Mark Boucher and Graeme Smith should never have been charged based on flimsy findings from a flawed Social Justice and Nation- Building (SJN) report, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
On Tuesday, Cricket South Africa withdrew all charges against Boucher, the Proteas head coach, ahead of his disciplinary hearing scheduled for 16-20 May.
This came after two key witnesses – Boucher’s former Proteas teammate Paul Adams and former Proteas assistant coach Enoch Nkwe – refused to testify at the hearing.
Without them, CSA’s case collapsed.
While testifying at the SJN hearings, Adams said he had been called “brown s**t” during the singing of a Proteas team song more than 20 years ago. One of the players who sang that song was Boucher, who apologised to Adams during the hearings. (After the SJN process, Adams indicated to CSA’s lawyers that he accepted this apology.)
On Sunday, Adams released a statement explaining why he would not testify at Boucher’s disciplinary hearing.
He said it wasn’t his “intention to single Mark Boucher out” during the SJN hearings as one of the players who sang the song and that “it is not my job or desire to find Mark Boucher guilty or not guilty, and to be cross-examined and turned into the main focus of attention”.
Nkwe’s resignation as Proteas assistant coach in August 2021 was also set to be addressed during Boucher’s disciplinary hearing. Nkwe claimed he had been “undermined” and reduced to being a “cones boy” in a “toxic working environment”.
However, earlier this year Nkwe complained that the matter had become an issue of “Nkwe vs Boucher” when it should have been a “CSA vs Boucher” issue.
According to reports, Nkwe never wanted anyone’s job to be jeopardised due to his resignation and the problems between him and Boucher were mainly because of different coaching philosophies.
The fact that issues surrounding team culture that Nkwe raised with the CSA members council had been addressed by the Proteas and that his input had resulted in a better team atmosphere was reportedly enough for him.
CSA’s embarrassing Boucher climb-down came two weeks after it lost its case against Smith, the former director of cricket.
In the arbitration award, two independent, well-respected advocates ruled there was no evidence that Smith had racially discriminated against Thami Tsolekile during the period 2012-14 when Smith was Proteas captain and AB de Villiers was selected as the Test wicketkeeper ahead of Tsolekile.
They also found no evidence of Smith being racially biased against black leadership at CSA when the director of cricket or that his appointment of Boucher, rather than Nkwe, as Proteas coach in 2019 amounted to unfair racial discrimination.
While Smith feels “completely vindicated” by the ruling, the case still cost him his job. His two-year contract expired at the end of March and he was never going to reapply for a position that had become untenable. (Ironically, CSA and SuperSport are now sounding Smith out for the role of tournament director of SA’s new T20 franchise league.)
CSA board chairperson Lawson Naidoo has said the board had little choice but to charge Boucher and Smith after receiving the SJN report in December. But legal experts at the time said the report was flawed and the accusations against Boucher and Smith flimsy and tenuous.
Former ICC head of legal David Becker, who represented Smith, expressed his concern when the report was released that some far-reaching findings were labelled “tentative” by the SJN ombudsman, Adv Dumisa Ntsebeza.
“Respectfully, how can a finding of racism, for example, be ‘tentative’? Either it is a finding, or it is not a finding,” he said. “If it is tentative, this report ought not to be accepted in its current form.”
Yet, it was accepted by the CSA board, which opted to charge Boucher and Smith in what appeared to be a political witch hunt. While both men have been cleared, the stain of being called racist will likely remain, or at the very least, take a while to wash out.
After the withdrawal of charges against Boucher, CSA CEO Pholetsi Moseki said: “CSA appreciates that it has been very difficult for Mark to deal with these charges hanging over his head over the last few months. CSA regrets this.”
However, expressing regret is not enough. Moseki – and CSA – need to go a step further and offer both Boucher and Smith an apology for what it put them through.