SJN Gets Real As Rebuttals Roll In

Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - SJN gets real as rebuttals roll in. The SJN was the game's first honest look in the mirror

SJN Gets Real As Rebuttals Roll InThe SJN was the game's first honest look in the mirror

It's not a witch-hunt after all. Nor is it a platform for hearing the views of some of the people all of the time. It isn't biased, uncaring or lacking in empathy for any of those concerned. It's CSA's Social Justice and National-Building (SJN) project, and this week it has proved that it exists to serve the game, the whole game and nothing but the game.

The first round of SJN hearings, from July 5 to August 6, necessarily dealt with testimony from people who alleged they had been victims of racism since cricket in South Africa was supposedly unified in 1991. Their anger and hurt was palpable, and led to tears being shed on the witness stand.

Cricket has been played in the country since the first years of the 19th century, and for most of the ensuing time by people of all races. But the SJN was the game's first honest look in the mirror. The reflection wasn't pretty. South Africans didn't so much see the inner workings of a sport as they saw another tumour in their sick society. Cricket, like everything else, had been diseased by racism – even after the defeat, at the ballot box, of racism as the law of the land. Apartheid was dead. Long live apartheid.

But black and brown people exposing injustice, while vital for their own healing and for denying whites their crutch of denial, was never going to start the difficult dialogue on race so sorely lacking in all areas of life in South Africa. Mark Boucher's written submission, dated August 9, was the vanguard voice from the other side. He admitted his failings, apologised and laid out how he was trying to improve the present to help build a better future.

Even so, the coldly legal tone of Boucher's affidavit – inevitable given the quasi-legal setting of the SJN hearings – allowed his most irrational critics to parse the phrases they didn't like from those they chose to ignore and to rage still more loudly.

That was no surprise. Given the toxicity of cricket's nascent race discussion, simply writing to the SJN will only give the vexed – particularly the cynically vexed – more ammunition with which to dominate the conversation. There is, as there is for most things that need doing well, no viable substitute for turning up in person or at least electronically. If you can't look into someone's eyes when they're telling you what they say is the truth, how do you decide whether they are telling the truth?

That said, pitching up, either in the flesh or on a screen, does not seem an option for Boucher. He was in Ireland with his team when the hearings started and, if they adhere to their current schedule, he will be at the T20 WC until after they conclude. Contrary to what some might want us to believe, finding a few free hours to talk to the SJN while you're trying to win a tournament is far easier said than done. The haters are no doubt relieved at that: the last thing they need is for the totem of their abhorrence to prove himself human despite all allegations to the contrary.

But Graeme Smith, another figure with a target on his back, has no excuse for not testifying. After this week, he should also not need convincing that appearing before the SJN is the only way to defend himself with integrity. And, by doing so, call the bluff of those who would seek to rubbish him at every turn.

Proof of that was delivered in the space of 24 hours, starting with the testimony of Mohammad Moosajee, the former long-term manager and doctor of South Africa's men's team, on Wednesday afternoon. He was followed by former selection convenor Linda Zondi, and, on Thursday morning, by former CSA acting chief executive Jacques Faul. All had been accused of wrongdoing, to varying degrees, in the first round of hearings. And all were able to refute, with solid evidence, many of the claims made against them. They also owned up to their roles in the problems cricket had stumbled into. Most importantly, they sketched the complexities of realities that hitherto had been painted in starkly simplistic terms.

Here's Moosajee on the touchiest subject of all: “In my view the targets or quotas gave opportunities to people of colour, and many of them proved that they could be world-class performers on the international stage. Examples include Makhaya Ntini, Herchelle Gibbs, Ashwell Prince, Hashim Amla, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, and Lungi Ngidi. They were undoubtedly good enough, but they may not have been given the necessary opportunities if it was not for the quotas or targets.

But there were also “unintended consequences” in trying to remedy racism in this way: “Certain players become ‘undroppable' because their inclusion in a team is necessary to meet the quotas or targets. A few of these players allowed their fitness levels to wane and were guilty of disciplinary misdemeanours, but these misdemeanours went unpunished because there were concerns that the quotas or targets would not be met.”

Zondi spoke of working hard to engineer opportunities for black and brown players who had been unfairly overlooked, only for some of those players to spurn their chance: “[Imran] Tahir was dominating and, for future purposes, we needed a spinner who could bat and bowl. But [Aaron] Phangiso wasn't playing red-ball cricket for the Lions. The South Africa A side was in India at the time [in 2015] and I asked Phangiso to play for them. To my surprise, he turned the offer down. We took a different player into the South Africa A side and he ended up playing for the Test team.” That player was Keshav Maharaj, now South Africa's first-choice Test spinner.

Faul rued the whiter shade of pale CSA's top brass showed to South Africans in December 2019, when he took office and Smith became director of cricket. Smith appointed Boucher, which prompted the demotion of Enoch Nkwe, who is more qualified than Boucher and had served as interim coach. Boucher signed Jacques Kallis and Paul Harris as consultants. Black and brown outrage, stoked by the suspension days earlier of Thabang Moroe as CSA chief executive, duly followed.

“The optics were totally wrong,” Faul said. “We should have been politically more sensitive; it's something I regret. We should have been emotionally more intelligent around that. We struggled to fully anticipate the outcry and it was a huge outcry. We didn't anticipate that we would be viewed as a white takeover. If I knew that this was going to be the sequence of events, I would not have taken the job.”

But those white people hadn't appointed themselves: “Out of nine board members at the time there were seven people of colour. There was only one objection and that was to the duration the coaching staff would be appointed. [Former board member] Angelo Carolissen objected to the duration because Mr Smith only signed for four months [initially] and he was appointing people for a three-year period. [Former board member] Stephen Cornelius said it is best practice to appoint them for that duration. The appointment of all of that staff happened more or less the same way and was approved by the board.

“The appointments that were made for cricketing reasons, but I admit we got it wrong. There were too many whites involved in a short period of time. Was it procedurally unfair? Not at all. Did a black board approve it? Yes, they did. Should they have been wiser? I think so. We should have been smarter.”

There was far more where that came from. The wilder conspiracy theories wielded like flamethrowers by previous witnesses were doused by the inflammable infallibility of fact and logic. But, mostly, Moosajee, Zondi and Faul concerned themselves with the seriousness of leaving cricket in a better state than that in which they found it. As importantly, the SJN ombud, Dumisa Ntsebeza, protected the space in which they wrestled with that responsibility and showed their efforts due respect.

No-one who has yet appeared at the SJN can claim they have not been properly and fairly heard. So what's stopping others from answering the charges that have been made against them? Irredeemable guilt is one answer. Another is that they don't care, and that's far worse.

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