Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent
Graeme Smith's appointment as director of cricket was not irregular but ratified by the Cricket South Africa (CSA) board, and made in the hopes of stopping the organisation's slide as they suffered severe reputational damage in the aftermath of the Thabang Moroe era. Acting CEO Pholetsi Moseki told the Social Justice and Nation-Building Hearings that Smith was courted by former CEO Moroe and his appointment was confirmed by former president Chris Nenzani.
Smith's appointment and the era of his captaincy have been a key talking point of the SJN, with accusations of a toxic team culture and allegations of irregularities in his appointment as an administrator. Moseki, the last witness to testify before the ombudsman Dumisa Ntsebeza, detailed the process by which Smith was courted and then appointed, the entire process ratified by the board at the time.
Smith was named interim DOC in 2019, after Moroe's suspension and Dr Jacques Faul's insertion as acting CEO. While Faul has since conceded that the elevation of several white men to senior positions at CSA created poor optics, Moseki explained that it was not Faul who hired Smith, but the previous CEO and board.
According to Moseki, who was CSA's CFO at the time, Moroe and Smith had been in discussions for several weeks before Moroe's suspension, during which time CSA had advertised and interviewed four candidates for the job, including Smith. In essence, Smith was headhunted, and CSA's lawyer Aslam Moosajee said that did not differ from the process at most corporate organisations.
Before Moroe was suspended, Smith withdrew his interest in the position because "the process was dragging on for too long and Mr Smith got frustrated," Moseki said. On November 14 2019, Smith issued a statement saying he lacked confidence in the administration and no longer wanted the job.
But Smith was re-engaged by Nenzani after Moroe's suspension, and it was Nenzani who persuaded Smith to reconsider. The board then ratified that appointment, in an interim capacity for four months, in the hopes that Smith could help save face in the midst of an administrative meltdown.
"Mr Smith had been a Protea team captain for 11 years," Moseki explained. "He has an extensive local and international reputation which CSA considered quite valuable and might be commercially valuable as well. CSA was in quite a precarious position. There was ongoing political infighting. It's decision to revoke the journalists accreditation was quite a hot potato then, and having lost Standard Bank and with other sponsors threatening to pull out, the reputation of the company was severely damaged. The board believed that Mr Smith's appointment would assist to revive the company's tarnished reputation and would help to revive cricket in South Africa."
The only change from the first discussions CSA had with Smith to the ones they concluded when he was appointed was his salary. Smith had gone from asking for an annual salary of R4 million (approx. US$262,669) to R5.4 million. Moseki said the increase was explained to CSA as being "because he (Smith) is already in deficit, having lost other revenue."
Smith's initial appointment was for four months until the end of March 2020 but he is now permanently engaged as an independent contractor to CSA, not an employee. This is because Smith wanted to leave room for the opportunity to undertake other commitments, such as media work. Initially, Smith's permanent contract contained "a clause that said Mr Smith has a right to terminate the contract on reasonable notice if Dr Faul is not appointed as CEO," Moseki said. "We at CSA were not happy with that and the clause was removed." Smith has since worked under two other acting CEOs, Kugandrie Govender and Moseki.
However, Smith's status as a contractor and not an employee is not the reason he will not give oral testimony to the SJN. Smith has submitted a written affidavit, but is understood to have wanted to wait to see how other respondents - of which Faul has been one - were received at the hearings. With the hearings concluding on Friday, there is no longer any time for anyone else to appear. The ombudsman will have the month of November to compile his report.
The eight-month long hearings have cost the organisation almost as much as Smith's annual salary. ESPNcricinfo understands that CSA have spent R5 million (approx. US$328,337) on the SJN while Moseki confirmed Smith earns R5.4 million (approx. (US$354,000) annually and is CSA's highest paid employee.
The SJN hearings were extended for two months after respondents, including Smith, requested more time to prepare following allegations made by a wide range of stakeholders including former players, coaches and administrators. The entire process has been at CSA's expense, even though they reported a R221 million (approx. US$14.5 million) loss at their AGM earlier this month. However, board chair Lawson Naidoo called the process "necessary," in order to take cricket into the future "It is only by recognising the discrimination in our past that we can chart the way forward."
In his closing address, Naidoo said CSA, "have noted with real concern and a great deal of heartache some of the experiences of those who have testified. What is clear is that some of that testimony, if indeed it is accepted, reflected conduct that has no place in a society based on human dignity and equality. The need for these issues to be ventilated confirms the critical need for this SJN process."
While CSA's board will not comment until after they have received the ombudsman's report, Naidoo identified five critical issues from the testimony that the board have identified as requiring their attention in future. They are:
Naidoo concluded by emphasising the SJN's role in highlighting cricket's biggest issues.