Cassim Suliman, 56, Chief Executive of the Africa Cricket Association has for long been committed to the cause of cricket as a vehicle for social transformation. Capable, colourful, and a man who can get pretty much anything done in the vast continent thanks to his immense charm and leverage, he spoke to us in Kuala Lumpur during the most recent ICC Development Staff Conference.

“You cannot play normal sport in an abnormal society.”

I’ve been Chief Executive of the ACA since 2005 having formerly been with Easterns Province in South Africa. It’s been a great challenge because bringing together people from south, east, west and north Africa isn’t easy. We are a vast landscape with many different ways of operating and when I first became involved it took a while to work out the most effective way of getting things done bearing in mind we want do so much and have a relatively small operating budget.

My working day’s a 9AM to 10PM one, and with my kids grown up and a very understanding wife I am able to achieve it. 9 – noon is Southern Africa, 12-3 is correspondence, 3-6 is other countries in and out of Africa, 6-10 are all the things that are still left to do.

The Afro-Asia Cup of 2005 was a great start and a great boost to our cause. It brought in much-needed money and gave us all the lift we needed because it established that administrators and players and corporates could do things across the regions for each other. I think it’s fair to say that if it had not been for the ground work laid there the IPL wouldn’t have been played in Africa in 2010.

With President of South Africa Jacob Zuma
We were sporting activists. I wasn’t playing cricket from day 1 but once I saw my mates at school in Johannesburg playing I got stuck in and in my first match opened the batting, made 38 and there was no looking back after that. It was the early 1970s. It was the apartheid era. There was one cricket for us and another cricket for the rest. We knew that. We didn’t like it. We wanted to do all that we could to show that ‘you cannot play normal sport in an abnormal society’.

Thanks to people like Hassan Howa we realised that cricket could be a vehicle for sporting and social advancement.

From 1978 to 1985 I was in jail seven times for my anti-apartheid protests, the longest period being for three months and seven days. They’d come for you between 2 and 3 in the morning.

Proudest moment of my campaigning was in 1990 when we had Mike Gatting’s rebel tour of South Africa cut short and all further matches called and turned over the whole of South Africa cricket. Winnie Mandela and the ANC got involved and Nelson Mandela was freed from Robben Island at the same time and it really seemed that cricket had played a part in the transformation of South Africa. It was an incredible period and all of us from the National Mine Workers Union to the provincial cricketers, the coloureds, the blacks, the Indians and the like-minded whites had done a great thing in bringing change to South Africa.

Now we have a South Africa team where all players are picked on merit irrespective of colour.

We have good players of colour coming through the ranks, more Makhaya Ntinis, more Hashim Amlas. When they were born, when they were children, it was all so different and cricket has played its part in making their country a better one.

In South Africa, the provincial system was always more progressive than the national one and what I’ve been a part of is taking the successful things that have worked here to the rest of Africa.

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