Defend Truth


Criticism of Cricket SA over Graeme Smith misses the point


Lawson Naidoo is the chairperson of the CSA board and Steven Budlender SC is the lead independent director.

Articles which now use the Smith arbitration award to claim CSA must be ‘punished’ because it ‘badly manhandled’ (sic) the Social Justice and National Building process and ‘hounded’ him out of his job completely miss the point and are factually wrong and unfair.

There have been a number of ill-informed and mischievous articles written in the aftermath of the arbitration hearing into the former Cricket South Africa (CSA) director of cricket Graeme Smith.

We recognise that as the governing body, CSA needs to be both accountable to the public and willing to accept criticism. However, any evaluation of how CSA has handled its responsibilities needs to be fair and accurate. In this respect, a full appreciation of the context, including the background facts and the sequence of specific events, is essential.

So, while it is true that Smith was exonerated of allegations of racism, and CSA unreservedly accepts the outcome, it seems that certain commentators now want to lay a high degree of blame at CSA’s doorstep for initiating this process. In doing so they either fail to understand the context or neglect to recognise the precise sequence of events.

These commentators completely ignore the key facts.

  • First, the Social Justice and National Building (SJN) process was not initiated by this board but by a predecessor board in late 2020. The SJN process was conducted during the time of the present board, but was deliberately and for good reason run entirely independently of CSA and its board.
  • Second, the commentators fail to take into account that in the SJN report of December 2021, the ombudsman, advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza SC, indicated that he was not in a position to make “definite findings” and specifically recommended that further processes be undertaken to fully address the allegations heard by him. Once that was so, the board was obliged to institute further formal inquiries into CSA employees, suppliers or contractors who were the subject of the “tentative findings” in the SJN report.

What precisely do the commentators say CSA should have done in the face of serious, albeit tentative, findings of racism against Smith and others? Is it really suggested that CSA should have ignored these tentative findings of racism or rejected them itself without a formal process?

To do so would have been a dereliction of duty and hugely counterproductive. It would have left hanging over the head of South African cricket serious but unresolved questions of racism. It would certainly not have been in Smith’s interests — which is no doubt why he welcomed the opportunity to clear his name via the arbitration — or in CSA’s interests or in the interests of South African cricket. Now there is clarity and, we hope, closure all round.

As we seek to direct and oversee the rebuilding of South African cricket and its governance, it is imperative that all necessary steps are taken to fix all that was once wrong and remains wrong with the game. We cannot simply ignore what has happened in the past and pretend that it did not happen, or sweep it under the carpet. If allegations have been made or evidence adduced about past wrongdoings, especially in relation to race discrimination, they must be addressed.

Equally, if any testimony has not been genuine and honest, we need to know that too. As a new broom, we know what we must sweep clean — the SJN and the follow-up inquiries will help us determine what action needs to be taken for the long-term good of the game. Hence, it is important that any independent inquiry first tests all allegations before any question of sanction can arise — and that is precisely what has happened in Smith’s case.

Due process has protected him and his rights, while also safeguarding the reform and rebuilding process that we are leading. For example, both the SJN report and the arbitration award in Smith’s case raised concerns regarding the process of appointing national coaches. We are now armed with the requisite facts to fix this for the future, in line with our mandate to ensure cricket is run with the highest standards of governance and ethics.

By the same token, no one can deny that genuine stories of hurt and discrimination were shared at the SJN hearings. Who could forget Omar Henry’s harrowing tales of being shunned during apartheid, of how he was ostracised from coloured cricket structures for daring to watch cricket at a white ground, of his pain at non-selection as the only non-white player at the 1991 World Cup. He wasn’t the only one discriminated against. Some of the structural challenges relating to the treatment, accommodation and support of up-and-coming provincial cricketers were telling, so too were claims of isolation and loneliness, racist name-calling and songs, and a lack of facilities for young black players.

