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Wednesday, July 6, 2022

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SJN still valuable exercise despite flaws that caused pain during Graeme Smith arbitration

Graeme Smith, second from right, takes a knee alongside Makhaya Ntini in support of the Black Lives Matter movement during the 2020 Solidarity Cup 3TC cricket match. Picture: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

Graeme Smith, second from right, takes a knee alongside Makhaya Ntini in support of the Black Lives Matter movement during the 2020 Solidarity Cup 3TC cricket match. Picture: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

Published Apr 26, 2022


Johannesburg - The outcome of the arbitration process, that exonerated Graeme Smith from allegations of racism made in findings by the Social Justice and Nation Building project, doesn’t mean that the entire SJN was a waste of time and money.

Smith was understandably angry at the SJN’s finding that he refused to work with black people or that he chose to overlook Enoch Nkwe for the Proteas men’s team’s head coaching job because of his race. The former Proteas captain, who worked as Cricket SA’s Director of Cricket, suffered enormous reputational damage in the wake of the SJN report’s release.

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He took four of the report’s findings about him to arbitration and achieved what the independent arbitrators described as “substantial success”, in arguing why the SJN’s findings about him were wrong.

Smith’s lawyer, David Becker, had, in the immediate aftermath of the report’s release last December, described a number of flaws in the SJN process.

The fact that the findings were described as “tentative,” in particular rankled. Which is understandable, because while the SJN chairman, advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza, continuously pointed out that the findings of the process were not binding, the fact is it created a cloud over Smith - in this case - and the reputational damage it did to him, would have had a profound effect on future job opportunities.

When placed under a legal microscope, the SJN findings were always going to have difficulty in standing up to scrutiny.

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However that doesn’t mean the entire process was a waste. Sure, as was mentioned on many occasions following the SJN report’s release there were a number of areas in which it disappointed; women’s cricket deserved more attention in the report than it received, while all the time given to testimony about match-fixing, was then compressed into less than a page with Ntsebeza stating, there was no racism in that inquiry.

It is however important not to dismiss the entire SJN process because of the outcome of Smith’s arbitration. The SJN achieved a great deal of good for South African cricket. It gave a voice to black players, coaches and officials, who had been ignored in the post-isolation era.

It allowed black people an opportunity to share the painful experiences they had to endure during a period when South African cricket was supposed to be unified. Rather than the superficial displays of unity that occurred in the 1990s and even further into the 2000s, the SJN provided a genuine vehicle for the sport to move forward in an honest and open fashion.

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Communication was one area that was highlighted by the SJN and in that regard, it must be viewed in a positive light that the current chairman of CSA’s Board, Lawson Naidoo and the lead Independent director, Steven Budlender, have both availed themselves to the Proteas men’s captains Dean Elgar and Temba Bavuma, to talk about Board policies and decisions as the relate to the national side.

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From the perspective of selectors, there has to be a better understanding of why decisions have been taken about players getting picked, especially as it relates to the transformation targets CSA needs to achieve given it has to appease the government through the Eminent Persons Group.

The creation of a more inclusive culture at domestic and international level has gradually taken place - even before the SJN process - and the fruits of that work will be seen in years to come.

For all its flaws - which in Smith’s case caused deep pain and embarrassment - the SJN was still a valuable exercise. There were plenty of mistakes, but to dismiss the entire process because of the outcome of Smith’s arbitration, would be extremely wrong.