There aren’t all that many sports ministers in the world as far as I’m aware. So South Africa’s Fikile Mbalula is one of a few.
And thank goodness for that….
I don’t believe I’m being vindictive when I say that the performance of ‘Minister Razzmatazz’, or ‘Mbaks’, as those who love him, call him, would, by most standards, be considered pretty rubbishy.
Frankly, he knows more about blocking people on Twitter than he knows about sport.
One thing I would grant him credit for though – a C+, perhaps – is that he’s enthusiastic. He loves shouting, ‘World-class’, whether it’s after a South African wins a ‘Miss World’ competition – or whether it’s after the country’s Under-17 football team qualifies for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup finals.
This, of course, is charming and good for the national psyche – but also, sadly, full of lukewarm, stale air. Yeah, I know I sound far too patronizing for my own good when I say things like this – even if I were to claim mitigating factors (my big head, for example).
But dammit – we have a problem with Minister Razzmatazz. Ministers of state need to have a bit of expertise too, to complement all the clichés we have become so accustomed to hearing and reading in the various types of sports media.
To be blunt, Mbalula does not have this expertise – even in a low-key portfolio such as sport.
He’s handling of the FIFA bribery scandal – specifically with regard to South Africa’s 2010 bid – has been, well, west of inept. Doesn’t he have at least one communications expert to help him with crisis management? And, when the story broke, did he not consult with other interested parties (in this instance, the South African Football Association) before facing a hostile media?
From what I’ve seen and heard, the answers seem obvious: No – and No again.
And yet, strange as it may seem, my gripe is NOT with the minister. I’ve mentioned him simply because I think he’s been piss poor in this world football saga.
I am much more interested in wanting to administer a collective, written snotklap to the noses of all those responsible for the vomit-scented trail of hypocrisy that is crisscrossing South Africa in the aftermath of the FIFA revelations….
A Gentle reminder
Like most law-abiding citizens, I hate crime and criminals –and I hate corruption.
And like many of my compatriots, I was deeply angered when I discovered that MY taxes were helping to pay for a chicken-run costing more than my house, in the grounds of the living quarters of the South African president, deep in the heart of KwaZulu-Natal.
I know … I know, it has become increasingly apparent that when certain members of South African communities shout out about corruption, it can take just seconds for Jacob Zuma’s name to crop up. But that is a hole he has dug for himself – and he knows what he has to do to get out of it.
So, in the aftermath of the storm over FIFA and South Africa’s successful bid to host the 2010 World Cup finals, the anger over the bribe (or whatever people want to call it), has become interchangeable with the anger over Zuma and Nkandla.
Thus, the line taken by those lambasting football officials and the government has been: ‘What else would you expect? Just look at how the country is being run – and who is running it.’’
For me, this is an attitude based on lazy analysis, political opportunism and arrogant hypocrisy.
Let’s make one thing clear: contrary to what many people naively believe – and which others, who should know better, suggest – post-apartheid governments and sports administrations did NOT invent corruption in South Africa.
The National Party government – and many of those who ran apartheid sport – knew more than a thing or two about the dark arts of graft and bribery….
Rebel cricket tours
A couple of days ago, I watched a 2013 CNN documentary entitled ‘Branded a Rebel – Cricket’s Forgotten Men’. It was the story of how white South African cricket administrators led by Ali Bacher and Joe Pamensky bribed 18 West Indian cricketers to break a worldwide ban on apartheid cricket and to tour South Africa.
The West Indians, led by an enormously popular Jamaican named Lawrence Rowe, were paid between $100,000 and $120,000 each to follow in the footsteps of English and Sri Lankan rebel cricketers in touring South Africa.
The players, who included fringe internationals such as Collis King, Colin Croft and Sylvester Clarke were bitterly criticized for falling prey to the temptation of what the star Windies batsman, Viv Richards, described as ‘blood money’.
All of them were banned for life.
The interesting thing for me was that Joe Pamensky, the head of the South African Cricket Union (SACU) showed no remorse for his union’s shameful attempts to destroy world cricket. He was adamant, even 30 years later, that SACU did what it had to do to give its white cricketers the opportunity to play international cricket.
He also made the strange claim that the West Indian rebel tour helped to break down racial barriers in South Africa. What he didn’t say though was that the West Indies were granted special ‘honorary white status’ while in the Republic (although this status didn’t help one of the tourists, Colin Croft, who found himself being thrown out of a ‘white’ compartment during a train journey. South Africans had heard of a Middle East wanderer who, almost 2,000 years earlier had turned water into wine – but, apparently, it proved too much of a leap of faith for a train conductor to imagine how a piece of paper could turn a black skin into white.
In the documentary too, that sad, sorry man, Clive Rice, cut an inglorious figure as he wallowed in self-pity. He was more interested in lamenting the fact that isolation had prevented him from playing international cricket, rather than acknowledging that apartheid had blighted the lives of millions of black South Africans. The only person who accepted that sporting isolation was necessary to bring about change was Graeme Pollock.
The matches between the West Indies rebels and the white South African team were sell-out events, with the country’s segregated stadiums packed to capacity.
And it is at this point that I’d like to pose a couple of questions to those expressing such acute embarrassment and anger over South African involvement in the FIFA debacle – and advocating jail time for those who allegedly resorted to bribery and corruption to ensure that South Africa won the right to host the 2010 football World Cup….
Did you, or if you were too young at the time, your parents question the fact that that the West Indies rebel cricketers were bribed to come to South Africa in 1983? If you did, what was the response of the authorities to your concerns?
Did you call for Ali Bacher and Joe Pamensky to be charged, tried and, if found guilty, jailed for bribery – because, let’s face it, that’s what they did: they bribed cricketers from other countries to play in South Africa?
I await answers with great anticipation.
The Hypocrisy Party
The story that I found highly amusing simply because of background, past history and the pathetic nature of some of the people involved centered on the actions of those arch-opportunists of South African politics – the tiny Freedom Front Plus. They decided to submit a complaint to the police, asking for an investigation to be launched ‘into the possible involvement of South African government members and sport officials in fraud committed in the bid process for the previous soccer World Cup which South Africa hosted.’
I laughed – loudly – because I remember so well the past history of the Mulders, Corné and Pieter – and, especially, their father, Connie, the Minister of Information in John Vorster’s apartheid cabinet of the early 1970s, who blew millions of Rands of taxpayers’ money in setting up clandestine organizations to sell apartheid all over the world. Included in Mulder’s crazy schemes was the formation of a Committee for Fairness in Sport whose aim was to counter the actions of the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee, Sanroc, which had been set up to work for the isolation of apartheid sport.
My highlighting of South Africa’s less than sparkling record on corruption during the apartheid years does not mean that I believe we should turn a blind eye to maladministration in sport. South Africans must be ever vigilant to ensure that their sporting codes are well run, and free of even the slightest suggestion of corruption.
But what we don’t need is the opportunistic interference of people whose record – whether in sport or politics – does not, and will never, stand up to scrutiny.