Cricket South Africa's Social Justice and Nation-Building (SJN) hearings on racial discrimination in the game began on Monday and will run until July 23, with 58 submissions set to be heard. In his opening address, SJN ombudsman Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza confirmed he had received 11 submissions from what he termed "scene-setters," including administrators and officials, 23 from players past and present, and 24 from cricket unions and other interested parties. Ntsebeza will submit a report to CSA before September 30 with recommendations to prevent future instances of prejudice.
The hearings were initially due to be held in May but were postponed after concerns about the process were raised by, among others, David Becker, who acts as counsel for CSA's director of cricket Graeme Smith and anti-corruption chief Louis Cole, and because Ntzebeza was otherwise engaged at the African Human Rights Court in Tanzania. The SJN Project was initiated by CSA's former board, who resigned in October last year, but has been picked up by the new board which was appointed last month, and hope to use the SJN as a springboard for introspection and change.
"CSA fully supports the SJN initiative. We regard it as one of the most important and significant projects to be undertaken in the 30 years of our existence as a unified cricket body," Lawson Naidoo, CSA board chair, said in his address at the opening of the hearings on Tuesday morning. "The start of these hearing provides a key reset moment for CSA and cricket in general, an opportunity to address the past failures."
Ntsebeza acknowledged that his task is to guide the process of "truth and truth-telling, healing and reconciliation in cricket," and quoted James Baldwin in explaining the pressing need for South Africa, a country governed by legalised racial segregation until 1994, to address the social issues of the past. "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it's faced," Ntsebeza said. "This is a quote from James Baldwin, which speaks to the purpose the SJN Project."
The hearings will include testimonies from those who have suffered racial discrimination, either by written statement on affidavit or oral statement under oath and any implicated person or party will be given notice and afforded an opportunity to respond. The terms of reference of the SJN allow for Ntsebeza to ask for cross-examination at his own discretion and do not require him to resolve any disputes of fact. "The SJN proceedings are not a criminal enquiry and as a result, I will use the civil standard of proof in making my findings. I will make findings based on a balance of probabilities, provided that where a factual dispute cannot be resolved without cross-examination, I may either allow cross-examination, limited cross-examination, or record the factual dispute without resolving it," Ntzebeza said.
CSA will not be involved at any stage of the proceedings, apart from providing administrative and technical assistance.
"Our role as the board is to be good listeners, with an open mind and without preconceived ideas. We have much to learn from this, which will inform our future strategy and interventions," Naidoo said. "It is not the intention of the board of CSA to comment publicly during the ongoing process of these hearings, on the evidence that will emerge. Instead, we will allow the process to take its course without our comment and then consider the ombudsman's report when it is provided to the board at the end of September. This approach will protect the independence, autonomy and integrity of this project."
No former players are scheduled to appear this week but cricket historian and former Western Province CEO Andre Odendaal, former sports minister Ngconde Balfour and researcher Dr Mary Ann Dove, who completed doctoral work into socio-ecological factors in talent development, are all on the list to testify. All hearings will be available to the public, via a YouTube channel.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent