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Sport researcher Ndlovu 'flabbergasted' by flag project

'Minister should invest in grassroots development'

The plan by the ministry of sport, arts and culture to spend R22m on a 'monumental' flag is under review.
The plan by the ministry of sport, arts and culture to spend R22m on a 'monumental' flag is under review.
Image: THE HERALD/MIKE HOLMES

"Unless we get our priorities right, we will not have teams of any kind to celebrate in 20 to 30 years."

This is the warning by sport researcher and director of Sport n Cash, Nqobile Ndlovu, who was a guest on Robert Marawa's MSW show during a discussion about the minister of sports, arts and culture Nathi Mthethwa's plan to install a flag that is projected to cost R22m.

Criticism of Mthethwa in the wake of this announcement has been unrelenting, and Ndlovu, while speaking to Marawa, focused on figures that demonstrate the dire state of sport development in the country, which he said was a result of real issues that face South Africans not receiving priority. 

"We focus on quarters and so on. Sixty percent of primary schools, out of about 25,000 schools, do not have organised sports. Only 7% of kids played rugby, 2% played hockey and only one percent swam in 2019, according to the Eminent Persons Group report.

"Football meanwhile, did not provide a report. I think our priorities in this country are wrong. You have to have kids play. The more you have kids play, the less you have to worry about their skin tone. Create an environment that allows them to go through the system and you will be flooded at the top them. Unless we do that, we won't have anything to celebrate. It doesn't make sense," Ndlovu said. 

He said only 10% of these schools have a sport programme of any kind, which means out of all the kids that are playing sport in the country, "you only have access to ten percent as part of the sporting pool".

"We need to ask ourselves why cricket and rugby in this country continues to produce players, but there are no programmes for football. Football was taken over by Safa, but they could not produce a report because there aren't any school programmes in place. We don't even have to create something new, just go back some 20-odd years back and implement what Steve Tshwete recommended."

Ndlovu said the bleak state of sports in the country made Mthethwa's announcement even more shocking.

"My immediate reaction was shock. I was flabbergasted. It's even more shocking when you compare the budget for that one project, versus for instance, the total budget for Athletic SA (ASA). Their budget is R30m, and here they are, wanting to build, basically, a ring light that's a 100m tall for R22m."  

"I listened to the minister's conversation while explaining the flag's purpose. He said it will remind people of unity, and will also help the steel industry. What the steel industry needs help about? I don't know. They don't need help from the ministry of sports and culture. Others have spoken about Eiffel Tower or the Senegalese African Renaissance Monument. Those were built for specific reasons which speak to the cultural resonance of those monuments. I don't understand what a pole would say to this country. As if we don't have flags at the Union Buildings already," Ndlovu said.

"I would love to get an understanding of who came up with the project plan, it obviously had to go through some kind of parliamentary process. Unless we address real issues, we won't have football, rugby or cricket. We won't even have an Olympic team going to represent us every four years."

Ndlovu and Marawa also touched on some of the funds allocated for pandemic relief that went missing.

"My understanding is that the department had R1.2bn out of their overall budget which they had control of for 2020/21. I think about R100m is supposed to have [gone] to beneficiaries. Where the rest of that money went? I don't know," Ndlovu said. 

Minister of sports, arts and culture Nathi Mthethwa today announced that he has directed his department to review the process related to the R22m flag monument in its totality.

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