Imagine any company; bank, media, advertising, had run a process like the Social Justice and Nation Building project that Cricket South Africa has done in the last year.
What would be revealed? There’d be a lot of pissed off people. Women would have revealed how they’d been victims of sexism, wolf whistles, crass remarks about their bodies, how they’d been approached for sex, in order to get a promotion or maybe paid less than male counterparts. Black people would have talked about institutional racism, ‘othering,’ members of the LGBTQ+ community may have mentioned how they were looked at differently or left out of social functions.
It would have been a lot of airing of dirty laundry. Which is perhaps why businesses, government and other sports organisations didn’t conduct an exercise like the SJN. It’s very scary.
There was a lot said and written that was incredibly uncomfortable. How was the ‘Nation Building,’ element served by what was revealed at the hearings or through written submissions?
It was brutal and it often made one feel that progress was impossible. But here’s the thing, progress must occur. There is simply no other option.
Cricket SA deserves credit for conducting the process - as flawed as it was - and for doing so publicly. For much as it held up a mirror to South African cricket, so it did on South African society.
Unity on a piece of paper certainly didn’t suddenly mean blacks and whites were happy to work together to forge a future for South African cricket back in 1991. In the same way, the first democratic elections, didn’t suddenly mean all South Africans had one vision for the country’s future.
What was apparent from the SJN - and the same could be said for the country as a whole - is that white people, don’t understand the depth of the damage that apartheid did to black people in South Africa.
For whites, it's about ‘moving forward,’ ‘leaving the past behind,’ but that cannot be achieved while prejudice is rife.
It is why Graeme Smith, the former Proteas captain and currently CSA’s Director of Cricket, needed to provide oral testimony at the hearings. The same goes for Proteas head coach, Mark Boucher and AB de Villiers. All were fingered for racial prejudice, perhaps in Smith’s case wrongly so, when it came for reasons why he didn’t want to answer to the former CEO, Thabang Moroe.
Among white officials, only Dr. Jacques Faul, currently the Northerns Cricket Union’s CEO - and twice an acting CEO of CSA - admitted mistakes and of not being cognisant of the social dynamics of the country he lived in and in which CSA operates.
The human face of the hearings is the painful testimony from Aaron Phangiso, Paul Adams and Nolu Ndzundzu. Smith, Boucher and De Villiers - the trio of truly ‘big’ personalities in South African cricket needed to show their humanity too. It’s a pity they didn’t take the opportunity.
The SJN process was far from perfect. Transformation Ombudsman, Adv. Dumisa Ntsebeza questioned the limited time at his disposal. However, even that can’t explain some of the findings made. A lot was written about Smith’s appointment as DoC, and Boucher’s as head coach, with the report describing it as irregular. Boucher’s appointment is held up as an example of racial prejudice on Smith and CSA’s part in that they didn’t properly consider Enoch Nkwe’s credentials for the senior role. That fitted the mandate given to the SJN.
What didn’t fit the mandate was the findings on Smith’s and Boucher’s appointments. Those were procedural matters, and while there may have been administrative missteps, there was no racism involved.
In fact it was one of a few areas, where the Transformation Ombudsman ventured and in his findings paid no heed to the administrative mayhem that existed in South African cricket in 2019 and 2020. Another was the match fixing saga, for which Ntsebeza himself regretted giving airtime. Having spent so much time listening to evidence, both from the four players, who raised it and cited racism on the part of the investigators, to the investigators, who provided detailed explanations for how they conducted the inquiry, the final report then failed in not admonishing the players.
While finding there was no racism in the investigation, there was no admonishment of the quartet of players who wrongly used the SJN process - and often lied to the Ombudsman - to undermine that critical inquiry. Certainly the tone in calling out Boucher and De Villiers for their indiscretions was absent when it came to the players sanctioned for match-fixing.
As a result of all the time spent on that topic, less time was given to gender discrimination and how CSA should create a bigger platform for women’s cricket. In the case of the women’s game, there was honesty from officials like Eddie Khoza, CSA’s acting head of pathways, Faul and the SA Cricketers Association’s chief executive Andrew Breetzke about how far behind, countries like England and Australia, South Africa remained when it came to growing the women’s game.
How has the SJN process changed South African cricket?
That is not a question that can be properly answered now. What has happened is a greater awareness of players as people. Even in private conversations with players and coaches in the last few months, it’s clear that that awareness exists and has led to a change in thinking.
As for the way forward. That is extremely challenging. Cricket SA mentioned in its statement that accompanied the report’s release on Wednesday, that it agreed with the Ombudsman that the issues facing the sport “are a complex interaction of multiple factors stemming from the history of this country and consequent socio-economic factors that prevail today.”
There are no easy solutions. The process was far from perfect, even the manner in which recommendations were made leaves a lot of room for interpretation. But South African cricket is aware now - where once it wasn’t. Communication, honesty and sensitivity is absolutely essential in ensuring that the next generation of cricketers don’t feel that they are being looked at differently.
The same goes for South Africa as a whole.