Alex kids play rugby, but who cares?

2013-08-04 14:00

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An absence of adults willing to show support for black rugby development does more harm than the lack of transformation, writes Khanyiso Tshwaku

A rugby derby day at a mainstream former Model C school sees a large number of parents doting on their rugby-playing children.

Irrespective of the weather or the day, teachers willingly give of their time to support their school.

By contrast, on a sunny but chilly afternoon at Alexandra Recreation Centre – a rock-hard soccer field with barely a layer of grass, which doubles as a rugby field – Skeen Primary are taking on Ithute Primary in the final round of their school rugby league.

KwaBhekilanga High School’s rugby stadium is still under construction. There are hardly any spectators. The parents one would see at traditional rugby schools are missing. There is no cheering, only the occasional hoot in the background from the multitude of Toyota Avanzas in this 100-year-old township.

Elias Mpenga, the school sports area coordinator of the Under-11 and Under-13 leagues, says they are accustomed to the sparse support, which he puts down to the ignorance of parents and teachers.

“There are coaches allocated to schools, but township schools do not like this sport. There’s no support from the teachers and that’s the biggest problem,” says Mpenga.

“We often play games in the afternoon, but during the June exams teachers keep learners for extra classes. Some do it deliberately, as most of them are soccer people and rugby just does not have a foothold here. They say rugby is a dangerous sport, but I’ve seen equally serious injuries in football.”

Mpenga says the Golden Lions Rugby Union has done its bit to educate teachers about the sport. Thembeka Mpungose, the lone teacher at the match from Zenzeleni Primary, who’s also in charge of the first-aid kit, says she can’t put her finger on the reason for the lack of support.

“I think it’s in Alexandra’s culture not to support rugby. Soweto has a fully fledged rugby team. Here they seem to gravitate more to soccer,” she says.

“The excuse that rugby is a whites-only sport cannot apply now as we moved on long ago from that. Where there is a contact sport, there will be injuries. It’s just a matter of the right precautions being taken.”

In the place of rugby directors, township schools have sports coordinators who run the show.

But in the eyes of Johannes Mokoele, who coaches the Skeen Under-13 team, they are redundant. Mokoele is the captain of the Alex Wolves rugby team and does not teach at the school.

“Teachers just ask for scores. They never come here, which is very dispiriting for the kids. They are judged on results and not on how they played.

“The biggest disappointment is that the sports assistants hired by government are never here. I never saw them throughout the duration of the league, and they know the fixtures.”

Gauteng department of education spokesperson Lesego Masemola says the role of sports coordinators is not limited to the sports field, as they are required to help pupils with homework supervision. But he says there will be implications for those who do not fulfil their duties.

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