A power play rooted in legal might has derailed a noble and necessary process in the Social Justice and Nation Building hearings. Now testimony is leaking, and compounding racial tension in South African, laments RYAN VREDE.
The hearings were due to begin on Monday. A number of current and former black professional cricketers would have provided public testimonies on their experience of discrimination within the country’s cricketing structures.
Instead, CSA sent out a statement on its postponement that couldn’t have been more vague just 12 hours before the set start. It explained that ‘…the Board and the Ombud are eager to ensure a fair and transparent process for all who participate in the proposed hearings.’
The Ombud, Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza, added: ‘The process is on track, however it has become clear that there needs to be clarity regarding the process of any public hearings. Failure to do so may compromise the legitimacy of any process embarked upon.’
The process was always already under pressure from a subsection of South Africa’s cricket fraternity, who perceived it to be a witch-hunt against white players and officials. It didn’t need the added complexity of a postponement that is widely thought to be designed to suppress or dilute testimony that may reflect poorly on current and former high-profile figures in South African cricket.
The CSA statement asserts that all parties are committed to the hearings happening. But it already feels like the integrity of the process has been compromised, rendering a noble and necessary process dead before arrival.
The players and officials who’ve testified know this, and understandably don’t want their stories to swept under the carpet – which is a legitimate concern given the looming threat of legal action from those implicated in the testimony.
In a bid to ensure their voices are heard and experiences recorded in the history of South African cricket, black players and officials, or their surrogates, have started leaking their testimony to the media.
Removed from the context of a formal public hearing, devoid of tone, verbal and non-verbal cues, and stripped of nuance, these leaks land like lead balloons, particularly to the minds of those who have convinced themselves that there is a coordinated conspiracy to target whites in South African cricket.
Indeed, for these people, a cricketing genocide is underway, one that aims to eliminate whites from the game. For them the SJN hearings were just another thinly-veiled step in this cricketing genocide.
The truth is very different. The hearings were intended to be a platform for black players and officials who have felt discriminated against on racial grounds, to tell their stories.
They may yet get the opportunity to do so, but one can be certain that, owing to the threat of legal action for any claims that are determined to be defamatory because of insufficient supporting evidence, those stories will be heavily redacted. The more likely scenario is that they won’t be heard at all, given that their experiences of discrimination most often involved subtle undermining, sidelining or compromising in scenarios where corroborating witnesses where either absent, reluctant to support those telling their stories for fear of professional consequence, or simply complicit.
In the absence of legally-protective evidence, only the bravest would risk legal exposure. Those who fear for their professional futures have accessed their legal power to protect themselves, while those who lack that power have covered themselves by telling those stories anonymously.
It is a mess.
I don’t know what the solution is. Of course the testimonies must be tested for truth and credibility. One shouldn’t allow those testifying to implicate (former and current) players or officials in acts of racial discrimination and/or blatant racism without supporting those accusations with evidence.
But, again, one of the defining characteristics of discrimination in a professional setting, like the one in question, is that it is more often subtle than it is a hammer blow to the head, and provable in pattern and practice.
For this hearing to go ahead, those testifying publicly won’t be able to name those they perceive to have wronged them. This is unless they bring legally-admissible evidence to the table. What then is the point of it all?
It was doomed from the start. The CSA Interim Board are comprised of an intelligent group of individuals. Its hard to believe they didn’t know the process would be derailed in this way. It’s easier to believe that the optics of setting up such a hearing made for great transformation public relations.
This process in its indeed form is dead. The testimony leaks will continue. They may ramp up as more black players and officials realise they will not be able to speak out publicly. White players and officials won’t have any formal way of defending themselves, further compounding racial tension in the game.
A process meant to heal, will only hurt more.