Everyone who cares about South African cricket probably has a worst ‘moment’ from the last couple of years which, for them, symbolises the nadir to which the game’s reputation sank. Unfortunately, there is a good chance it hasn’t bottomed out yet.
There was Thabang Moroe’s tenure as CSA chief executive to endure, the refusal of the discredited Members Council to step aside and allow a new era to begin, the ability of president Chris Nenzani to walk away from a series of debacles on his watch without any accountability…
Before the Social Justice and Nation Building (SJN) hearings even began there were grave reservations about the way it was structured and was intended to be run, concerns that it would create even greater division than previously existed. CSA were warned that they could face litigation if unsubstantiated allegations were made. It resulted in a delay to the start of proceedings.
Nobody, to my knowledge, suggested that they should not take place, or that the motive and objective was anything but well-intentioned, but there were far too many loose ends which needed to be tied up. Accountability, and the lack of it, was the major source of concern – but CSA does not do accountability very well.
Ombudsman Dumisa Ntsebeza said in what he described as his ‘interim’ (although CSA have not commissioned a ‘final’ report) that Graeme Smith, Mark Boucher and AB de Villiers had, at various times during their playing careers, been guilty of racial discrimination. Smith’s lawyer, David Becker, has subsequently asked:
“How do you make far-reaching and public findings of racial prejudice against certain people and in the same breath say that they are ‘tentative’, as the Ombudsman has done? How is CSA expected to implement those findings when the Ombudsman has said, by his own admission, that he ‘cannot make definitive findings in an instance where the evidence of both the so-called victims and the alleged perpetrators was not tested’?
“Why wasn’t the evidence properly tested?” Becker asks. “The Ombudsman had the opportunity to cross examine the witnesses under the Terms of Reference and didn’t take that opportunity. It was his process.”
De Villiers issued his own brief comment: “I wholly supported the aims of Cricket South Africa’s Social Justice and Nation Building process, to ensure equal opportunities in our game,” De Villiers said. “However, throughout my career, I expressed honest cricketing opinions only ever based on what I believed was best for the team, never based on anyone’s race. That’s the fact.”
De Villiers surely means that. But, even in the heat of battle with an ODI series squared at 2-2 when he insisted that Dean Elgar should play ahead of Khaya Zondo, the designated reserve batter, he should have been more aware of the greater perception and need. As should Smith have been when presiding over the decision to give de Villiers the role of wicket keeper ahead of Thami Tsolekile when Boucher’s career ended in 2012.
Becker also asks whether the fact that Ntsebeza’s two assistants during the hearing, Sandile July and Sandile Tom, wrote the Heads of Argument for several complainants constituted a conflict of interest. They were effectively listening to evidence which they had collated.
Ntsebeza concluded that the appointments of both Smith as Director of Cricket and Boucher as men’s head coach were procedurally flawed. Becker says: “As regards his appointment, Smith did not appoint himself. The evidence clearly shows that his appointment was endorsed by the selection panel and approved by the entire CSA Board, CSA President Chris Nenzani, CFO Pholetsi Moseki, the Acting CEO, HR Head Chantal Moon, and Legal Officer & Company Secretary Welsh Gwaza.”
The ‘interim report’ also suggests that Smith displayed ‘racial bias’ in his refusal to report to Moroe, whom the board of CSA soon dismissed for incompetence following the release of the Fundudzi Forensic Report into the chaotic management of CSA during his term in office.
“In finding that Smith’s refusal to work under Moroe ‘evinces his racial bias against black leadership at CSA’, the Ombudsman simply ignores the fact that Smith has worked quite happily and successfully under the current CSA Acting CEO Pholetsi Moseki for the last year. He has also worked collaboratively with three black CSA Presidents since being appointed in December 2019.”
All of this will, with a great deal of luck, be resolved. An even greater deal of good fortune will be required for it to be resolved without a great deal of mess and reputational damage to individuals and the game. Not that the game in South Africa has much reputation left to be damaged.
Which brings me, finally, to my personal ‘moment’ of nadir. A couple of days ago I was part of a conference call with the SABC production team with whom I have enjoyed a largely happy 30-year association. During the call, the commentators were informed that ball-by-ball radio commentary during the India Tour would not be happening.
I won’t bore you with the details. There is undoubtedly internal politicking going on, and in the absence of much live cricket and other sport in the last couple of years, the SABC’s flagship sports station – Radio 2000 – has done a brilliant job of rebranding itself as a popular music portal with some of the best hosts in the country. It is a great listen. I do all the time when I’m driving and not working. But it was started as a medium to broadcast live sport.
But the disinterest in cricket is not just commercial. It stems from the endless stream of putrid scandals the game’s former administrators oversaw for so long. They were incapable of seeing the future over their own, small enclaves power and perks.
For the first decade almost every piece of correspondence I received from listeners was from privileged white folk enjoying commentary on the drive to their holiday home on the coast. In the last 10 years, they have almost all come from young fans without access to Supersport or even free-to-air TV on the SABC. They learned about the game on the radio. They are, and will always be, the most joyous messages I ever receive.
There is a vast mountain to climb for cricket. Hopefully it is not insurmountable. We can only hope.