Mbalula adds bite to bark

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

A month before the 2014 general elections sports minister Fikile Mbalula hit the headlines when he demanded that 60% of all SA’s national teams be generic black or face being banned or having their funding suspended.

Less than three weeks later he recanted: “I am not imposing a 60-40 quota on anybody.”

The elections came and went, and Mbalula’s threat was widely dismissed as a bumptious bit of bluster made against their backdrop.

South Africans will go to the polls again on August 3, this time in municipal elections.

Can it be coincidence, then, that Mbalula was at it again at the release a report from the Eminent Persons Group on Transformation in Sport (EPG) in Pretoria on Monday?

Maybe. But this time he put some bite where his bark was by banning SA’s athletics, cricket, netball and rugby from bidding to host major tournaments until they have met the transformation targets they set themselves in signing memoranda of understanding with the ministry.

The details of those memoranda have not been made public, but in releasing the report a member of the EPG, Willie Basson, referred to a target of 60% of players of colour. SA fell short of that mark by 5%, hence the punishment handed Cricket SA.

Jacques Kallis was among the least vocal of cricketers during his playing days, but Mbalula’s actions got his goat.

“So sad that I find myself embarrassed to call myself a South African so often these days,” Kallis tweeted. “No place for politics in sport.”

Perhaps emboldened by the criticism Kallis received in reply – some of it wondering out loud why he had not voiced any embarrassment about playing in majority white or all-white teams purporting to represent an African country – Mbalula responded: “I have no respect for the view expressed by Jacques Kallis. It’s about redress and equity. Not politics.”

What Mbalula did not say is that cricket could have been worse off. Among the punitive actions he could have taken were to “withdraw government’s recognition of the particular federation as a national federation” and “withdraw the federation’s opportunity to be awarded national colours via (the) SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee to players who participate under the auspices of that particular federation in order to represent the republic internationally and nationally”.

In short, the minister has the power to shut down cricket or any other sport. That has not happened. Yet.

But since the 2015 World Cup the most players of colour SA have fielded in a single match is six, and 60% of an XI is 6.6.

Who knows what will befall SA if they again come up short of the mark. The next general election is scheduled for 2019. Perhaps we’ll find out then.

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