There’s no shortage of things to talk about with Kass Naidoo: the bonus saga that sent the cricket world reeling, her relationship with Gerald Majola and, of course, her own future. KHADIJA PATEL caught up with the former first lady of cricket.
South African cricket is still recovering from the bonus saga, in which suspended chief executive Gerald Majola paid himself and other Cricket South Africa (CSA) staff more than R4 million in IPL 2 bonuses. As acting chief executive Jacques Faul wrote in his resignation letter last month, “Cricket has been deeply divided into camps due to the ongoing bonus saga.”
Faul has since withdrawn his resignation, saying he now has the backing of board members who were originally unhappy with how he carried out his responsibilites.
But CSA is still reeling from the infamous bonus saga. In mid-July, the CSA announced that the chairman of the disciplinary enquiry, Advocate Johan Myburgh SC, had handed down an advisory award in favour of CSA, finding sufficient reason for Majola to be fired. Majola and his legal team, however, have not accepted the advisory award, which is non-binding, and the case will now proceed to a full disciplinary hearing, where witnesses and cross-examination can now be included in the process. Crucially, this could lead to criminal charges for Majola, and probable probing from SARS.
Kass Naidoo, former brand and corporate relations manager at CSA, may be one of the witnesses involved. She resigned from her position in March this year, after, as she describes it, her name “was dragged through the mud”.
“Little did I know that actually, my name would be dragged through the mud, and at the same time I would be trying to help CSA build its brand and its image and help make cricket a truly national sport,” Naidoo tells Daily Maverick in Johannesburg this week.
Reports from the scandal indicated Majola, Naidoo and Don McIntosh had effectively awarded themselves bonuses - or had been awarded bonuses, in the case of Naidoo and McIntosh - without the board being in possession of all the relevant facts. This fuelled suspicion of Naidoo’s relationship with Majola in particular.
“I had a good relationship with Gerald,” Naidoo explains. “I’ve known him for about ten years. I met him when I first wanted to be a commentator, and he’s always been very supportive of my broadcasting aspirations, and while working at CSA – it was a vision and a mission statement which he provided us, and we fed all our activities into that.
“We worked very closely with him to build cricket in the communities, so I had a very good relationship with him.”
While Naidoo has done a number of interviews since her resignation last March, in an effort to clear her name and repair her reputation, Majola has been an enigma. His legal representatives appear intent to fight his dismissal from CSA, but Majola himself is now - in the public imagination, at least - the smiling executive at post-match presentations who patted the backs of national cricketers and then, inconveniently, became the man at the centre of a corruption scandal.
Naidoo describes Majola as an ardent lover of the game of cricket. “He’s the cricket man. He loves the game. He’s a very tough boss. He expected people to deliver on their mandate and I think what I really appreciated about him was that he was very honest with us. If things didn’t work, he would tell us,” she says.
“Cricket needs a lot of transformation – at every level. It’s not just about five black players in the national team; it’s about holistically changing the game. He was very receptive to that.”
Naidoo claims she isn’t sure when the first rumblings of possible disruptions to regular programming at CSA began. “I can’t actually remember when the first time we got wind that something might be going on, but it never really affected me, because I never was involved in policy decisions,” she explains.
“I got a call from a journalist in Cape Town and he said, ‘I heard something about you getting an IPL bonus.’ And I said, ‘I don’t actually know what you’re talking about.’ I didn’t think anything of it. And then I opened the Sunday Times one Sunday and I saw my name in the paper. And I thought, ‘I wonder what that is?’ So when I went in to CSA they said, ‘Everything’s under control. We have a board. The board runs CSA with the executive and everything’s under control.’ And so that’s what I did.”
The role of the board has, of course, not escaped scrutiny.
Judge Chris Nicholson, after his hearing, recommended that CSA appoint a smaller board, with more independent representation and greater corporate skills. “Majola is likely to come under serious fire for his actions, but I think CSA’s board members should be held liable for this mess, because they gave him the liberty to do as he pleased,” former CSA board member Logan Naidoo told the Sunday Tribune last March.
Kass Naidoo, however, is reluctant to comment on the role of the board in managing the bonuses. “I was never involved in advising the board, so my role in terms of the board was that there would be a board meeting, resolutions would be made, I would be handed the resolutions and I would put out a media release for that. My understanding is that the board handles policy matters,” she says.
Naidoo believes there is more to the bonus scandal than what meets the eye, but she insists she’s unwittingly been caught in the middle of it. “I can tell you now that I have no clue what this issue is about. I don’t know what the issue is,” she says.
“I would like to know what the issue is, for my sanity, because you can speak to five different people and you’ll get five different answers... I still don’t know what it is.
