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South African cricket deserves better than the SJN report

South African cricket deserves better than the SJN report

RACISM IN CRICKET

Social Justice and Nation-Building (SJN) project is an independent investigation established by CSA to probe allegations of historical racial wrongs © Getty

With Virat Kohli and the BCCI apparently at odds over the who, what, when, where and why of the change of leadership of India’s white-ball teams, and Josh Hazlewood out of the next Ashes Test, most of the world’s cricketminded citizens might have missed the release of the Social Justice and Nation-Building (SJN) report on Wednesday.

In South Africa, the headlines were dominated not by what the SJN had to say about racism in cricket, nor by Elon Musk – once of Pretoria – being named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, nor even by Omicron’s grim march through the population: 23,857 new cases of Covid-19 were reported on Tuesday.

Instead, the nation was tuned acutely to news generated by Jacob Zuma being ordered to return to jail in the wake of his medical parole being declared unlawful. In June, Zuma, South Africa’s president from 2007 to 2017, was sentenced to 15 months in prison for refusing to comply with a court order to testify at the Zondo Commission, which is investigating the corruption that captured the country during his tenure. It took Zuma eight days to surrender to police. For the next eight days, his supporters – or so they claimed to be – went on a rampage of looting and destruction that killed 342 and is estimated to have cost South Africa the equivalent of between USD2.2-billion and USD3.1-billion. Zuma was granted medical parole on September 5 – a decision that was struck down in court on Wednesday, which means he is due to go back to jail. He has, as is his wont, appealed. That will keep him free for now. But what, millions of South Africans are thinking, will his supporters do if he is put back behind bars?

So you will have to excuse us for not being entirely focused on the SJN’s report on Wednesday. As it turns out, we didn’t miss much. It took five months, the equivalent of USD463,000 and as many as 235 pages for the SJN to tell us, essentially, that cricket in South Africa is riven by racism. Any South African who knows a googly from a thigh pad could have done the same in an instant, for free, and in one short sentence. Actually, any South African could have done exactly that about any aspect of South African society. Here’s how: South Africa is riven by racism.

The pro-Zuma looting was fuelled, at least in part, by the country’s chronic inequality. But it’s not all black versus white – Raymond Zondo, South Africa’s acting justice, who is presiding over the Zuma investigation, has a son you know of if you’re a cricket person. Or if you’ve paid attention to the SJN hearings. That’s right: Khaya Zondo.

What the SJN didn’t tell us is what should be done about racism in cricket. Should CSA fire Graeme Smith as director of cricket and Mark Boucher as the men’s team’s head coach? Or suspend them? Or send them for diversity training? How do we stop black and brown players from not being given a fair shake in the game? How do we stop whites from regarding themselves, in ugly, damaging ways, as cricket’s norm? If you had waited five months, spent USD463,000 and waded through 235 pages, you would expect at least an attempt to answer questions like those.

The closest the report gets to floating an actionable idea is to call for the office of the transformation ombud to be made permanent. On the strength of what that office has produced so far, why would CSA do that? So they can keep paying someone to tell them there is racism in cricket? If the SJN was an umpire asked to consider an appeal, it would refuse to give the batter out, or to say they were not out, or to refer the decision upstairs.

You have to read between the lines of the report to see its most disappointing failures. It seems to say that black and white players choosing to share minibuses and hotel rooms along racial lines is nothing other than a matter of personal choice. How is that phenomenon not an alarm about the state of our wider culture? How is it not recognised as a symptom of deep and worrying dysfunction?

Puzzlingly, considering the SJN’s mandate, the report takes aim at the processes by which Smith and Boucher were appointed, in December 2019. It seems Smith was all but assured of his job even before the three other shortlisted candidates – two of whom was were white – were interviewed. That would be a problem of governance, among the many committed under the watch of Chris Nenzani and Thabang Moroe, then CSA’s president and chief executive. The report slams Smith’s appointment as “irregular, irrational and unfair”. Nenzani and Moroe are black, as were most of the people involved in bringing Smith on board. Where is the racism – which is what the SJN was supposed to be all about – in that?

Similarly, it was Smith’s prerogative to choose the national teams’ coaching staffs. He should have foreseen that overlooking Enoch Nkwe – who is more qualified as a coach than Boucher and took the side to India in an interim capacity in November 2019 – in favour of Boucher would raise questions over his commitment to transformation and of his grasp of CSA’s policies. But it wasn’t as if Smith alone appointed Boucher. The decision would have had to be ratified by a range of officials, most of them black or brown. To call it racist is plainly wrong.

It is not wrong to be frustrated and angered by the conveyer belt of whiteness into the highest echelons of South African cricket, where a cradle to grave system cushions some from the real world while locking many out of it. Again, if you’re a South African from any walk of life you are no stranger to this. If you’re born into the right kind of white family which lives in the right kind of neighbourhood and you can therefore attend the right kind of school, you’re going to have to be the wrong kind of cricketer not to forge a professional career. If you’re born into other kinds of families, no matter how talented you are, chances are you will be unfairly denied those advantages. AB de Villiers is who he is at least as much, maybe more so, because of the accident of being born white as he is because of his outrageous talent and his hard work to make the most of his gifts. And, as we have heard at the SJN, even a judge’s son like Khaya Zondo can be frozen out of cricket’s white world because he is black.

Similarly, there are too many whites in cricket’s top jobs. Whingeing about the way they got them isn’t going to change that. It’s only going to make labour lawyers richer. What’s needed is to stop the conveyer belt, and to make it impossible for whiteness to ignore blackness and brownness. The law is on the side of those who want to make that happen, as it should be. But let’s entertain, for a moment, the craze for recklessness. Fire Smith! Fire Boucher! Right. Now what? The Test series against India starts on December 26. Good luck.

That kind of myth-making also looks past the truth that, when Smith and Boucher were appointed, cricket in South Africa had bottomed out in every measurable sense. It’s not as if they messed up a good thing. Rather, they helped rescue what was left.

That does not absolve them from their duty to make cricket a better place, whether they are players, coaches or administrators. They don’t seem to have been good at that as players. So they have two strikes left; two big strikes. What happens on the field is less important than the structures and processes that put those people there. Because real change is effected long before they step over a boundary, and from there into an important administrative role. What we see from the stands and on our televisions is the destination, not the journey. How do we get there?

CSA does a lot to try and give worthwhile answers to that question. So much work is being done, with integrity, for the good of the game and those who play and follow it. So it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that cricket deserves better than this report. It didn’t help the SJN do a proper job that, having been implicated, Smith and Boucher chose not to testify in person but to throw lawyerly affidavits at the problem. It also didn’t help that Makhaya Ntini, Hashim Amla and Vernon Philander – giants of the game, as well as black and brown players – did not involve themselves. There’s a word for what those five players chose to do, and not to do: privilege.

Many of us have it. It’s what we do with it that matters.

© Cricbuzz




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