LIMPOPO, South Africa — South Africa was banned from international sporting participation starting in 1963, due to the fact that professional sports were reserved only for the white race under the apartheid system. The ban was lifted in the early 1990s during the talks that led to democracy. But it was not just the ability to play professional sports that black South Africans were deprived of during apartheid. Facilities such as stadia, swimming pools and sporting arenas in townships and rural areas, where most black people lived, were either severely dilapidated or nonexistent.
Today, after 20 years of equality in South Africa and the nationwide growth of the sport industry, one wonders if there are sporting facilities for rural people and, if so, what condition they are in in rural settings such as Limpopo.
In many places around South Africa, Testimony of the country’s sporting prowess and state of the art sporting facilities were displayed in the country’s hosting of several international sporting events, such as the soccer World Cup, the Rugby World Cup and the Cricket World Cup, among others. The sporting facilities that South Africa boasts also include state of the art sporting academies that nurture promising stars. It is no surprise, then, that South Africa excels in sports and has, on occasion, won on the world’s stage in such events as swimming, soccer, rugby and cricket.
But, with the exception of soccer and a few other activities, most successful professional athletes are white citizens. The black sporting community consists mostly of athletes from metropolitan areas. Very few athletes who reach stardom are from rural areas, and those that have reached prominence are in sports that do not rely on elaborate sporting facilities, such as long-distance running.
But there are a handful of sporting academies and recreation centers that are working to change this. As such, approximately 150 kilometers outside the city of Polokwane is Botlokwa, a rural village in Limpopo. The village is home to the Molemole Sporting Academy, a sporting excellence institute founded by Thomas Mulaudzi and specialising in soccer and netball training. The academy became operational in 2010 and has approximately 120 athletes on its books.
“Our only source of income is monthly payment from the athletes as part of their membership contributions. Currently, we have partnered with nearby high schools, and we use some of their facilities for our sporting programs,” says Mulaudzi.
You could be easily forgiven if, on first sight, you thought that the academy was a deserted old building. There is nothing to marvel about in the area. The administration buildings are old and look as if they need painting. There is no gym, fitness center or state of the art sporting equipment. In fact, there is no sporting equipment at all. The football and netball pitches are nothing more than dusty land with goalposts. The appearance of the academy’s facilities is a far cry from the world-renowned sporting academies in urban South Africa. Mulaudzi acknowledges this, saying that “our day-to-day challenge is financial capacity to put facilities in place.”
“In terms of recreational and sporting services, most of the local municipalities are failing the community, more especially in the rural areas, where there are no facilities or a municipal department that facilitates sporting programs,” he says “ Most of the academies in the country are informal with limited resources, where the workers are understaffed and the financial capacity is very limited, leading to very poorly run institutions. This is the reason why we set up the academy: to start up something. Even though it is not much, it was something.”
It is little wonder that out of the six rural sporting academies in the local Limpopo Yellow Pages, we found out that only one, the Molemole Sporting Academy, was operational. Investigation also revealed that the number of sporting academies in rural Limpopo is very low and that those that were operational offered poor services, if not substandard sporting expertise and amenities.
Perhaps Thomas’ observation best fits the situation: “If infrastructure is there, although this is seldom so, it is poorly maintained. Some local authorities have red tapes and political challenges, which makes it very difficult for the community to access these infrastructures. In terms of recreation, most of the local municipalities are failing the community, more especially in the rural areas, where there are no facilities.”
In 2013, South Africa, through its Ministry of Sport and Recreation, made available about 2 billion rand (about $187 million U.S.) for sport and recreation infrastructure. It seems that a large part of these funds is used to sponsor sporting competitions and very little is actually channeled toward the maintenance and/or construction of sporting facilities in rural areas, such as the Molemole Sporting Academy.
In a 2013 speech during the Budget Vote in Parliament, Minister of Sport and Recreation Fikile Mbalula said, “Of the current-year allocation of 1,073 billion rand, 73 percent of this amount, which is 815 million rand, is transferred to provinces, municipalities and sports federations. Therefore, only 258 million rand will be utilized by the department for all its activities, including salaries.”
The minister further described the budget allocation as “these limited resources at our disposal.”
It is unfair to say that democratic South Africa has done nothing. Yet is also wrong to say that significant strides have been made. Successful athletes in South Africa still are largely white citizens, and the main sport where most black athletes make it big is soccer, as well as a few other sports that require very little in the way of sporting facilities. Most successful black athletes utilize sporting facilities in urban areas.
Sporting academies in rural areas are almost nonexistent, and those that are operating, such as the Molemole Sporting Academy, are more of an idea than a standard sporting institute. Molemole lacks medical facilities for sports, talent identification systems and sports technology equipment, to mention just a few of the elements that make up a professional sporting academy.
The funds set aside for sports in South African may be inadequate for the uplifting of rural areas and previously ignored social classes, in terms of modernizing and constructing sporting facilities so they are on par with facilities in urban areas. So even though most of South Africa’s budget on sports is directed toward supporting grassroots development, making sporting facilities and expertise available in rural South Africa, and giving rural youths a chance to become professional athletes, has not been successful.
In addition, commercial enterprises that sponsor or construct sporting academies do this in South Africa’s urban areas. Such activity is not prevalent in the rural areas. It is sad to say, but the chances of becoming a black world champion swimmer, tennis player or rugby player from rural South Africa, though possible, are very slim.
Yet it is also important to acknowledge that South Africa has major social ills, such as high levels of unemployment, the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world and high poverty levels. As such, priorities demand that such issues be addressed first before other inequalities, such as access to sporting facilities, can be dealt with.
Mulaudz strives to make sports accessible to deprived youth. No doubt, there are several more like him throughout rural South Africa. Give credit to democracy, in that it has given young any discrimination.