Johannesburg – Cricket SA's Social Justice and Nation Building hearings resumed on Monday, with the CEOs of Free State cricket and KwaZulu Natal, providing reponses to allegations about racial discrimination made in earlier testimonies, by former players at the respective provinces.
In the case of Johan van Heerden at Free State; it was to reply to allegations made by Eddie Leie and Thandi Tshabala. Van Heerden acknowledged that it was a mistake on Free State’s part to use an old gym, located under a grandstand at Mangaung Oval to accommodate young black players.
Leie had cited it as part of the reason for him suffering depression and why he needed to consult a psychiatrist saying it was proof of racial discrimination at the union.
“It’s not something I would pride ourselves in, to give kids accommodation of that nature,” Van Heerden told the SJN hearing.
Leie submitted pictures to the SJN, which showed cramped accommodation. Van Heerden said the rooms were revamped from an old gym, with partitions created in between, that there was a TV – connected with DSTV – and a small kitchen.
The venue was used to accommodate children from outside Bloemfontein, who were being assessed for bursaries with local education institutions and to see if they were good enough to earn playing contracts with the union.
“It wasn’t meant in a bad way, but to see if we could help the kids get to the next level,” said Van Heerden. “Looking at those photos... not that we pride ourselves on it, not at all. It wasn’t meant for them to just be dumped in the store-room. That wasn’t the intention of the exercise.”
Van Heerden said that he was not aware that Leie was seeing a psychaitrist because of the discrimination he’d faced while in Bloemfontein as part of the Knights franchise. “It took me by surprise, because I was totally not aware of that,” said Van Heerden.
Leie testified in July how Bloemfontein was among the most racist places in the country, something Van Heerden disputed. “We’ve had so many black players come through here; so many enjoy it. We have a team set up that, culturally-wise, is the best in South Africa,” said Van Heerden.
“I believe there is a situation where in Bloem, your social life is far different from other cities in South Africa. If you love life by the sea or in a bigger city, you will find it difficult in Bloemfontein, there is not much to do.”
Although Free State had approached the SA Cricketers Association to try and assist Leie with a sports psychologist, Leie took it upon himself to visit a psychiatrist who was not associated with South African cricket. As a result no reports were generated that would have enabled the province to assist Leie, said Strydom. Asked if he was aware that Leie had seen a psychiatrist, Van Heerden said he wasn’t, adding that he found out when he read it in Leie’s affidavit.
Another Free State player, who was at the union before Leie, Thandi Tshabalala had also claimed black players were treated differently to their white counterparts. Van Heerden cited disciplinary issues the player had had, with teammates, officials and opposing players as reasons why his contract with the union had not been renewed.
Citing reports from then coach Sarel Cilliers – who had had run-ins with other players at the time – former captain Morne van Wyk, the fitness trainer and and physiotherapist, Van Heerden said that the reports indicated that Tshabalala “was not a team player”.
The hearings continue this week.