Johannesburg - “I’m personally very nervous about this process. I’m scared of being victimised, ” Paul Adams told the Social Justice and Nation Building hearings last year.
“I’ve been holding these things inside for a very long time. This is the first time I'm going public with what I’ve experienced as a player and a coach.”
In the last few weeks it's become very easy to dismiss the SJN process entirely because of the legal findings made in favour of Graeme Smith and Cricket South Africa’s decision to withdraw charges against Mark Boucher.
In doing so critics have sought to undermine all of the SJN, including the brutally honest and painful testimonies of many players, including Adams, Aaron Phangiso and Ashwell Prince. That is wrong in the extreme.
The SJN wasn’t perfect; it was rushed, the person who thought up the idea was a terrible administrator, who should never have been close to a director’s position at CSA. The fact that Dr Eugenia Kula-ameyaw served on the Board albeit in a temporary capacity, is a reflection on the dreadful state of CSA’S administration at the time.
But Kula-ameyaw listened to black players - and whatever her questionable motives for doing so - it opened the door, which for too many years had been shut by the majority of white people involved in the sport.
The SJN, her brainchild, provided an opportunity where someone like Adams, who had “been holding these things inside for a very long time,” could finally unburden himself. He is better for it. South African cricket will be better for it.
It was unfortunate that neither Boucher nor Smith availed themselves in person at the hearings. Perhaps like Adams they feared being victimised, and given the “tentative findings” contained about them in the SJN’S final report, they would say that was confirmed. But they could have answered directly to transformation ombudsman, Adv Dumisa Ntsebeza, and provided clarity on their own journeys, which had seen them become more sensitive to the plight of others who didn’t share the same backgrounds.
That the SJN made them the face for the wrongs committed by cricket’s white establishment was also wrong. When placed under a legal microscope, the findings made in the SJN’S report regarding the two disintegrated.
Only time will allow them to be rid entirely of the stigma created by the SJN’S findings about them. But both have the opportunity to heed the lessons some of the SJN testimony outlined. In Boucher’s case it will be tangible given the role he has to play in the next year with the national men’s team and it was encouraging that he wants to keep working as the head coach.
Smith had already started putting in place elements that empowered black people within South African cricket - most notably, overseeing the appointment of Temba Bavuma as limited overs captain.
The Proteas team, as pointed out to the SJN by its former manager, Dr Mohammed Moosajee had already started making efforts to be more open and inclusive. It was obvious however from testimony provided by Phangiso about his experience at the 2015 World Cup, and later that year the Khaya Zondo controversy in India, that those policies weren’t working as they should and needed refinement.
That has happened, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, but again, a unified understanding of the importance of kneeling, was absent, showing that some players were still not willing to dig deeper to expand their knowledge and particularly understanding of the movement given the country’s history.
The outcomes of the two disciplinary processes, now shifts the SJN umbrella back to CSA, its provincial affiliates and even an organisation like the SA Cricketers Association - the players body that represents cricketers in the country.
The work that must be done to improve inclusivity is not as clear cut nor provides finality as conclusions made in legal processes. It will be an on-going exercise. Provincial affiliates are already hosting workshops with administrative staff about the diverse history of South African cricket, how to communicate better and greater awareness of colleagues’ backgrounds.
It will be very difficult work that can’t be measured by data or statistics.
For all its faults, and the manner CSA have dealt with the SJN’S recommendations and the fact the outcomes of Smith and Boucher’s disciplinary hearings didn’t support the final report’s findings about them, the process itself was extremely valuable. It held up a mirror to South African cricket and more broadly South African society. Too much of the nearly three decades since democracy dawned has been spent sugar-coating this country’s harsh and painful history, which led to more hurt and more anguish after 1994.
The SJN at least allowed some of that to be assuaged.