This is why CSA’s new board has a moral and ethical duty to see this process through — whatever criticisms might be advanced against it — and we are glad we did. To have failed to do so would have caused great harm. Commentators need to weigh this consideration carefully in the balance.

Articles which now use the Smith arbitration award to claim CSA must be “punished” because it “badly manhandled” (sic) the SJN and “hounded” him out of his job completely miss the point and are factually wrong and unfair.

Any employer focused on what is best for their organisation has a responsibility at a minimum to investigate serious allegations against their employees. The consequences for doing nothing far outweigh taking active steps to investigate such serious allegations, especially when made against senior employees. Merely initiating such a process can never be equated to a “witch-hunt”, or “hounding” that employee — not least because a sanction such as dismissal would only arise if the allegations are found to be true. That was the whole idea behind the process.

This is especially so when CSA took such pains to appoint highly skilled and credible independent advocates — such as Ngwako Maenetje SC and Michael Bishop — to conduct the Smith arbitration.  The appointment of such persons makes it absolutely clear that there was and is no “witch-hunt” or attempt to “manhandle” anything.

Lastly, while it is true that Smith’s fixed-term contract came to an end at the end of March 2022, this would have been the case even without the SJN process and arbitration — that was the termination date of the contract as signed. Smith was entitled to seek to reapply for the position, but elected not to because understandably, after more than two years in the job, he wanted to seek new challenges in the commercial and cricket worlds. As CSA has made clear in the days since the arbitration award, we very much hope that he will still work in the cricket world in appropriate capacities going forward.

The repeated attempts to diminish the value of the SJN process indicate a lack of understanding of the genuine hurt and trauma faced by many black players within the cricket system in the past. Those experiences only surfaced publicly via the difficult process of conducting open and fair hearings through the SJN hearings. This is an essential element of the context, which is often conspicuous by its absence in some of the recent commentary and news reporting.

The process of conducting open and fair hearings through the SJN hearings was an important building block in a root and branch rewiring of South African cricket. Indeed, it was long overdue. It is equally imperative the follow-up processes are impartial and respected so implicated parties can be heard and their defence tested in a fair way.

However difficult certain aspects of the SJN may have been, this was a necessary initiative to address and rectify the misdeeds and tribulations of the past, to steer the game of cricket to be inclusive and accessible to all and to thus make this a game we can all be proud of. DM


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All Comments 19

  • You are contradicting yourself in your own article – blatantly!

    You can’t say “advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza SC, indicated that he was not in a position to make “definite findings” ” and then subsequently indicate that you acted because of “[tentative] findings of racism against Smith and others”.

    Should you not have investigated further before hauling Smith before a commission and formally charging him? Ridiculous!

    • Totally agree with you. Investigate first before you trash somebody’s reputation in public.
      I agree with other comments too! Time to move on and fix the debacle that has been the SA cricket board for so many years and squandered so much money, talent and public trust.
      Instead of protesting so much, tell us what you intend to do to bring the SPORT (not the politics) of SA cricket back where it should be???

  • “Smith was entitled to seek to reapply for the position, but elected not to because understandably, after more than two years in the job, he wanted to seek new challenges in the commercial and cricket worlds.”

    Do you really believe that? What about the breaking down of the relationship between the board and him as a result of this debacle?

  • We shall see where these priorities of the board lead to and how our team will function once Smith and Boucher are out of the picture. The test team and the one-day team have showed spunk under Boucher and made us proud by their winning ways. I fear this will be the end of that, winning will be a thing of the past and the remaining sponsors will find other interests. Players will probably also seek other pastures. This is a repeating phenomenon where the board actually undermines the players at critical times with their racist agendas and interventions. We need people with cricket credibility to lead cricket in South Africa. Both Graeme and Mark have loads of that and losing them because of racial agendas is sad and destructive. I want to say “Stupid is as stupid does” but I should probably refrain from saying that out loud.