“In terms of bonuses not being declared, I don’t know all of that, because I was never involved with the board. The board ran cricket. There were 11 presidents, there were sub-committees who advised the board, you had your CEO. Everyone had their roles, and I think people place me way too close to the board,” she explains.
“I found it strange that my name was mentioned as the only staff member (who had received a bonus); all staff got bonuses.
“I get that I’m the public face of it, but there were just three names that were mentioned the whole time, and try going home to your parents saying, ‘Actually, Dad, whatever you heard on John Robbie is not true. Everything is actually fine.’ That was the tough part for me, going back home and being okay for my family, because your family actually gets the toughest part,” she says.
“My fallback was following process. So I always went back to process – whatever the board said, whatever the CEO said, I just followed process and I said to myself, ‘You were hired to help make cricket a truly national sport. This game needs to be transformed. What are you doing?’ And so I looked at all the areas where there were gaps and I ploughed my energy into it. There was nothing I could do. This was a process that really was being handled elsewhere.
“The bonus was pretty much part of the regular remuneration process,” she insists.
“We received bonuses for special tournaments; that’s how it was. I think we received one for the (ICC) Champions Trophy prior to that. Everything was run as it should have been. Even when all the allegations came up, we constantly asked, and I in particular asked management, ‘What is the staff’s responsibility here?’ And the staff did not have any responsibility because it was a process that was run at policy level, so we were recipients of a bonus,” she says.
Naidoo has, however, come under fire for accepting the bonus.
“Often, particularly on Twitter, people say, ‘Pay back your bonus’ and you know, I thought about it for a long time… and…I met with Paul Harris. He was the remuneration chair at the time and I asked him, ‘Should I be paying the bonus back?’ And he categorically showed me how the staff were never part of the (decision-making process). So I was comfortable for that, but most importantly, I left myself open for CSA to come and ask anything they wanted to ask. It’s been four months and I haven’t heard from CSA. There are so many thoughts about it; I think I’m still processing,” she says.
“I think I was caught in the crossfire. I understand that politics is a part of life, not just sport. People say [that] sport is so political. Life is political. We are people. We have emotions. We have moods. We have views.
“I live by my late dad’s legacy, which is to live an honest life. I was comfortable that I had lived an honest time at CSA, despite all the allegations. There’s nothing that could make me feel bitter about cricket. The game itself is very pure. How things are reported on is debatable.
“Nobody ever phoned me and asked me a question about it. They just wrote about it. I’d called (former Sunday Times journalist) Luke Alfred a few times and I said, ‘I would like to meet with you’. And he turned down my requests, saying CSA was corrupt and he didn’t believe he could talk to us at the time,” she says.
Naidoo refutes allegations that CSA is corrupt, saying that, despite decisions being made without her knowledge by the board, that she was nonetheless in a position to know that things were managed ethically. “It’s a soundly run organisation,” she counters. “I was in senior management so I was very aware.
“We all ran our own budgets, we had strict financial policies that we had to adhere to. I felt so comfortable working for that organisation. I still don’t feel that this matter has been properly interrogated by the media in terms of getting a full picture,” she explains.
“A lot of the impression created has been done through information leaked from sources, and everybody has their own agendas. They are all cricket agendas, but they all have their own agendas. So I don’t feel like the complete story has been out anywhere about this, and I don’t think there’ll ever be one, because I think everyone has their view. I just hope that for cricket’s sake this can be resolved and we can move forward in a way that is going to help build the game. I really hope that this doesn’t get out of hand.
“I tried to engage the media, but what I realised was they wanted to write what they wanted to write,” she adds. “For me, it’s not about taking them on and just adding more content to a subject that really needed to be handled with care. This still needs to be handled with care. This hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s unresolved.
“Throughout the time, I put cricket first until March, when I realised there’s no way I could manage the brand of CSA and try to clear my name. It was important for me and parents and my family and everybody associated with me to clear my name.
“I wasn’t going to do it on CSA’s watch, so I decided, for everyone’s benefit, let’s part ways. And let new energy walk in and take the brand forward.”
Naidoo describes a “roadshow” she has undertaken to better understand the public reaction to the bonus saga and also gain more perspective on her own role in it for herself.
“The first person I saw was Darren Scott, because I decided on the first of June that I needed some answers. How do people pick themselves up after being hit? I wasn’t hit for a six, I think I was hit for six sixes. I just wanted to find out how you recover, and we had a really good chat,” she said.
Naidoo says she left CSA with a “full heart”, content that she had done all she could during her time there. “One of the things that makes me comfortable is that I’ve only done good for the game. I’m not sad the game is going through this, because I think we’re going through a very vital time in the game,” she says, explaining that the IPL has introduced staggering amounts of money into cricket.
