South Africa mourns Cronje death


Vilified for scandalising the world of cricket, former South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje has, in death, been elevated almost to sainthood by the local media.

Cronje, 32, was killed on Saturday when a cargo plane he was travelling in crashed into a mountain in the Western Cape province. His funeral took place today.

He stunned the cricket world two years ago when he admitted he had accepted around $130,000 from bookmakers to influence the course of matches.

His most shocking admission came when he confessed to asking Henry Williams and Herschelle Gibbs to underperform in a one-day international against India in Nagpur in March 2000.

He was subsequently banned for life.

Shattered by his fall from grace, much of the South African press attacked Cronje. But his death has placed South Africa's notoriously fickle sports fans in a forgiving mood.

"He was widely vilified in the press here but he had spent a lot of time out of the game and people are now ready to forgive," Stuart Hess, a cricket writer with the Johannesburg-based Star newspaper, said.

Local newspaper tributes have, for the most part, been gushing in their praise. "Nation Mourns Hansie" said a front-page headline in the City Press newspaper, while the Sunday Timesobituary said he "was arguably South Africa's greatest cricket captain before his career ended in disgrace".

The newspaper also described him as "a gifted sportsman and a natural leader whose self-admitted greed led to a life ban from cricket", while the Sunday Independentdescribed Cronje as "a handsome young man with wonderful talent on the cricket field".

But his posthumous rehabilitation in the local press has been labelled as hypocritical by some.

"If nothing else Hansie Cronje's death has shown up the South African media for the bunch of seedy hypocrites they are," Robert Kirby, a columnist with the weekly Mail & Guardiannewspaper, said.

"Yesterday they were screeching about the irreparable harm he'd done to South Africa, indeed world cricket; today you'd think a minor messiah had died," he said.

Cronje's father Ewie also questioned why the family was suddenly getting support from previously hostile quarters.

"For two years and two months we didn't have the support of the people. Why now?" he asked.