After the murder of George Floyd, the extraordinary success of Black Lives Matter (BLM) in launching protests (many destructive and violent) that rolled across the Anglophone world was considered by many as an example of ‘social justice’.

Social justice promotes the equitable distribution of wealthopportunities, and privileges in a society. It focuses on the social conditions of a group within society. 

Justice, as we experience it, is the proper administration of law – the fair and equal treatment of all individuals under the law. It provides for securing the protection of the individual.

The ultimate aim of social justice is a communist society, after transition through socialism. Actions taken in the name of social justice can be unduly divisive.

BLM was not universally supported. Its aims are to overthrow capitalism and to create a communist society. BLM also promotes contentious ideas about racism and the abolition of the nuclear family. A cloud also hangs over its financial probity as an organisation.

Cricket South Africa (CSA) took up social justice. First, bowler Lungi Ngidi proposed that the players ‘take the knee’ before each match in support of the idea that Black Lives Matter. Not all of the players were comfortable with using that particular gesture. So the players agreed among themselves to make this an individual choice. And that is what they did – until all the players were ordered to take the knee at the T20 World Cup because of ‘the optics’ looking messy and indecisive. This view was apparently largely led by chairman of CSA Lawson Naidoo.

Then, perhaps unsurprisingly, came ‘many allegations of racial discrimination in cricket from former cricket players like Makhaya Ntini and others’, according to CSA.

CSA decided that the ‘national outcry by cricket fans, the greater South African public and broad stakeholder groups could not be ignored. The Transformation Committee of the Board developed a sustainable response strategy, under its Project: Cricket for Social Justice and Nation Building (SJN)’.

National demand?

Was there a national demand by cricket fans, brand stakeholder groups and the South African public? It seems unlikely. The initiative more likely came from CSA itself, the management which had committed more and more to transformation as envisaged by social justice.

The George Floyd/BLM crisis was more likely to have been the trigger for the decision to deal with allegations of and complaints about racism. CSA made its proposal in the pursuit of ‘social justice’ rather than dealing with allegations according to proper disciplinary processes and with discretion.

If a player or administrator was found guilty of racism, the accusation  would go into the public domain. However, the idea of professional cricket – which is highly competitive, operates in a robust environment and is one of the most pressurised team sports in the world – being subjected to the virtue-signaling envisaged by Social Justice and Nation Building (SJN), is ludicrous.

CSA established an SJN committee which had the following agenda:

  • Establish the Office of the Transformation Ombudsman (ombud) to manage the independent complaints system, convene a National SJN Imbizo and provide assurance regarding the extent to which transformation programmes are impactful on society, amongst others;
  • Engage in the healing, restoration and uniting process of cricket players, fans, and the nation, starting with the disgruntled former players;
  • Formation of The Restoration Fund – to deal with opportunity cost due to discrimination; and
  • Promote and intensify Diversity, Belonging and Inclusivity (DIBS) programme implementation.

Messianic

‘Healing, restoration and uniting’ of players, fans, and the nation is as bizarre a programme as it is messianic. A professional sport’s management is engaged in improving relationships between players, whether caused by racism or any other cause, for the benefit of the team. It is not there to heal, restore and unite the nation; this just sounds pompous and self-aggrandising.

The style of SJN is clearly inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the 1990s, where confessing to apartheid crimes would exonerate the perpetrator from being prosecuted. It may be unsurprising, therefore, to know that CSA appointed Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza in April 2021 as ombud. Ntsebeza was the commissioner who headed up the TRC investigative unit and witness protection programme in the 1990s.

The social justice warriors then decided to subject alleged acts of historic racism to scrutiny: previous misdeeds of accused persons that could predate the current situation by decades. This is particularly pernicious in the context of a sports team, which not only had to get used to the transformation in their environment but were often essentially barely adults when they had to deal with it. The ombud’s engagements would ‘commence with the major stakeholders, starting with the former players’.

Given the corruption, theft and mismanagement that dogged CSA over more than a decade, targeting alleged racism is a poor substitute for dealing with areas of transformation that were really needed.

Complete shambles

Gerald Majola was the CEO of CSA from 2002 to 2012. Haroon Lorgat took over from 2012 to 2018. Thabang Moroe was appointed in 2018 until 2020 until he was fired. By this time South African cricket was in a complete shambles. No player, as I recall, was charged with racism during that period.

The national cricket teams needed a competent, ethical and professional management and board. We all know what it took to get there. One of the rescue actions was to appoint Graeme Smith as the Director of Cricket and then Mark Boucher as National Coach.

The ombud was tasked with determining the ‘causes, nature and extent’ of racial discrimination within South African cricket. He was to report by the end of 2021.

