An invitation was sent out this week to media to come and have a “Decent Conversation with the Minister of Sport and Recreation SA, Mr Fikile Mbalula, on Transformation”.
The need to put a description on the type of conversation to be had on transformation in sport, and, indeed, on any conversation with Mbalula, was an indication of the hysterical polarisation of reaction to the use of the word “quota”.
Late on Saturday afternoon, HB Kruger, the Team Bonitas rider, sat outside the doping control caravan, filling in a form. He’d just won the final day of the Mzansi Tour, a criterium around the Blue Hills Country Estate in Midrand. Peeing into a cup straight afterwards is one of the post-race duties of winners in cycling. His victory in the downhill sprint had earned him R18123.56, which he would share with his teammates.
He deserved a beer for that, and after five days of hard riding around Gauteng and the Free State, perhaps a bit of a rest. But there was to be no drinking or partying on Saturday night, said Kruger. They had the Emperors Palace race in the morning, a romp around the East Rand and surrounds. The race was won by James Perry of Team Abantu, who had also taken part in the Mzansi Tour, riding for the impressive Nolan Hoffman. Most of the South Africans who had ridden in the Mzansi Tour were there. There was a race to be raced, money to be won and exposure to be gained for sponsors. There are precious few days off in professional cycling. It is the hardest and most demanding of sports.
A group of amused and bemused tourists sat at the bar counter of the Clarens Brewery on the Clarens town square on Wednesday, looked over their shoulder at the maelstrom of pageantry, bicycles and dried sweat that was the end of the first stage of the Mzansi Tour and asked the owner just what was going on. A bicycle race, they were told. They’d gathered that, getting a free Mzansi Tour cap each.
It was the race that is, stage by stage, year by year, giving South African road cycling back what it most needs – an international, UCI-ranked event against teams from around the planet. It fills a gap left by the Giro del Capo and the short-lived Tour of South Africa, a race that was wonderful in concept but could not, sadly, be sustained beyond one edition.
"Surely,” asked a confused citizen on Twitter on Saturday night, “this is a parody account?” Let’s see. Grand, absolute statements, bluster, bombast, war metaphors, party propaganda, populist politicking and the odd insult hidden behind a cellophane façade of razzmatazz and show business. No. Afraid not.
That is indeed the official Twitter account of Fikile Mbalula, the minister of sport, or, to use his official Twitter biography: “Minister of Sport and Recreation South Africa. Member of the ANC. Former ANCYL President. Former ANCYL SG. SA Patriot. Focused. Energetic.”
It’s a sad and thankfully ignored fact that the first Africa-born rider to win a stage and wear yellow at the Tour de France was a doped-up, bare-faced liar. Richard Virenque, who won a record seven King of the Mountain competitions, wore yellow for two days (in 1994 and 2003) and won seven stages was born in Morocco.
He was the sobbing face of the Festina affair of 1998, initially denying he had been part of the doping programme before finally admitting, with Zuma-like logic, that he had done so “willingly but without knowing”. In 2002 when asked if he would dope to win the Tour if he was sure he wouldn’t be caught, he said “yes”.