As long as it looks good, we’re happy

2013-04-26 00:00

WE are the ultimate window-dressing nation in Africa. Whatever will make us look good we say, do and adopt. We seem to forget that if a person wears clean clothes, without cleaning their house for days, the smell will expose them. Let us look at a few examples.

We are a nation that does not support arts and culture enough, but let us host the world at a sports event and there will be a huge display of all the beautiful arts and culture we have to offer as a proud, united nation. What nobody asks is what sacrifices the artists had to make to even be noticed.

There are hardly any schools that offer an education in music and dance. Usually, parents have to pay for their children to receive an arts education, and they even support other children at times, if they can afford it. The programmes are not compulsory because they are extra-mural activities, which are not seen as necessary. It is a privilege to be able to not only take part in an arts programme, but to be considered for the rare occasions when the country knows you exist.

With sports it is the same thing. Some white people say black children play soccer as soon as they can walk, but the Premier Soccer League matches, save for a few teams, are generally embarrassing to watch. An American exchange student said that watching a league game is like watching a good high-school game, generally. Why is it that our supposed national sport looks nothing like a national sport in terms of the quality of the teams, or the spectator support?

Well, as with most arts and culture programmes, particularly in the previously and currently disadvantaged communities, it is not nurtured in its infancy. While playing has always been a way to learn, even in its most unstructured form, it is seldom taken seriously. So only when the potential is visible does the support show, but it is not always pure.

It is the visibility of the potential for a better life that makes people start to support, a little too late, what could have been nurtured. So, the culture of spectatorship is not nurtured and the discipline needed early in a sportsperson’s life is not instilled. Old dogs have to try to learn new tricks when they finally get real coaching, because the time that is necessary to gain expertise has been wasted learning bad habits.

The solution may be in emulating basketball in the nineties. The short-lived Premier Basketball League (PBL) saw Pietermaritzburg attract the biggest spectator numbers in the country, although our team Tuskers was not the best team. There was a spirit around the sport. NBA basketball was on SABC, basketball courts were built around the city, former white schools with basketball programmes accepted black pupils and competed with township schools that offered the sport. Coaching clinics, tournaments and provincial and national team trials made the sport and its support thrive across colour lines. Why can we not produce the same concerted effort elsewhere?

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