Team South Africa at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi earlier this month looked more European than South African, MPs heard on Tuesday.
National Assembly sport and recreation committee chairman, Butana Komphela (ANC), told the committee this was the view of South Africa’s envoy to India, Harris Mbulelo Majeke.
“The high commissioner said to me ‘that team is too white, make that team come from South Africa’,” said Komphela.
He added: “The team looked like it came from Europe. We are not saying take kids from the streets, but why is there no concentrated effort to transform sport?
“To London (2012 Olympics), send an SA team. The Samoan team looked more South African; ours looked like it’s from the queen,” he said.
Transformation in sport continued to be a thorny issue as the Sports and Recreation Department appeared before the committee to account for its performance for the 2009/10 financial year.
Several MPs criticised the department for not doing enough, while they lauded Absa Bank for its efforts to promote transformation in sport.
Last month, Absa, which is one of the sponsors of the South African Rugby Union (Saru), raised its concerns over what it termed a “serious lack of commitment to transformation”, prompting Saru president Oregan Hoskins to write to rugby unions requesting them to deal with the apparent lack of transformation with immediate effect.
Yesterday, Deputy Minister of Sport and Recreation Gert Oosthuizen gave an overview of the department, but made no reference to transformation.
This provoked the ire of his comrades in the ANC as speaker after speaker raised concerns about transformation and queried the government’s commitment to it.
The ANC’s Corra Dikgacwi pointed out to Oosthuizen: “You have not touched on the transformation agenda. It was so difficult when Absa spoke on transformation. Transformation in sport is reversing,” he claimed.
Cedric Frolick, also of the ANC, congratulated Absa for being “visionary and proactive on transformation”. “When we raise these issues, we are accused of meddling in rugby,” added Frolick.
Thandi Sunduza (ANC) said the transformation agenda was going backwards. “We are unpopular because we ask these questions.”
Another ANC member, Litho Suka, warned that if the ANC did not set the agenda, others would jump on the party’s agenda.
“It should be a concern for the department that we are moving at a snail’s pace on transformation,” Suka said.
“The white paper has been coming for a long time. It should (by now) be a blueprint for the government, the over-arching document and bible for everybody. If the agenda is not set by us, the outside bodies will jump on the agendas of the ANC,” said Suka.
Komphela also criticised the department for what he called “a conspicuous silence on transformation by the department”.
Oosthuizen seemed caught off-guard as he gave vague responses to the debate.
“On transformation, no question about it… We’ve had engagements… We are glad that Absa has also raised it,” he said.
He added that there was a focus on catching-up programmes.
“We’ve asked Sascoc (SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee) to get a charter going with sports federations, and not only focus on athletes, but officials, coaches and staff,” said Oosthuizen.
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa, who also serves on the committee, said Majeke’s comments were opportunistic and masked the fact that his party, the ANC, had failed transformation.
“I am not saying transformation means replacing a white person with a black person; it means that there is a need to develop infrastructure,” Holomisa said. However, there would be no transformation under the current sport and recreation department and its current leaders,
“They (the department) have done nothing. It does not seem as if any training or development of institutions has been implemented. You can ask them for their registers of those players playing at club level, and they will not have it. They have failed dismally.”
He said regardless of the breakdown of demographics, the Commonwealth team was a South African team.
Several Sascoc members were out of the country and could not be reached for comment last night. – Additional reporting by Yusuf Moolla. - Independent Newspapers