New sports minister could soon go ‘from prison to Paris’

Gayton McKenzie was announced as the new minister of sports, arts and culture on Sunday. | Ian Landsberg Independent Media

Gayton McKenzie was announced as the new minister of sports, arts and culture on Sunday. | Ian Landsberg Independent Media

Published Jul 2, 2024




On Monday morning, Cape Times readers were greeted by the banner headline, ‘Cyril expands gravy train’, as the newspaper reflected on the announcement of the country’s new Cabinet.

The gravy train is a slang term often used in politics to refer to people or a group who enjoy undeserved privilege or excessive advantages with little or no effort. This has been especially true about many of the country’s previous ministers of sport and other politicians who hardly ever missed an opportunity to be present at many of the world’s leading sports events.

Some politicians may have qualified their presence at world sports events by referring to Nelson Mandela’s iconic appearance at the 1995 World Cup final in Johannesburg. Mandela’s appearance at the final of the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations in Johannesburg was also among South Africa’s most iconic sporting moments.

Mandela’s purpose in attending these events was to promote reconciliation in South African sport.

However, none of the country’s recent sports ministers have a track record of promoting reconciliation. This has not stopped many politicians from taking advantage of their positions and privilege to attend major world sports events – at great expense to the taxpayer.

President Cyril Ramaphosa was in France to lift the trophy alongside captain Siya Kolisi after the Rugby World Cup final in October last year. Ramaphosa’s presence served no purpose.

The same goes for the previous minister of sport, Zizi Kodwa, who travelled to Afcon in Ivory Coast earlier this year to watch Bafana Bafana. Again, there was no need for him to be there, and at great expense to the taxpayer.

Even worse, Kodwa was not known to have an interest in sport but decided to address the team in the dressing room after the match. Many footie fans took to social media afterwards to condemn Kodwa for taking advantage of his position to deliver a hollow, meaningless speech.

Fans were especially riled for telling Bafana Bafana they should play like the World Cup-winning Springboks. He was equally condemned for saying he would like Springbok mentor Rassie Erasmus to coach Bafana Bafana.

The ruling party must shoulder the blame for the poor appointments, and Ramaphosa must bear the brunt of the blame since he’s been at the helm as president since 2017.

Ramaphosa’s appointments of sports ministers have been disappointing. He resorted to cadre deployment regardless of the officials’ interest in sport. This time he appointed someone for the sake of accommodating a political party.

Many South African politicians, including Ramaphosa, have often referred to Mandela’s Laureus address just over two decades ago. Mandela said: “Sport has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”

Against this background, South African sport needs someone who can promote all sports, and who understands it. Sport plays a pivotal role in our society, and promotes the rainbow nation. It deserves the appointment of a person of standing in the sports community, and who would command respect.

Hours after the appointment of Gayton McKenzie as the minister of sport and Peace Mabe as the deputy minister, Sascoc president Barry Hendricks offered his congratulations.

Hendricks said: “I am very pleased with the appointment of the new minister and deputy minister of the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture. We view these appointments as a positive development in an exciting time for sport, with less than a month to go before the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.”

It’s just a matter of time before McKenzie, a convicted felon, will be frolicking in the Olympic limelight, and it will be hard to ignore the temptation of a headline reading: ‘From Prison to Paris!’