Wesley Botton
Chief sports writer
2 minute read
26 Apr 2014
9:00 am

A dusty sand patch on the road to development

Wesley Botton

On the drive south from Joburg to Heidelberg, the small town which my family has called home for the last six years, there's a patch of sand on the right as you pass through the township of Vosloorus.

Wesley Botton.

It’s not an especially unusual patch of sand, aside from the fact that it’s flanked by makeshift soccer posts and it’s almost always occupied by a group of children.

The sand patch has no chalk lines, floodlights, grandstands or change rooms.

The kids who play here, all of whom are black, do not wear boots or team kit. They have no coach, no referee and no promise of ever playing an official match in a recognised league.

Further down the road there’s a school rugby field on the right as you drive past Heidelberg.

It’s coated with freshly-cut kikuyu, lined by chalk and shadowed by a grandstand.

The kids who play on this field, most of whom are white, have the benefit of coaches, league structures and decent facilities.

They are seen wearing proper rugby boots and every child has the same kit as each of his team-mates.

Whether Fikile Mbalula truly believes quotas at professional level are the answer to the country’s utterly disastrous development progress, or if he’s making a noise to gain political advantage ahead of elections, is completely irrelevant.

Quotas will not provide the kids kicking a tattered football on a dusty sand patch the necessary tools to develop skills at a young age.

These talented youths are likely to pick up bad habits as their styles develop, which will always be a hindrance if they are ever included in competitive league structures, while those down the road will be given every opportunity to one day become one of the best rugby players in the world.

While Mbalula points fingers at sports federations, his immediate demands (though he seems to change his mind about the urgency of quotas every few days), will not build football pitches, provide coaches or offer decent facilities.

Government is as responsible as any other entity in ensuring development and transformation in all spheres of our society, and Mbalula does not need to take a costly road trip around the country to engage with politicians, business leaders, federations, athletes and journalists to realise this.

It would be far more productive to sit down with his colleagues at the Department of Education, find the resources and make sure every child in every township in South Africa is given the same opportunities as those in middle-class suburban areas.

Our nation’s transformation problems in sport cannot be fixed by short-term quotas or long-term targets. The solution lies on dusty sand patches in underdeveloped areas and government schools where hidden talent continues to go to waste, as is clearly highlighted in the report produced by the Eminent Persons Group on Transformation.

This column has been repetitive for the last two weeks, but considering the endless jabbering that has become the transformation debate, it seems appropriate.

Forget quotas and targets. Focus on youth development and coaching and we’ll find South Africa’s version of Ronaldo.

He’s not booting a rugby ball in Heidelberg. He’s kicking up dust in Vosloorus.