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Cricket South Africa needs to hear painful tales of discrimination

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Cricket South Africa’s Social Justice Nation-building project is a necessarily painful exercise, writes Stuart Hess.

Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza is the ombudsman overseeing Cricket SA’s Social Justice and Nation-building hearings. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko/African News Agency

CRICKET South Africa’s Social Justice Nation-building project is a necessarily painful exercise.

Already, in the first week, through what the ombudsman, Dumisa Ntsebeza, termed the ‘scene-setters’ – anecdotes emerged, which left those delivering them close to tears.

Norman Arendse, the former Cricket SA president, who will serve on the new board as an independent director, spoke about how the current generation of cricketers in this country stood on the shoulders of players, who many would not have heard about.

“I’ve played with great cricketers that have never had the opportunity to represent their country. The most recent one, who is my age, is Vincent Barnes. But some of the older players like Lefty Adams, Rushdie Magiet, the late Saait Magiet, Coetie Neethling, Archie Sonn, a beautiful swing bowler, and so many more,” said Arendse.

Zongie Mbekeni, who captained an SA Schools side in 1971 under the auspices of the SA African Cricket Board, apologised for almost crying as he spoke about his disgust with the fact that only one black African batsman – Temba Bavuma – had been selected for the South African men’s national team in 30 years post the unification of the sport in the country.

There’ll be more revealing and painful testimony in the coming weeks, especially around the contemporary, post unity era. That testimony lies at the root of what led to the establishment of the SJN project. Makhaya Ntini talking about not sharing a bus with Proteas teammates in Australia, or Ashwell Prince talking about a lack of opportunities for, in his case very personally, his brother – and others who had what can only be described as horrible engagements, on and off the field, with their white counterparts.

It is a wound that has been too easily plastered over, and as we saw during the Truth And Reconciliation Commission hearings – which Ntsebeza also presided over – the pain of the past will never be entirely erased.

Cricket does need to confront these issues. And in doing so, it will also provide a perspective on post-apartheid South Africa. In making a wider point about development of the sport, Mbekeni mentioned the government.

“We are squealing about not having the infrastructure, not having the facilities,” he said. “There are local governments that are supposed to be doing that and assisting in the sustainability of that infrastructure. Local government has a role to play moving forward.”

Not only local government, but the departments of Education and Sport, Arts and Culture. It’s a problem that the Sports department itself has highlighted through its Eminent Persons Group (EPG) report in the last few years.

However, all anyone ever hears about with the EPG report as it pertains to cricket, is that not enough black players are representing the Proteas.

That, as Max Jordaan, CSA’s head of transformation, explained at the hearings, is dealing with the problem in a superficial manner.

The government, and specifically the Sports Ministry, has done little to address the issues that the report that it commissions on an annual basis has highlighted.

As much as cricket will be pained through the SJN process, so will the South African government be embarrassed. One of Ntsebeza’s legal advisers, Fumisa Ngqele, noted in a question to Professor Richard Calland, a constitutional expert, whose submission dealt with administrative integrity, that the country faced numerous social challenges which cricket alone couldn’t solve.

“We understand that some of the inequalities that exist in the sport of cricket exist within the broader (inequalities) in the country,” Ngqele remarked.

“There are socio-economic disparities that feed into the inequalities in the sport. How do we make recommendations or changes relating to the inequalities in sport when we exist within this unequal society?”

Resolving cricket’s problems, like the country’s, requires honesty and a willingness to do what is right. Ntsebeza can’t be expected to provide those solutions.

However, it is critical that we hear the voices, the pain, because only through that process, can the sport find salvation.

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