Johannesburg — In January when it confirmed that it was charging Mark Boucher with “gross misconduct,” Cricket SA said there had been an “irretrievable breakdown in the trust relationship,” between the organisation and the man employed to coach its most important asset, the men’s national team.
That trust will probably never be properly rebuilt. Boucher, as he said in his statement on Tuesday suffered “considerable hurt and anguish.”
It is understandable that he would. He was charged with “gross misconduct,” and CSA wanted him dismissed. He became the face of racism in South African cricket, which was incredibly unfair, because as Paul Adams stated at the Social Justice and Nation Building hearings, Boucher wasn’t the only one to call him “brown shit” in that team song. There were other, more senior players in the South African team at the time, there were coaches in the dressing room when that song was sung and none of those faced the vitriol Boucher did.
Among a vast section of the South African public Boucher is unlikely to engender much sympathy. He is a hard man to like, but as various teammates, coaches and the current players will note, he is extremely hardworking and within the Proteas environment, very caring.
As he has done in the months since CSA charged him, Boucher will put his head down and work for the players in the national side. There are many significant challenges ahead for him and the Proteas in the next 12 months and the dark cloud that has hung over them has been lifted somewhat by the decision to withdraw the charges against him.
As was the case a few weeks ago following the outcome of Graeme Smith’s arbitration, the spotlight is again on the Social Justice and Nation Building process and whether it has helped or hindered South African cricket. For all the embarrassment and hurt it has caused to Smith and Boucher following its “tentative findings,” about them, it was a process that also provided considerable value for the sport in the country.
It is worth reiterating this point — in the post unity years, there was very little about South African cricket that was genuinely unified. A lot of Black people within the sport felt they didn’t have a voice and they operated in silence, their pain in trying to play the sport they loved, was not shared with anyone aside from close relatives. The SJN, for all its flaws, offered Black people an opportunity to finally reveal that anguish and to hold a mirror up to South African cricket, exposing its flaws.
It was cathartic. South African cricket is better for it.
It is possible to be both accepting of the value of the SJN process and critical of the findings contained in the final report. Of course the ‘Nation Building’ aspect of its work will be difficult, but that would have been the case even without the SJN, because so much was hidden from view and so many perspectives ignored — until now.
Boucher pointed out how the SJN had helped him to see how “some of the things that were said and done in those days were totally inappropriate and unacceptable and in retrospect, understandably offensive.” “I am proud to now be part of a team culture that is inclusive and whose objective is to be respectful to every person,” he said in his statement.
That is one positive step, even if the journey towards rebuilding trust with his employers will be much harder to achieve.