Fikile Mbalula has hit the headlines once again for his extravagant lifestyle, which he likes to shove in everybody’s face. While he has every right to gallivant around the globe and watch a man convicted of domestic abuse, it’s his failure to support grassroots boxing in South Africa that really grates. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
What happens in Vegas most certainly does not stay in Vegas if you are South African Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula. What happens in Vegas gets plastered all over Twitter in the most grotesquely self-aggrandising fashion, and God be with ye who dare question how it is that he got there.
It came as little surprise that Mbalula spent the weekend rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s most famous people. As always, leeching off any opportunity that provides some sort of publicity or attention and carrying out the “recreation” part of his job title with aplomb. It also didn’t come as a surprise that a number of people, including journalists, questioned who exactly it was that paid for Mbablula’s rendezvous. South Africa’s Public Protector recently cleared the sports ministry of wrongful expenditure but added that she hoped “the Ministers take into account that we are a country where children in some rural villages have no electricity, classrooms, science, technology, road infrastructure and even sports facilities”.
Mbalula lashed out at those who asked the question, and has since denied that he spent taxpayers’ money on the trip. Fair dinkum to him, but who did or didn’t pay for the trip is almost beside the point.
What is, and always has been, the issue with Mbalula’s extravagant trips to rub shoulders with the rich is the lack of delivering elsewhere. What would have galled many on this occasion is that boxing in South Africa is falling apart.
Mbalula has on a number of occasions spoken about his love for boxing and how he would like to revive the sport in the country. Yet there is seemingly little being done to actually achieve this. Khayelitsha Boxing Club has not had a boxing ring for the ten years that it has existed and, recently, at a national championship, the team from North West were made to sleep inside a car because they received no funding from the ministry. Imagine the Stormers being asked to sleep in cars when they attend a championship match. It is unthinkable.
Yet this is not a new story. Some of the Western Cape’s boxers have to hitchhike to get to training. Many boxers do not have even the most basic kit, like wraps or training shorts. It is enough to make you sick, and it’s no wonder that when you continuously hear whispers of these stories that people are wondering exactly what Mbalula is doing as his job, and whose budget he is doing it on.
Of course Mbalula has every right to have fun on his personal account, just like the public has every right to hold him accountable for what he does and does not do in terms of his job description.
At the start of February, a group of South African boxers took part in the Premier Boxing League (PBL) and a pay issue arose where the PBL failed to pay boxers the R1.8 million in prize money they were offered. The tournament winner, Xolani Ndongeni, was still waiting for his R1-million pay cheque three weeks ago. The Chief Organiser of the PBL, Mr Dicksy Ngqula, has instead been obfuscating for failing to meet its own deadlines to pay the boxers. Mbalula was mum on this issue.
For somebody who has time and time again expressed his desire to revive boxing and who even brought Floyd Mayweather to South Africa on a “visit of goodwill”, the hypocrisy is galling – and the lack of action at grassroots level is shocking.
In March, South Africa’s Hekkie Budler and Zolani Tete took part in world title fights in England and Monaco respectively, but Mbalula did not bother to support either, despite being in the UK at the time to attend a bid for the Durban Commonwealth Games at the time.
The list of offences goes on. The SABC currently has a boxing blackout because Mbalula and the ministry are locked in a court battle with boxing promoter Branco Milenkovic over rights, and there has been no boxing on public TV in recent months. Furthermore, Eastern Cape boxing has demanded the resignation of the board members appointed to Boxing SA by Mbalula in May 2014. Court battles have followed, and Boxing SA have lost three cases, which meant Mbalula had to appoint a task team to probe the worries of EC Boxing, but no resolutions have been reached yet.
Considering all of this, the frustration of the public is surely understandable, and Mbalula’s apparent ignorance and shallow solutions to assist boxing is what makes this most recent trip so hard to stomach.
In many communities, boxing plays a critical role in keeping the youth out of trouble. It also plays an important part in community cohesion. In East London, South Africa’s boxing capital, boxing is found at every turn in Mdantsane and Duncan Village. It offers many people a way out of poverty and a distraction from reality. In Cape Town, the Khayelitsha Boxing club and the CONNECT Rugby Academy recently took part in an exercise that few would think possible. The Boxing Club, based in Town Two, joined up with players form the academy for a jog from Enkhanini, through Makhaza and Town Two. Under normal circumstances, a kid from Town Two wouldn’t usually go into Enkhanini on his or her own. Together, the team of rugby players and boxers had no problems. The power that sport has to unite people cannot be underestimated, it’s just a pity it doesn’t offer such flashy photo ops, because if it did, perhaps the Minister of Press Conferences would be more actively involved. DM
Daily Maverick article by Antoinette Muller