Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent
South Africa head coach Mark Boucher has addressed the national team to explain the accusations made against him by former team-mates at the Social Justice and Nation-Building (SJN) hearings. Boucher, along with other players from the 1990s and early 2000s, has been named in several testimonies alleging racial discrimination and an exclusionary team culture and has provided the SJN with a written response. He is also expected to make a public statement and has already explained himself to the team, who have been affected by the SJN proceedings.
"I'd be lying if I said it didn't have an impact on us as a team. It's publicly known that members of the team have been named in the testimonies. Our coach, Mark Boucher has addressed us as a team, speaking to the accusations against him," Temba Bavuma, South Africa's white-ball captain, said. "He provided clarity and context and it was more about keeping the guys in his confidence and comfort. As much as we operate as a team and we try to control everything that is in our circle, those matters do come within the team and it's important that we deal with it internally and ask whatever hard questions that we need to ask of each other to make sure we can keep growing within the team."
Bavuma said members of the current squad support the SJN initiative and hope to use what they have heard to ensure the divisiveness of the past is not repeated. "The large majority of the guys welcome the initiative of the SJN and understand its necessity in terms of allowing current and former guys to speak about their experiences in the past and for us effectively to be ale to learn from those experiences and those mistakes by certain individuals which can help us pave the way forward," Bavuma said. "That's what we've taken out of it as players. As players now, in this era, we have got an opportunity to shape the environment, to shape the team, in the way that we would like so that down the line we don't look back and say we could have done things in a different way. Most of the guys are following the SJN and we look forward to the good of it that is happening."
The SJN will continue throughout South Africa's tour of Sri Lanka, with those who have been adversely implicated due to respond in the coming weeks. Chief among the allegations are that of an overpowering clique of white players and a toxic team culture, which the likes of Roger Telemachus, Paul Adams, Loots Bosman and Ashwell Prince, all spoke about. While Bavuma acknowledged that a poor culture may have existed before, he said the South African team is much more unified now and also more welcoming to new players.
"In 2021, things are very different to the early 2000s. - whether you look at it from an exclusivity point of view or whether you look at it in terms of guys walking into the team and feeing a lot more comfortable," he said. "I can think of when I joined the team in around 2014 or so, it wasn't a big struggle. I would really really like to think that things are different now than they were in the past. In saying that, there is always good in looking at the past and seeing how best we can do things."
Bavuma said the team would continue to keep a close eye on SJN proceedings, which will conclude when the ombudsman Dumisa Ntsebeza submits his report with recommendations for the future to CSA, and will use what they have heard to continue to work on a team culture of inclusion.
"I think the biggest take for me is that you want to create an environment that allows guys to have a strong sense of belonging; that allows guys to be themselves and to express themselves," Bavuma said. "I think there has to be that acceptance. We all have different backgrounds which in turn shapes our perspectives.
"I think being able to put all of that together and have a space where guys can express themselves and their beliefs is something I'd like to leave behind within this team. It starts with having those hard conversations, [regardless of] whether those conversations stem from happenings from outside of the team. We are having those hard conversations as a team. We are putting each in uncomfortable spaces and positions of vulnerability. Not so that we can expose each other, but just to find a better way going forward."