Johannesburg - The Social Justice and Nation-building hearings weren’t perfect. However it was much needed for South African cricket.
What once was whispered, kept ‘off the record’, was now out in the open, broadcast live, and saved for eternity on YouTube.
As brutally painful as all that testimony was to hear and record, South African cricket needed it, so that the honest conversations, started tentatively by the national men’s team a decade ago, could be held throughout the sport as a whole.
It is important to reflect on that, because the impression created by the SJN, is that South African cricket is racist. It isn’t. There is prejudice based on race and gender. What hasn’t been dealt with are those moments such as Paul Adams being called ‘brown sh##t’, by teammates in the past.
His was supposedly one of the ‘feel good stories’ for CSA (or the UCB as it was known when he played), and along with Makhaya Ntini became the poster children for South African cricket and its apparent embracing of a multicultural and multi-racial national team in the late 1990s.
The men’s national team had endeavoured to take the necessary steps to be more inclusive. And there were big mistakes along the way as Ashwell Prince explained. But the journey that the Proteas sought to undertake – starting with Graeme Smith’s team in the late 2000s, and with the former national team manager Dr Mohammed Moosajee as one its drivers – was to create inclusivity through better communication among players and coaches.
What those processes didn’t do was facilitate discussions with previous generations of players like Adams, who had those dreadful stories to tell.
In the case of AB de Villiers, it may have helped broaden his perspective, and the terrible incident with Khaya Zondo in 2015 may have been avoided.
The awareness of inclusivity is at a much heightened level even in the current national men’s squad, with Mark Boucher, who will face further scrutiny via a legal process in the new year, at the helm.
This is a tricky time for South African cricket, but it need not be a time of despair. As a country South Africa does confrontation better than most. South African cricket has attempted to confront its faults. In doing so it has set an example for so many other sectors of society, from business, to government and other sports.
While Smith and Boucher understandably grabbed the headlines in the wake of the report’s release, one key entity that escaped scrutiny is the South African government. Nathi Mthethwa, the Sports, Arts and Culture Minister, admitted during his appearance before the SJN, that the government had failed in addressing the lack of proper sports facilities at government schools.
Cricket is under the microscope, certainly, but it is not a sport played in isolation. It is connected to the society around it, and for it to thrive, for the SJN process to truly have an impact, Mthethwa too needs to show some responsibility and get the wheels turning to improve access and development.