  • You were playing politics,and you lost.Lies were put on paper,you swallowed it, put it in the public domain.Then Smith was fully exonerated.You alienate the public,we can smell a witch hunt when we see one.The public knows what it is about.Those lucrative post with the renumeration packages!!!Thankyou for making us loose all confidence in you

  • It is how you went about this that makes you the person that you are. Vindictive, ill timed, targeted… what about all the other allegations in the SJN and the hijacking thereof by those banned for match fixing.
    Boucher and Smith are here to build cricket SA, allowing the continued development of world great players such as Rabada, Maharaj, Peterson, Bavuma… juxtaposed to your needing to destroy the builders of cricket and push them out just because of the colour of their skin. You mix in politics with ill timed instructions and political interference… all about you Lawson… go ask Justin Ontong how politicians cause hurt and pain.

  • This attempt to deflect the results of poor decision-making reflect so much of what is wrong in CSA, and in South Africa. ‘Actors’ involved will talk about procedure, and it being necessary to follow the steps laid out. They will weave in sound bites about fairness and the importance of taking seriously racial incidents, regardless of how long ago and how discredited the person. And then they will say that they are ‘obliged’ to see something through that mustered ‘tentative’ findings and regardless of the criticisms against it. People like this display a veneer of professionalism that commentators and less critical observers will accept. But in truth they cannot fix anything. It’s not the outcome but the process that matters. The goal is not excellence but perceived fairness. Committee decisions are always preferred to real Leadership. The consequence is that the best talent will head for alternative opportunities. Proteas alumni are now scattered across the world in some of the best positions in the game, but of the two that still hung on and gave everything to the local game (after being asked to do so) we’re down to one. Lawson and his Board should think about outcomes. To sports fans it’s the results that count.

  • “ to steer the game of cricket to be inclusive and accessible to all and to thus make this a game we can all be proud of” – no, what you’ve done is steer it into the bin. But then, it’s no different to anything else in this beleaguered country.

  • At para 119 of the award the arbitrators said “… Second, the case that was ultimately presented by CSA differed markedly from the case that was pleaded …”. And at para 129 “… The case based on omission is plainly a different case from the one Mr Smith was asked to meet …” So when CSA’s pleaded case is failing, an attack from a new unpleaded angle is launched. That smacks of hounding Mr Smith and a witch hunt; it sounds like “get Smith at all costs”. And it was the current CSA board that was in charge of the running of CSA’s case in this arbitration.

  • Not very convincing excuses from Naidoo and Budlender. Too many “non-cricketers” on the Board. How about trying to get the views of Andrew Hudson, known to be a very ethical person and one of SA’s cricket greats, and also a Board member. Also as far as I am aware some at least one of the “accusers’ have been found guilty of matters such as ‘match fixing’. Some others do not seem to be too clean as well. It would serve CSA right if Graeme Smith institutes a massive claim for institutional damage. Also a possible scenario looms – Peter Kirsten and Mark Boucher as the new England coaches, whilst CSA shoots itself in the foot.

  • Nothing here to make me change my mind about this pitiful farce. Badly conceived and badly managed. Start to finish

    The big problem… CSA is going to find it impossible to employ people with the skills needed to take the sport into the future. Any white person with the requisite skills would be insane to stick their necks out after this disgraceful episode

  • The basic tenants of any process, complete the investigation before making aspersions, claims or charges against anyone. Same principle with unprotected disclosures, those who make these unsubstantiated claims should face consequences, you cannot trash somebody’s reputation ad walk away scot free!

  • The only way for forward for the “Moral and ethical” CSA Board is to do the honourable thing and all resign. Unfortunately the “NEW” CSA board did get the outcome they wanted from day one – Smith out. Next step get rid of Boucher. The CSA Board should I repeat resign. There are far more qualified personnel with cricketing backgrounds who are more competent to deliver on the mandate of cricket for all South Africans
    PS no supporter likes a losing team just ask any Bafana supporter

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