28 July 2008 - 02:00
By unknown

A huge challenge.

A huge challenge.

This is how Moss Mashishi is wont to describe a task, even the enormous ones he sails through like the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) conference he headed a few years back.

In the 30 minutes he could spare us in the boardroom of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) he'd use this term no less than three times.

But you always get the feeling he's up to the challenge!

One "huge challenge" in his in-tray - before he leaves for Beijing in two weeks - is Butana Komphela, the irascible chairman of parliament's portfolio committee on sport.

The news according to Komphela is that Sascoc, where Mashishi ekes out a living as president, is merely a body "full of whites and Indians who don't understand transformation and lack vision".

But typical of Mashishi and his water-off-a-duck's-back approach, this is not true and Komphela is just being racist and slanderous.

Of the 13-member board only Hajera Kajee and Sam Ramsamy, if it mattered at all, could fit the latter racial stereotyping, while four names could be white.

The rest are Mashishi, Irvin Khoza, Vusi Mgobhozi, Doctor Nkosi, Malumbethe Ralethe - all of Komphela's hue. In cracking his whip, Komphela demanded Sascoc explain themselves before him. They said Nada! Nein! Zilch!

"We have responded to the invitation to come to parliament," says the soft-spoken bossman. "We decided we were not going to publish its content. Should they elect to publish it that's a different matter."

Like he needed to explain why he could only see us momentarily, he says at that hour - late on Friday afternoon: "We are having a board meeting."

A letter to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) "and how we take that process forward" was among the board's issues.

But Komphela's drivel is "just a diversion, to try detract us from addressing the core issues".

"The issue fundamentally is not about transformation," says Mashishi. "It was a particular individual's excessive abuse of power ... The sense that there is a loss of perspective of the limits of authority that Komphela has.

"We are saying we cannot continue in an environment where public racial slurs are being hurled at us."

The issue of transformation is a fundamental challenge that we must address, he says.

Regarding transformation: "No sector can say that they are satisfied with where they're at - whether it's business or professional."

Other than stating the obvious that there's a history of disparity in this country and that that legacy must be addressed, Mashishi says he's not sure what Komphela's gripe is.

He's adamant that, among other things, one of the keys to unlocking the solution is resources.

"Unless we build infrastructure," he says and hastens to make the point that there's a paucity of squash courts, swimming pools and tennis courts in the townships, "if people don't have basic access to these facilities, we are not going to seriously transform those disciplines of sport in the country.

"We are a developing economy," he says, "there's no development that's going to happen significantly with resource contribution by government lagging far behind."

Mashishi says 80 percent of the federations depend on the national lottery because companies with the money always focus on cricket and rugby.

"You can have the best plans in the world but unless you can access the funds, tough luck."

What needs to happen is for all involved to stop throwing stones at one another and put their shoulders to the wheel.

"The fundamental problem of transformation is development. You can't transform without developing. But you must have resources to do that."

He must argue, he says with gusto, that the view that there's resistance to transformation is a diversion: "The issue we are raising is that let's have a debate, a discussion.

"But let's have constructive engagement and create a climate where we can actually listen to each other. Right now we are drowning in noise and abuse. That can't be constructive."

Are you listening, Mr Komphela?

"We are not making Komphela the problem; the problem is his manner of handling issues. He's not treating major stakeholders in sport like ourselves in the manner he should.

"He has to understand that as much as we respect parliament and its authority, we also have rights. And our rights must be respected. It's fundamental and if he doesn't understand that, we are not ready to engage with him."

But is Sascoc equal to the task?

"Sascoc is four years old. We have done in this world what only a few pioneers have done - merge macro bodies under one roof. Only three or four other countries have been able to do that successfully."

They have brought six different bodies together but, significantly, there's been progress. The past three years have been about addressing teething problems, says the man at the helm.

Though it was set up with the approval of cabinet there was no real thinking about how Sascoc was going to be funded, he says. But the Achilles heel has not meant Sascoc could not carry out its coordinating duties. It has done so with aplomb, says the president.

Any medal haul prediction going to Beijing? He says they'd like to avoid this "otherwise you put pressure on everybody".

Athens yielded six medals.

"We'd like to see ourselves improve on this."

With Team SA boasting its very first black fencer in Sello Maduna, the race groups are not yet well represented, Mashishi admits. "But we cannot rest until we arrive at a point where our teams reflect the demographics of our country."

At 45 Mashishi plays golf off a handicap that he wants to keep a state secret. He's no Robbie Hunter but he cycles, with three Argus Tours and two 94.7 races under his belt: "And I finished all of them."

Mashishi is a trained lawyer - Wits University degrees. He acquitted himself well at Deneys Reitz Attorneys, did equally well as the youngest board member of the now-defunct National Sports Council and went back to law, teaming up with old friend Tiego Moseneke .

He left in 95 for Thebe Investments, their leisure division, "and this is when I knew I'd left law forever".

He was the first chairman of Kaya FM and was, in 1999, invited by then minister Valli Moosa to head tourism in the country and within 18 months he'd rebranded it - moving their office from Pretoria to Illovo.

Then came WSSD that had 106 heads of state in attendance: "It gave me a few grey hairs."

With such an impressive body of work, Komphela could not be such a ... huge challenge before Mashishi.

He's an avid reader of biographies and is married to news reader Tsholo Matseke.

They have four children.