Ntsebeza investigated claims through an inquisitorial approach which has the ombud obtaining evidence from the complainants and accused so as to reach a decision as to whether there are cases to answer.

Ntsebeza said that the findings in the report, and the inquiry as a whole, were compromised by the lack of time available. Originally intended to last four months, it stretched to six, and the budget grew from R5 million to over R7.5 million.

One of Ntsebeza’s findings was that ‘there were irregularities in the hiring of the two’ [Smith and Boucher]. (As I haven’t been able to secure the report, I can’t say what Ntsebeza’s reasons were for his findings.)

The crisis-ridden board of 2019 advertised for a director of cricket; at the same time Smith was head-hunted by the board. The board included then president, Chris Nenzani, and CEO, Thabang Moroe.

Meltdown

Smith made it clear at the time that he felt he couldn’t work with a board mired in controversy. Can anyone forget the horror of the financial irregularities, the claims of corruption, the alleged incompetence, and the disappearance of headline sponsor Standard Bank and others? CSA was in meltdown. Smith was finally persuaded to take the position after Nenzani and other board members aggressively pursued him. 

This put Smith in a strong bargaining position, and after receiving reasonable assurances that he would be allowed to do his job without interference, he accepted the role.

With regard to claims of racism, the ombud pointed out that there was cause for concern when reading through many of the submissions made by those Ntsebeza termed ‘victims’.

One of the allegations against Smith was made by Thami Tsolekile, a former wicket keeper, over his failure to be appointed to the position of wicket keeper of the national team in 2011/2012. Tsolekile wanted Smith to apologise to him. 

‘It would be irresponsible for Cricket South Africa to ignore the evidence of the “victims” on the basis of rebuttals. We hope that CSA will be well advised to take on board and establish a process that will enquire (into) the grievances and reach appropriate conclusions,’ the ombud commented.

‘A complex interaction’

In a statement accompanying the report’s release, Cricket SA’s Board stated that it agreed wholeheartedly that the issues facing cricket ‘are a complex interaction of multiple factors stemming from the history of this country and consequent socio-economic factors that prevail today’.

The ombud made ‘tentative findings’ –

1.     He found that Smith as Captain likely had some influential role in decisions between 2012 and 2014 not to select Mr Thami Tsolekile for the Proteas;

2.     The ombud found that Smith’s conduct leading up to his appointment as the Director of Cricket in December 2019 evinced racial bias against black leadership at CSA;

3.     The ombud concluded that when Smith appointed Mark Boucher as the head coach of the Proteas in December 2019, he unfairly discriminated on the basis of race against Mr Enoch Nkwe;

4.     The ombud reasoned that, while CSA and Smith had, in March 2020, concluded a contract that purported to create an independent contractual relationship between them, in fact their relationship was one of employer and employee. Despite the fact that CSA had advertised the position, Smith’s appointment was a foregone conclusion.

These became the issues to be determined in a final and binding arbitration. The arbitrators were Advocates Ngwako Maenetje SC and Michael Bishop. The arbitration process was very thorough.

Prior to the arbitration, the parties agreed that the relationship between the parties was one of independent contractor, not employee. That dealt with claim number 4.

In summary, the arbitrators found:

  1. Smith was not guilty of racial bias against black leadership at CSA;
  2. Smith did not discriminate against Nokwe on the basis of race;
  3. While Smith did influence the selectors not to select Tsolekile between 2012 and 2014, CSA did not prove that he did so because of Tsolekile’s race.

The arbitrators decided that costs, including the costs of two counsel, were to be paid by CSA. Justice trumped social justice.

I cannot do justice to the detail of the arbitration save to say that it can be found here.

Crucial to Smith

The parties did not seek compensation or relief from the arbitration. They wanted the matter legally heard and the matters decided for clarity and finality. This would have been crucial to Smith, whose entire career could end on a negative finding.

This is an embarrassment for CSA as it resolves nothing really. It is likely to leave the complainant and the accused resentful. But the real result of this virtue-signaling chest-thumping is that South African cricket has lost the knowledge, services and skills of one of the world’s great captains.

If CSA wants to unite fans, broad stakeholders and the country, it should create a winning team.

Mark Boucher’s arbitration comes up for hearing in May. Irrespective of the outcome, it is unlikely he will remain in CSA’s employ.

[Image: https://pixabay.com/photos/george-floyd-mural-houston-texas-5342710/]

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editor

Rants professionally to rail against the illiberalism of everything. Broke out of 17 years in law to pursue my classical music passion and run the Joburg Philharmonic, but had to work with musicians. Working with composer Karl Jenkins was a treat. Used to camping in the middle of nowhere. Have 2 sons for whom no girl is good enough, says mom.