Mbalula launches rural sport programme

Sports  Minister Fikile Mbalula came out guns blazing yesterday, accusing those against sports transformation of displaying a “lack of God in their hearts” and warning that the state was going ahead with its plan, like it or not.

“They can insult us but we will not retreat on transformation,” he said. “All peace-loving people who want to see development in the country understand what we are doing. They understand the need for transformation.”

The minister was speaking during the official launch of the rural sports development programme by his ministry at Walter Sisulu University’s Nelson Mandela Drive campus in Mthatha.

Mbalula handed out sporting equipment to more than 21 rural schools and 16 sporting codes identified in the region, encompassing the Mthatha, Ngcobo and Mqanduli magisterial districts.

The programme is aimed at reviving sport and unearthing raw talent in far-flung rural areas, with a special focus on areas under traditional councils and farming communities. So far the programme includes netball, athletics, soccer and rugby for those 18 years and under.

Yesterday the Daily Dispatch reported that sports tournaments were already a common feature in most rural areas, often funded by traditional leaders themselves.

Mbalula recently caused a stir in the sporting fraternity when he withdrew state support for SA Rugby, Netball SA and Athletics SA from bidding to host major international tournaments as a consequence of them not meeting transformation targets they had set themselves.

Yesterday Mbalula described the new programme as a mere “reinforcement” of what traditional leaders had already been doing in areas under their jurisdiction.

He said working with traditional councils they hoped to unearth talent in rural areas for the country’s national teams.

Those with enough promise would be taken by his department to performance-enhancing centres to further harness their talents.

“I am more than convinced there is enough talent in rural areas,” he said, citing the likes of recently-retired Orlando Pirates defender Siyabonga Sangweni and 800m track star Caster Semenya.

The minister said many talented black children ended up drinking their talents away because even when selected to national teams, they ended up warming the bench.

This programme would would put an end to that, once and for all, he said. “The time for that is over now. They will transform, whether they like it or not.”

He said the programme was “not doing you a favour – it’s your right”.

The programme has reportedly received a R300-million grant allocation from the Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Department.

Mbalula said the money would be used to improve sports infrastructure in rural areas such as playing fields. The programme would see rural children playing in tournaments in their respective farming communities and areas under the authority of traditional councils, and would culminate in the National Rural Sports Development Championships next March.

The winners would win sporting infrastructure valued at R1.2-million for their villages. He said more sporting codes would be added to the programme later.

Western Mpondoland King Ndamase Ndamase who, together with AmaXhosa King Mpendulo Sigcawu and several chiefs from across the country attended yesterday's launch, said he was excited as he had to sometimes turn away scores of rural children in his kingdom who flocked to his home wanting to use his home gym gear.

“We have a lot of children who end in taverns because there is no infrastructure for them. But knowing there will be scouts frequenting rural areas in search of promising talent will definitely entice many rural children to play sport.”

Ikhwezi Lokusa Disabled School pupil Vuyo Zongo, who was paralysed playing soccer, was among the children who excitedly received equipment. He said more wheelchairs were needed as he is now in the school’s wheelchair basketball team. —

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