“The game became professional before any of us could actually grasp it. We went from cricketers just getting their national contracts and having franchise contracts to earning R3 million for an IPL tournament. The game became professional very quickly,” she says.
Naidoo, however, does not believe that the saga can be traced to this unprecedented flow of money into cricket. “Administratively, there is a great opportunity for the game to understand how to professionally run cricket according to the new rules. It’s a huge challenge, but I’ve heard a lot of people saying, ‘This is going to destroy cricket’.
“Absolutely not,” she insists. “The game is way too big for this. Way too big. And really good work, and that’s the sad part. There’s some really good work going on around the country, there are real footsoldiers, volunteers, who are doing work. But because this is a big matter in terms of media interest, it will take the attention away from this work.”
“This saga is giving cricket in South Africa an opportunity to assess itself, scrutinise how it’s run in this country. It’s become professional before you know it, but remember you have the flip side. And what then happens to amateur cricket? [It] is the very grassroots of the game in this country,” she reflects.
“So while it’s important to have a look at how it’s going to go professionally, how are we going to marry the two visions of cricket development and professional cricket? I think it’s an exciting time for cricket.
“Maybe I’m crazy, but I think it’s a very exciting time.”
Is there, however, a future for Kass Naidoo in cricket?
“You know what? It’s so interesting, because since I’ve left cricket I’ve been able to tap into about 98% of my interests, because cricket was 98% of my life. When I left cricket, I unfollowed everyone on Twitter that had anything to do with cricket. I didn’t read about cricket. I didn’t watch cricket. I didn’t talk about cricket. I started baking and cooking and taking my son to school, and I realised that I actually enjoy being a mum. The legacy of my mother was that she took a half-day job just so we could go to school and come home to wonderful smells from the kitchen and music playing, and that is what I am at the moment. That is what I want to be,” she says.
“Cricket will always be at the core of who I am. At the age of 14, I had a dream to be South Africa’s first female cricket commentator. I don’t think it’ll go away, but for now I have a baby who is exclusively breast-fed; a son who is 3 ½. There is absolutely no way I can fully commit myself to anything else but my family,” she says.
She exudes an enviable serenity, at peace with herself. “I think I would not have been able to handle it if I’d done something wrong. You cannot hurt the game. There are so many people who rely on it being an honest game,” she says, also extending as well her good wishes to her former employers.
“I wish them all the best in resolving this matter because the game does not deserve distraction,” she says.
“If you look at where we’ve come from, from unity in 1991, to where we are now, we’ve taken giant steps. But at the same time, transformation has barely moved. So we don’t really know how big this matter really is in terms of transformation. I’d like more focus there.”
“One of the things I’ve realised is [that] black executives in South Africa need mentorship. They need up-skilling in order to make it in this world. It’s not happening at the rate that it should be. I’m self-taught. Ryk (her husband) is a lawyer and he helped me learn how to read contracts and understand disclaimers. It’s not easy being there. It’s not an easy job. It’s a dog-eat-dog world,” she says.
“I don’t know of anything that has been done wrong here. If I did, I would go to the authorities. So currently there is hearsay. I’m hoping that this process that is currently underway, the formal process, that there is then some resolution, that everyone understands actually what happened, because some very senior people are involved here.
“This is the Minister leading this process, and if it’s taken this long, it must be something that everyone is grappling with. If it was simple, I’m assuming it would have been done by now. So me adding my two cents saying this is wrong or that is wrong – I tell you, it’s a soap opera.
“All I know is that in every process that I have dealt with at CSA, there was nothing underhand. I was interviewed by John Robbie and he was talking about suitcases of money and such things, and I thought I was listening to the trailer of a movie.
“What we did when the IPL came here was that we worked and worked and worked and worked and worked, and we should be so proud as a country that we pulled off such an incredible tournament in less than three weeks. But we can’t focus on that at the moment.
“This will be resolved. I feel confident of that,” she adds.
“I went into cricket to gain credibility because I felt like I was this bimbo commentator. You know, people looked at me saying, ‘What are you? You’re just a fan who wants to be a commentator. That’s very sweet.’ I feel like I went to CSA and I got boot-camped like you cannot believe. I was put through processes. I learned. We achieved. There were highlights. The person who first implicated me in the bonus scandal now works for CSA, so you know what, life moves on.
“I’ve actually thought about (bitterness towards CSA) for the last four months. I journal a lot, and I thought, ‘What do I regret about being at CSA? Nothing.’ I think there was a reason I had to be there, [and I am] especially proud of the work that is being done at CSA. Maybe I needed to learn a lesson,” she reflects.
“My biggest lesson in this whole thing has been not to take anything personally.” DM