How inequality affects sports demographics in SA

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Prestige College matric student Retshidisitswe Mlenga won gold in the 200m at last year’s U18 World Junior Championships in Nairobi.

Mosibodi Whitehead

South Africa’s sport industry suffers great inequalities. Just like the greater South Africa, the sports budgets of the “haves” by far outstrip those of the “have-nots”.

A recent World Bank report describes South Africa as the most unequal country in the world. We sit atop a list of 149 countries because the top one per cent of South Africans own over seventy per cent of the country’s wealth while the bottom 60 percent only holds less than ten per cent.

Worse still in the period between 2006 and 2015, South Africans have become poorer with more than half now living below the national poverty line of R992 per month. This means that there are poor South Africans today than there were at the end of Apartheid in 1994. It’s a crisis.

This phenomenon also impacts school sport. Only a few private schools have the resources necessary to produce national quality players in expensive sports such as cricket.

For example, as recently as 2014 a third of players that have ever played for the senior men’s national cricket team have come from just six private schools such as King Edwards, Selbourne College and Bishops.

Racial divisions are further exacerbated by class divisions with the poor, black majority sitting at the bottom of class and race politics.

Transformation of South Africa’s sport in our senior national teams is still slow and highly problematic as it does not reflect the demographics of the country. The schools that mould these young sportsmen and women still look as they did three decades ago and these schools become a sure measure of the demographics of national teams.

This becomes a double burden to a developmental state. In the most unequal society in the world, it is therefore no surprise that sport in South Africa is often the last consideration. When schools themselves are under-resourced, the government finds itself trying to deliver decent education to learners from marginalized communities instead of focusing on sports or transformation of sports at school level.

However, there is hope.

Prestige College provides as an example of what can be done to champion sport in schools with limited means. The college is situated in Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria.

Prestige College, although private, costs a fraction of what a parent can expect to pay at one of the country’s top private schools. However, even with lower costs, the school competes favourably against some of the more well-established traditional cricket schools.

Look at Thabo Motaung who matriculated from Prestige last year. Motaung impressed during both the 2017 Coca Cola Khaya Majola U19 Cricket week and the 2017 Coca Cola Schools T20 Challenge.

After matriculating, Motaung was taken by The Titans, the northernmost top-level cricket franchise in South Africa, and he is now on the cusp of a professional cricket career.

Prestige College able to provide the equipment, nets, cover the travel costs and all the other expenses that a serious high school cricket will incur?

Manus Hendriks who is the Head of the Sport department at Prestige explains how the school is able to provide equipment, nets, cover travel costs and all the other expenses associated with being a serious cricket-playing school.

Hendriks says they use a multi-pronged approach.

The school gets assistance from the Northerns Cricket Union; they get assistance from Cricket South Africa and they are also one of the Department of Sports and Recreation’s national focus sports schools.

Hendricks says the real key to their success is in the support they get from their school principal Mrs. Thana Pienaar and the passion they have for sport.

“She loves sports and she supports us in all the sporting codes and when we struggle to get funds she tries to fund some way or means. We started with this programme in 2004 and we are only beginning to realise the fruits now. What you need is dedication and passion. If you have a passionate teacher or coach, that person will always make a means,” explains Hendriks.

But it is not just in cricket where Prestige College are producing national champions.

Last year, the school produced six South African chess players and their provincial and national athletics champions are just as impressive.

When Retshidisitswe Mlenga won gold in the 200m at the world U18 youth Championships in Nairobi, Kenya in 2017.

He became the first South African to win a national sprint title. His achievements are just the tip of the Prestige-talent iceberg. Following hot on Mlenga’s lightning fast footsteps is Gontse Morake, who clocked 57.81 at last weekend’s SA Youth and Junior Track and Field Championships in Paarl to break Gezelle Magerman’s national youth 400m hurdles record.

Morake praised her coach Reneilwe Aphane saying he should take all the credit.

“Obviously when you have the best people behind you, you know you will prosper. My coach has been inspiring me. He’s there emotionally, he’s been like a father figure. He’s everything,” said Morake.

Aphane is a former national triple jump champion and world class coach who has honed his skills in the US and has now returned to coach at his alma mater.

Aphane’s skills are in high demand around the country. Hendriks reveals that they are only able to afford him because of a partnership with the University of Johannesburg (UJ).

“To keep them is difficult because they also get approached by other institutions, but we normally make agreements with the university. For example, our jumps coach is also coaching at UJ so we make it work.”

So there is hope for sporting success for the 30 million South Africans that live below the poverty line. We only need to use the example set by Prestige College. And that example focusses on partnerships and passion.

The two P’s are more important than money when the goal is to level the playing fields, correct Apartheid’s enduring legacy and produce equal access to quality sport opportunities in the most unequal country in the world.

Mosibodi Whitehead is a sports editor and broadcaster.

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