Frans broke down crying, yet continued on his way, while calling the family: the parents, their sister and finally, Bertha – with the news. “When I called my mum, someone had called her two minutes prior saying the plane had landed and Hansie was fine. So, she just cried, ‘My son, my son’.”
The plane crashed because of fierce wind and rain that forced it into the mountain range. By the time Frans arrived at George, about six hours after the crash, “it was beautiful sunshine”.
Growing up, the Cronje brothers, like the whole family, were sustained by two planks: faith and sport. “We played a lot of cricket and rugby and golf and everything in the backyard,” Frans says. So obsessed were the boys with sport that their sister once paid them to talk about something else over Sunday lunch. “It was quiet for two minutes and then we spoke about sport again.”
Frans was a fine cricketer himself, enjoying a solid first-class career in South Africa. But Hansie, two years his junior, stood out, both for his sporting abilities and leadership. At Grey College, the most famous sports school in South Africa, Hansie was captain of the cricket and rugby sides. He captained South Africa for the first time aged 24. Over 53 Tests and 138 one-day internationals as South Africa captain, he became “one of the most influential, loved people in South Africa”, Frans says.
All of this changed in April 2000, when allegations of Cronje being involved in match-fixing surfaced. “I never once thought, not even remotely, that he would have done anything wrong,” Frans says. This belief was destroyed a few days later. Frans received a call from Pastor Ray McCauley, Hansie’s spiritual confidant, telling him that he had just received a fax from Hansie confessing that he had accepted money from bookmakers for corruption. A few hours later, Frans and McCauley met Hansie at Cape Town airport.
“It was crazy. I never expected it. The only one thing that he said over and over was how sorry he was. He felt he let us as a family down, he felt he let South Africans down, he felt he let Christians down, he felt he let God down.”
Hansie resigned as captain, declaring that he would never play again. He and the family assumed that the process would be swift. Instead, the King Commission inquiry dragged on for months, and Cronje received a life ban from being involved in cricket in any capacity by the South African board. The fabric of Hansie’s life was shattered. “For six to nine months after the King Commission he didn’t really leave his house,” Frans says. “The only thing that he did was look at the news or read the papers. And the papers were critical of him, so his view was, ‘I’m an arsehole now and everybody hates me’.”
For the family, the suffering was “tremendous”, Frans says. “There was never one moment where we felt let down by him – he thought that and people might have thought that. Neither me nor my sister nor my parents were ever angry at him. Never.”
Hansie gained considerable weight, and suffered from “serious” depression. “He just couldn’t forgive himself. He didn’t have a gripe with anybody except himself. He knew he had a big responsibility and he knew what a role model he was. And he also genuinely loved God. He wanted to live right in the sight of God.”
Frans is adamant that the King Commission revealed everything about his brother’s involvement with corruption. He accepts, and condemns, what has been revealed, but maintains that – as his brother said – Hansie never actually lost a match deliberately.
“If anyone ever tells you that he threw a match for money, that’s absolute rubbish. I still believe that to this day. It’s my opinion, there could be different opinions.”
Bookmakers, Frans suggests, leaked details about Hansie’s involvement in corruption in anger after Herschelle Gibbs and Henry Williams initially agreed to underperform for money in a one-day international in India, but neither followed through. “My theory is that because they won the match there the bookies then wanted to try and teach him a lesson and leaked the information to the police.”
Frans has several theories as to why his brother accepted money from bookmakers. The relentless international circuit – “there was one year where he spent 28 days at home” – eroded Hansie’s judgment. Hansie was also “an adventurous bloke – never scared of taking chances. And I think in the end the intrigue of the people speaking to him, the bookies speaking to him, might have got him interested”.
Two weeks before Hansie died, Frans saw him for the last time. Hansie had taken a job in insurance and had done his first deal. Over dinner in a restaurant, Frans found that Hansie had shed his self-loathing, and the extra pounds, too. “He actually walked with a smile into the restaurant, not shy. He always had confidence and so he looked like he’d got his confidence back.”
This is how Frans remembers his brother. “He was ready to rebuild his life,” he says. “It was like – boom, you just get out of it. At least I knew he was in a good space before he passed away.”
Frans, who became a filmmaker, channelled his grief into directing a film about his brother. “Sometimes we get inspired telling stories of people who’ve made mistakes. There are more lessons in people who make mistakes and learn from them then.”
If they do meet again in a higher place, Frans’s first words will be “We won the Rugby World Cup for the third time,” he laughs. “I don’t know what conversations are like there … but I’m convinced we’ll see each other again.”
The Telegraph, London