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Cor Rautenbach
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Mbalula’s (Un)sporting Turnaround

09 April 2014, 12:18

Fikile Mbalula once opposed the quota system, now he suddenly supports stricter enforcement. Why would he do that?

New resolutions taken by the Department of Sport following a meeting between Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula and the provincial MECs will force major sporting codes to up the quota system to 60% representation for players of colour.

According to Mbalula, the group decided to increase the 50/50 quota system to 60% representation for sport, including rugby, cricket, netball, athletics and football after noting a "lack of willingness in implementing transformation, especially the enforcement of quotas”.

The department also threatened to block sponsorship, withdraw the colours of non-compliant sporting codes and make it illegal to host sports events without government approval.

This rather surprising announcement came out of nowhere, with many sporting codes unable to comment because they don’t really know what’s going on.

It’s especially surprising, since Mbalula has always criticised the quota system, saying it is counter-productive.

 “We need a single developmental theory for South Africa in terms of what we want to achieve as a country, which at the present moment we don’t have,” he told reporters in 2011.

“You can speak about everything else, but the fundamental question is do you have a strategy ... and South Africa is one of those countries that is all over. It does not have a plan.”

In 2012, the Sunday Times reported  that the ANC was in favour of dropping sport quotas for a performance scorecard to monitor transformation targets.

In a discussion document on transformation in sport since 1994 it was recommended that the department of sport implement grassroots-based initiatives to aid development, talent identification and lead to the eventual abandonment of the quota system.

The report also stated that structural changes should take place within municipalities to streamline the development process.

At the time, Mbalula had argued for the scrapping of quotas, with development focused at school level.

Clearly, then, there’s quite a difference between Mbalula now and Mbalula yesterday. Questions will have to be asked about the minister’s motivations for the sudden change, and exactly how they expect the strategy to yield results.

One wonders how the MECs came to the conclusion that stricter enforcement of a strategy that has been shown to fail will lead to results.

Perhaps Mbalula believes that he can convince everyone to scrap quotas entirely by introducing stricter quotas, then, after repeated failure to produce winning results, claim that it’s unequivocal evidence that the quota system is a failure and get the whole thing scrapped without objection.

The most plausible explanation for Mbalula’s sudden turnaround, however, is a clear political motivation. The objective is not transformation while maintaining success, but bolstering the image of his beleaguered ANC.

At a time when the ANC is under much pressure to prove its performance record, not to mention in need to deflect attention away from allegations of corruptions against its leader close to an election date, sports quotas could be a cunning strategy to achieve short-term results.

While the quotas has proved itself unsuccessful in bringing about meaningful change in sports demographics, it does create an impression of commitment to change which, from a public relations perspective, is sorely needed by the ANC.

Effectively, Mbalula is using South African sport as an election campaign tool for the ANC.

It could backfire, however. The dire results of Bafana Bafana have lead to many black South Africans grasping on to successful “white” sport. More and more black South Africans are unperturbed by the colour of the team, as long as they have a winning team to support. Provided, of course, that promising players of colour aren’t unfairly overlooked to maintain a white status quo.

Mbalula’s strategy could then more than likely only appeal to the more radical elements like, say, those thinking of voting for EFF. It’s also unlikely that such a bold move, irrational as it may be, will cause the ANC to lose any more votes, since those who decided not to vote ANC would already have made their decision based on earlier scandal and lack of service delivery.

With an ANC that’s becoming short on personal pride, the movement seemingly has no qualms about sacrificing national pride to maintain its grip on power.

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