RACISM IN CRICKET
The Social Justice and Nation-Building Project (SJN) is an independent inquiry established by the CSA to investigate allegations of historic racial disturbances © Getty
With Virat Kohli and BCCI seemingly disagreeing on who, what, when, where and why of the change of leadership for India’s white-ball team and Josh Hazlewood out of the next Ashes Test, most of the world’s cricket-minded citizens may have missed publication of the report Social Justice and Nation-Building (SJN). on Wednesday.
In South Africa, the headlines were not dominated by what SJN had to say about racism in cricket, nor by the fact that Elon Musk – once from Pretoria – was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, nor by Omicron’s gloomy march through the population: 23,857 new cases of Covid-19 was reported Tuesday.
Instead, the nation was set on news generated by Jacob Zuma, who was ordered to return to prison in the wake of his medical parole being declared illegal. 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 plagued the country during his tenure. It took Zuma eight days to surrender to the 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 are estimated to have cost South Africa the equivalent of between $ 2.2 billion and $ 3.1 billion. Zuma received medical parole on September 5 – a decision that was overturned in court on Wednesday, meaning he must return to prison. He has, as usual, appealed. It will keep him free for the time being. But what, millions of South Africans think, will his followers do if he is put behind bars?
So you’ll have to apologize to us for not being completely focused on SJN’s report on Wednesday. As it turns out, we did not miss much. It took five months, the equivalent of $ 463,000 and as many as 235 pages for SJN to tell us, essentially, that cricket in South Africa is divided by racism. Any South African who knows a googly from a thigh pillow could have done the same in an instant, for free and in a short sentence. In fact, any South African could have done exactly that at any aspect of South African society. How to do it: South Africa is divided by racism.
The pro-Zuma looting was at least partly driven by the country’s chronic inequality. But it’s not all black and white – Raymond Zondo, South Africa’s acting referee leading the Zuma inquiry, has a son you know if you’re a cricket person. Or if you have been aware of the SJN hearings. That’s right: Khaya Zondo.
What SJN did not tell us is what to do about racism in cricket. Should CSA fire Graeme Smith as director of cricket and Mark Boucher as head coach of the men’s team? Or suspend them? Or send them to diversity training? How do we prevent black and brown players from getting a fair shake in the game? How do we prevent whites from viewing themselves in ugly, harmful ways as the norm of cricket? If you had waited five months, spent $ 463,000 and waded through 235 pages, you would at least expect an attempt to answer questions like these.
The closest the report comes to coming up with a workable idea is to call for the Transformation Ombudsman to be made permanent. Because of what the office has produced so far, why should CSA do that? So they can keep paying someone to tell them there is racism in cricket? If the SJN was a judge asked to consider an appeal, it would refuse to give the date out, or to say they were not out, or to refer the decision upstairs.
You need to read between the lines of the report to see its most disappointing failures. It seems to say that black and white players who choose to share minibuses and hotel rooms along racial lines are nothing more than a matter of personal choice. How is this phenomenon not an alarm about the state of our wider culture? How is it not recognized as a symptom of deep and worrying dysfunction?
Oddly enough, considering SJN’s mandate, the report is aimed at the processes by which Smith and Boucher were appointed in December 2019. It seems that Smith was almost secured his job, even before the other three candidates on the list – two of whom were white – were interviewed. That would be a government problem among the many committed under Chris Nenzani and Thabang Moroe, then CSA president and CEO. The report criticizes Smith’s appointment as “irregular, irrational and unfair”. Nenzani and Moroe are black, as are most of the people involved in bringing Smith on board. Where is the racism – which SJN should be about – in it?
Similarly, it was Smith’s privilege to select the national teams’ coaching staffs. He should have foreseen that the overthrow of Enoch Nkwe – who is more qualified as a coach than Boucher and then took to India in a temporary capacity in November 2019 – in favor of Boucher would raise questions about his commitment to transformation and his understanding of CSA’s policies . But it was not as if Smith alone appointed Boucher. The decision would have had to be ratified by a number of officials, most of them black or brown. Calling it racist is clearly wrong.
It is not wrong to get frustrated and angry over the whiteness conveyor belt into the highest layers of South African cricket, where a cradle to grave system mutes some from the real world while locking many out of it. Again, if you are a South African from any social class, you are no stranger to this. If you were born into the right kind of white family living in the right kind of neighborhood and therefore you can go to the right kind of school, you will have to be the wrong kind of cricketer in order not to create a professional career. If you were born into other kinds of families, no matter how talented you are, chances are you will be unfairly denied these benefits. AB de Villiers is the one he is at least as much, perhaps more, because of the misfortune of being born white as he is because of his monstrous talent and his hard work to get the most out of his gifts. And as we have heard on SJN, even a referee son like Khaya Zondo can be frozen out of the white world of cricket because he is black.
Similarly, there are too many whites in cricket top positions. Tooting over the way they got them is not going to change that. It will only make labor lawyers richer. What is needed is to stop the conveyor belt and make it impossible for whiteness to ignore blackness and brownness. The law is on the side of those who want to make it happen the way it should. But let’s momentarily entertain the craze for recklessness. Fire Smith! Brand Boucher! Right. What now? The test series against India starts on December 26th. Good luck.
That kind of myth-making also overlooks the truth that when Smith and Boucher were appointed, cricket in South Africa had bottomed out in every measurable sense. It’s not like they’ve done anything good together. Instead, they helped save it back.
It does not relieve them of their duty to make cricket a better place, whether they are players, coaches or administrators. They do not seem to have been good at that as players. So they have two strikes left; two major strikes. What happens on the pitch is less important than the structures and processes that put these people there. Because real change happens long before it crosses a border, and from there into an important administrative role. What we see from the stands and on our television is the destination, not the journey. How do we get there?
The CSA does a lot to try to provide valuable answers to that question. So much work is being done, with integrity, for the benefit of the game and those who play and follow it. So it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that cricket deserves better than this report. It did not help SJN to do a proper job that Smith and Boucher, after being implicated, chose not to testify in person, but to throw lawyer statements on the issue. It also did not help that Makhaya Ntini, Hashim Amla and Vernon Philander – the game’s giants, as well as black and brown players – did not get involved. There is a word for what the five players chose to do and not to do: privilege.
Many of us have it. That’s what we do with what matters.