Over the years since the introduction of cricket in the then South West Africa (SWA) in the early seventies, the sport was viewed as a pastime for the elite whites while blacks dismissed cricket as boring because of the long hours of action.
The influence of South Africa meant the interest in the game was firmly entrenched at provincial level, with Namibia at the time being governed as a fifth province of South Africa and competing as the South African Country Districts XI against other provincial teams.
However, it was not until after Namibia’s independence from apartheid South Africa in 1990 that people of colour were gradually allowed in on the scene, obviously with a grain of salt, to play the game in organized structures.
Namibia made quick strides and carved herself a place at the International Cricket Board (ICC) Cricket World Cup (CWC) in South Africa and Zimbabwe in 2003.
Ever since, the game has taken a self-inflicted slippery slope and been wrangled in ugly disputes with some quarters of the local media aggressively criticizing the union for its tortoise-pace approach to transformation.
New Era Sport recently caught up with Cricket Namibia’s newly appointed chief executive officer (CEO) Dr Donovan Zealand, formerly an avid critic of the much-trumpeted issue of transformation in domestic cricket.
The outspoken veteran sports administrator finds himself in the hot seat and entrusted with the task to directly deal with various outstanding burning issues including the damning accusations of racism within the corridors of Cricket Namibia. Carlos Kambaekwa conducted the interview.
NE: Dr Zealand, congratulations on your appointment and thanks for taking time off your busy schedule to grant us an interview as Cricket Namibia enters a new era under your stewardship. In recent months, there has been a lot of unpleasant episodes that stirred tension between the union, media, the presiding sports authorities and sponsors regarding the ugly debate of transformation prompting principal sponsor MTC to pull the plug on the union. So, what measures are you putting in place to eradicate this perception?
DZ: It is true, Namibian cricket might be perceived to be lagging way behind in terms of transformation but it should be well understood that transformation varies massively from one to another in different sporting disciplines. It will always be difficult to achieve the targeted goals without proper policies in place.
NE: Could you please explain in simple layman’s language what these policies entail?
DZ: When you develop policies, one has to set up targets in order to succeed and the moment you don’t reach your targets – it could come back to haunt you. In addition to that, one needs to understand that for transformation and development to be successful one needs to have adequate facilities in place.
NE: It seems there’s some kind of confusion with regard to the interpretation of transformation and development – whereas the latter is the nurturing of talent which should not be colour-coded while transformation is about opportunity for talented athletes of colour who are under normal circumstances not afforded the chance to prove their worth as potential good cricketers?
DZ: For transformation and development to take place, we need to build capacities within our own communities and take ownership of the sport but this is not easy. In the past, Cricket Namibia went into communities but left without leaving behind proper structures.
NE: What is being done to arrest these shortcomings?
DZ: We realized that is against conventional wisdom to unearth and bring would-be cricketers to the Wanderers playing grounds for development purposes instead of encouraging the establishment of new clubs in both Katutura and Khomasdal.
Topping the list of priorities to speed up the implementation of transformation and development programmes is to have fully-fledged clubs within our communities competing in organized competitive structured leagues if we are to bring about awareness of the game of cricket?
NE: In the past, the hierarchy of local cricket was widely praised for its ostensibly well-defined cricket development programme, which earned the union global accolades from the ICC and locally. However, this yielded very little if any positives with pundits labeling the programme not even worth the piece of paper it was written on?
DZ: Obviously one has to admit the critics are justifiably entitled to their opinion. Cricket is one of the most technical sports codes and requires lots of resources including support from all stakeholders. We all have an obligation towards development.
NE: There is a school of thought that many sporting disciplines including cricket are in the habit of compiling juicy programmes without conducting a proper feasibility study or at least have people with appropriate knowledge and expertise to monitor the successful implementation of these particular programmes?
DZ: That could be another obstacle but we are working on new structures to avoid that scenario. Not only in cricket, but for our athletes to perform at the elite level, Namibia has to create a High Performance Centre for elite athletes if we are to be on par with our international competitors.
• And while Dr Zealand admits that there is indeed a mammoth challenge for the union to reclaim its former glory days during her infant years that saw the country qualify for the prestigious CWC more than a decade ago, he expresses confidence that Namibia has what it takes to become a major force to be reckoned with again in global cricket and does not rule out the country becoming a test playing nation within the not-too-distant future.
“We are highly confident about the envisaged outcome of this particular development programme and hope to see a great number of young cricketers of colour coming through the ranks. This year, Cricket Namibia will introduce the shorter version of the T20 where it hopes to attract more cricketers of colour while the senior national team will continue to compete in the South African domestic league.”