, sur­name and date of birth. I wrote my name, sur­name, date of birth and my home ad­dress,” he says proudly.

The teacher took the piece of paper and walked out of the class­room, re­turn­ing min­utes later with the prin­ci­pal. Af­ter a short dis­cus­sion, Moroe was pro­moted to grade 2.

“I was in grade 1 just for a few hours,” he says, as the cell­phone on the cof­fee ta­ble vi­brates.

“Abuti, can I take this call?” he asks rhetor­i­cally, an­swer­ing the phone and ef­fi­ciently sched­ul­ing an­other meet­ing.

The de­mand­ing po­si­tion at CSA is, for Moroe, the cul­mi­na­tion of a jour­ney that started as a blind date with the sport back in 1990 at his pri­mary school in Or­lando West. Be­fore that, he played soc­cer like any other boy in Soweto and ev­ery other town­ship.

In an ESPNcricinfo ar­ti­cle about leg­endary player and ad­min­is­tra­tor Ali Bacher, Stephen Fay writes of the “dis­as­trous [Mike] Gat­ting tour in 1989-90 … when Bacher was trau­ma­tised by the fierce anger of well-or­gan­ised black demon­stra­tors. He de­cided then that cricket would have to ac­com­mo­date black and coloured play­ers and of­fi­cials if it was to sur­vive in the new SA.”

Moroe was one of those im­pacted by Bacher’s epiphany, which led to the for­ma­tion of the United Cricket Board. His pri­mary school was nom­i­nated by this body as one of the town­ship schools that would of­fer cricket clin­ics to chil­dren, with a view to trans­form­ing the sport.

“I met Ali Bacher at my pri­mary school in 1990,” says Moroe. He re­calls how he and his friends were taught to play cricket by pro­fes­sional play­ers who ac­com­pa­nied Bacher to the school.

In 1990, sig­nif­i­cant mo­ments her­alded fun­da­men­tal shifts in SA. In Or­lando West, young Moroe was at the epi­cen­tre of great po­lit­i­cal change. The ANC was un­banned and Nel­son Man­dela re­leased from prison. Moroe vividly re­mem­bers at­tend­ing the old Or­lando Sta­dium, which was then wrapped with barbed wire and had a sin­gle en­trance with a blue turn­stile. Moroe says he had grown up singing strug­gle songs about Man­dela with­out a deeper un­der­stand­ing of his po­lit­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance.

“There were po­lice and the sta­dium was full of peo­ple,” he says. “There was one per­son ad­dress­ing the crowd on the podium and I was told that he was Nel­son Man­dela. Pe­ter Mok­aba was there, and Cyril Ramaphosa was there.”

As the winds of change gained mo­men­tum in SA, so too did ef­forts to trans­form cricket. Moroe went to tri­als where hun­dreds of young as­pir­ing black crick­eters com­peted for 13 places in the Soweto Cricket Club at Elka Sta­dium. Coach Moses Mataboge be­lieved in young Moroe’s bowl­ing tal­ent and en­sured that the lad was seen by the se­lec­tors dur­ing tri­als.

At the age of 15, Moroe was se­lected for an Un­der18 de­vel­op­ment team and rep­re­sented SA in Kenya, where he warmed the bench in frus­tra­tion for the first three matches.

“The cap­tain did not like me and made sure that I did not play. They lost the first three of seven matches, and I was called in on the fourth and we won and I was man of the match. We also won the re­main­ing matches and I was the lead­ing wick­et­taker when we re­turned,” he says with pride.

In 1996, Moroe be­friended fel­low player Enoch Nkwe when they were both con­sis­tently se­lected as the two “quota” play­ers al­lowed in what was then still called the Transvaal provin­cial team. Nkwe is now head coach of the Highveld Lions fran­chise and re­cently coached the Jozi Stars to vic­tory in the maiden edi­tion of the Mzansi Su­per League (MSL).

In 1999, Moroe was awarded a cricket schol­ar­ship from the Gaut­eng Cricket Board (GCB) to at­tend King Ed­ward VII School in Jo­han­nes­burg. His burn­ing love for cricket was nearly ex­tin­guished by his coach, who made clear he did not want black play­ers in his team. This led Moroe to quit the sport briefly out of frus­tra­tion.

Af­ter he ma­tric­u­lated, he went to live with his par­ents, who had moved into their own house in Bram­fis­cherville, Soweto. The new Dob­sonville cricket club was nearby and Moroe was drawn back to the game. When the club’s coach left be­cause he couldn’t earn enough to sur­vive by coach­ing cricket, Moroe was asked to step in. He took to the ad­min­is­tra­tive side of things with ease and in 2008 was elected chair of the Black African Cricket Clubs and given a man­date to fight for eq­uity.

At around the same time, the Langa com­mis­sion

He de­cided then that cricket would have to ac­com­mo­date black and coloured play­ers and of­fi­cials if it was to sur­vive in the new SA

rec­om­mended that black cricket clubs should have the right to elect their own lead­er­ship. This paved the way, amid the ris­ing ex­cite­ment about SA’s host­ing of the Fifa World Cup, for Moroe to be elected to the

GCB in 2010. In 2011, he be­came act­ing pres­i­dent of the GCB, which gave him a seat on the CSA board. “Cricket was com­ing into a new dawn,” he says. In 2012, sim­mer­ing ten­sions at ad­min­is­tra­tive level caused mem­ber teams of the GCB to re­volt and the CSA placed the GCB un­der ad­min­is­tra­tion. Moroe vol­un­tar­ily stepped down from the CSA board in 2013, on the grounds that the GCB had to clean its house first and re­turn to CSA only once it was no longer un­der ad­min­is­tra­tion. In 2014, once the GCB had re­solved its con­flicts, he was re-elected to the CSA board. In 2016, when he was 33, he be­came CSA vice-pres­i­dent, and just over a year later was ap­pointed act­ing CEO. In July last year, the pre­fix “act­ing” was re­moved and he be­came per­ma­nent.

One of his first acts was to can­cel the pro­posed Global League, be­cause “there was no money com­ing in for it from out­side”, he says, and it would have been too ex­pen­sive for SA to fund. It was re­placed with CSA’s smaller Mzansi Su­per League (MSL), which Moroe says was pulled off suc­cess­fully on a very mod­est bud­get and within a lim­ited time frame. The league is a model that can eas­ily be pri­va­tised, he says, and the num­bers show its pop­u­lar­ity. His labours to make na­tional cricket prof­itable have been re­warded by lu­cra­tive in­ter­na­tional tours and he pre­dicts that the MSL will break even in less than five years.

Moroe’s pas­sion for trans­for­ma­tion finds ex­pres­sion in the en­thu­si­asm with which he is try­ing to change the cir­cum­stances for women’s cricket. He proudly says the women Proteas are now the high­est earn­ers in women’s sport in SA. When they travel they now fly busi­ness class like their male coun­ter­parts and they no longer share ho­tel rooms. He con­cedes that a lot of money is re­quired to main­tain these stan­dards.

His driv­ing ob­jec­tive now is to im­prove the Fu­ture Tours Pro­gramme (FTP) for the men’s na­tional team. “I need to im­prove the FTP for the Proteas,” he says. “As Tha­bang Moroe I need to do this.”

He still lives in Soweto. He has yet to pro­pose mar­riage to any­one, be­cause cricket is still his ma­jor love.

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