Picture: SYDNEY SESHIBEDI/GALLO IMAGES
Picture: SYDNEY SESHIBEDI/GALLO IMAGES

Former sports minister Ngconde Balfour has added his voice to the denunciation of the Cricket SA interim board’s (IB) controversial decision to pull the plug on its transformation project on the eve of the start of the public hearings.

The public hearings of the social justice and nation building (SJN) project‚ which has been dubbed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of cricket‚ were scheduled to start on Monday‚ but the interim board announced their postponement in a late night media statement on Sunday‚ drawing wide condemnation.

The interim board said it is still committed to the project and is engaging with the transformation ombudsman’s office on the proposed public hearings‚ process and legalities around the hearings.

More than 50 submissions were registered with the office of the Cricket SA transformation ombudsman headed by advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza. They are predominantly from players‚ coaches‚ administrators and stakeholders — past and present — who feel they or others were denied opportunities to prosper due to racial discrimination.

Balfour‚ who served his full term from 1999 to 2004 and stayed on in the cabinet until 2009‚ lamented the state of Cricket SA and cricket in general. “It pains me to see what is going on with sport‚ especially for some of us who came through the ranks of sport in democratic processes‚” said the 66-year-old.

Balfour said he agrees with those who charge incumbent sport minister Nathi Mthethwa with political interference due to the way he has handled Cricket SA’s affairs. “I respect the office of the minister of sport [Mthethwa]‚ because I have been there. But I have never in my life taken a decision that will harm sport on the field.” 

Former Cricket SA director Eugenia Kula-Ameyaw‚ the brains behind the SJN project‚ was scheduled to set the scene with her presentation on Monday. She received a call on Sunday evening to inform her of the postponement. “I’m very disappointed with this postponement‚” Kula-Ameyaw said.

The SJN project and the office of the ombudsman‚ the first of its kind in SA sports and the brainchild of Kula-Ameyaw‚ was established in July 2020. They emanated from the national outcry that followed the Black Lives Matter campaign‚ in which saw Proteas fast bowler Lungi Ngidi was castigated by white former national team players over his stance in supporting the global movement.

The outcry from cricket fans and the greater SA public and broad stakeholder groups that followed triggered many allegations of racial discrimination in cricket from former players such as Makhaya Ntini.

It also led to Ntsebeza’s appointment as transformation ombudsman in August 2020. He was mandated to manage an independent complaints system that will look at the healing‚ restoration and uniting process of cricket players and fans‚ starting with former players.

But the project was put on hold by the interim board shortly after it was appointed by Mthethwa in October. The board said it was seeking legal advice on the legalities of and potential litigation following what was expected to come out during the public hearings.

Kula-Ameyaw said she hopes this postponement is not an attempt to frustrate the SJN project. “The big question is why [postpone] on the eve of the hearing. It’s not for the first time that the SJN project is put on hold. How did they miss what they are picking up now?”

Mthethwa’s spokesperson, Masechaba Ndlovu, referred to the interim board statement when asked for comment. “My latest information is that the IB issued a statement on the matter today and it is not true that they pulled the plug on SJN‚” Ndlovu said.

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