Johannesburg - Once a teacher, always a teacher – this is the best way to describe new Sport and Recreation Minister Thulas Nxesi as he preaches about development.
There is a vast distinction between Nxesi and his predecessor, Fikile Mbalula.
While Mbaks was loud and all about the razzmatazz, Nxesi is grounded and easy-going.
From a distance, the new minister comes across as a softy.
But, judging by what he says, he’s actually firm.
The 58-year-old former school teacher might be new to the job – 30 days, to be exact – but he already knows the ins and outs of his new department.
He proudly says he has inherited a well-functioning unit, which has helped him settle in quickly despite having to hit the ground running.
But he is under no illusions of the task ahead.
“This is a completely different world from where I’m coming from,” says the former public works minister.
“I’m very fortunate that I found a well-functioning department at management level. They have a solid management team, unlike when I got to public works.
"The first thing I did was look for the director-general, the chief financial officer and the deputy directors-general.
"At least there is a better transition this time around, but, of course, these are two different worlds".
Nxesi says people in the department are aware of where they are going and understand their issues.
“I’m talking about the department that has accounted properly in terms of finances – three years of clean audits – and knows all about public management issues.”
However, he says one of the biggest challenges he is facing is the department’s small budget. Last year’s budget was R1 billion.
“I don’t think we are taking sports seriously with that budget – how can we think the department can lead development with such a minuscule budget?
"We deserve more, and my argument is that there is a case to be made at government and public level.”
Nxesi is passionate about transformation and development and says these will be two areas he will focus on.
“We talk transformation, but we do very little in terms of development.
The few black faces in national teams are products of former Model C schools and not of our development structures, where the majority of our people come from.
“There is a very small pool to pick from for national teams and we cannot continue like this”.
He has bemoaned the lack of physical education in the school curriculum, saying it contributes to being unable to identify talent at an earlier stage.
“When I was in the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union, we went to Parliament when there were changes in the curriculum, but lost.
How do you become a healthy mind in a healthy body when you dump everything to do with sport? This is a serious matter that needs a public debate.
Sport is key to social cohesion – look at what happened at the 2010 World Cup when black and white supporters got together.
Since then, we’ve started seeing white supporters attend local football matches because sport brings people together”.
Embark on roadshow
Nxesi believes sport can help fight crime in the country, particularly among the youth.
“Look at what is happening – with crime, we are facing drug abuse.
What would happen if each village had sports clubs and so on?”
He says he will engage with the department so that synergies can be created, but stresses that teachers’ unions should not be left behind.
He says he is unaware of the fight between the SA Football Association and the SA Schools Football Association over who should run school football in the country, but promises to ask pertinent questions when he meets the football controlling body.
After finishing with his internal consultation, Nxesi will embark on a roadshow to about 74 federations to have deeper discussions with them.
He says he is interested in, among other things, transformation, financial accountability and good governance, and he will not back down on these.
“We will have to tighten the screws when it comes to these issues. Everybody must account, no matter how little money there is.”
Nxesi says he will ask tough questions of the federations that have failed to meet their own targets regarding the quota system.
“Let’s see how far people have advanced in terms of the quota system they have agreed to. We are going to be demanding results of the target that they have set. They must explain why they could not meet them.”
On the issue of hosting major international events, Nxesi says that, where there is the opportunity to create jobs, they would be considered.
He believes there is a lot of hidden talent in villages and townships that must be identified.
“There is a lot of talent out there that, unfortunately, has been suffocated, and we need to do something about it,” he says.
Hopefully, he will practice what he preaches before he is redeployed or reshuffled elsewhere.
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