Banyana Banyana go up against Sweden at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on August 3, the day of our local elections. When the players take to the field, they will be underresourced and neglected – much like the rats-and-mice political parties struggling for our attention against the dominant players on election day.
It will be a feat if the national women’s soccer team get to their second consecutive Olympics at all. A month ago, coach Vera Pauw put out her begging bowl. Appealing to Fikile “Mr Razzmatazz” Mbalula to extend a financial lifeline to women’s soccer, she said: “My big call is to the minister of sport. Help us – not afterwards, not at an awards ceremony. Instead of awards, help us prepare.”
She said the team had already lost five weeks of preparation because of a lack of funds for a national camp.
Since then, football association Safa was reportedly due to give the team a few million rands to at least complete their preparations, and test their skills in friendly matches.
The team has soldiered on, clutching on to support from solo sponsor Sasol, which created a league in 2009 to nurture women’s football from club level upwards.
Despite disparities in funding and development compared with men’s soccer, Banyana have not performed badly. Ranked a few notches higher than Bafana, the team has produced superstar Portia Modise – the first African to score more than 100 international goals. She delivered a 41m wonder strike for Banyana in the 2012 Olympics before retiring last year.
Imagine how the quality of women’s soccer would improve if sporting bodies did not just pay lip service to equity; if they supported a proper professional league with sponsors and live broadcasts.
But from my narrow experience as a soccer mom, transformation and development need to begin at school level. My daughter, Ella, had the opportunity to learn soccer six years ago, but it was during a one-year family stay in the US, where girls’ soccer is taken seriously and is paying off, with the US women’s team the current World Cup champs.
In South Africa, girls’ soccer is an afterthought on most school calendars – if offered at all – and an also-ran at award ceremonies. Even when a school shows commitment, as is the case now where Ella, aged 14, plays defence for her high school’s only girls’ team, it is a battle to find competitive teams for matches.
But the girls press on with passion and gusto, just like the Banyana women who, at 6pm on election day, will give their all for their country.
Even if the powers that be fail them, there is time for us to get behind them.
If Parliament wants to avoid being upstaged by 6% of the members in the House who are spoiling for a fight, it needs to up its game.
For one thing, it could ensure that the format is relevant and current, especially when it comes to holding the slippery executive to account on urgent matters of the day.If Parliament wants to avoid being upstaged by 6% of the members in the House who are spoiling for a fight, it needs to up its game.
When Parliament rose this week for an extended constituency period that will last until after the local elections on August 3, it missed an opportunity to put mechanisms in place to do just that.
While a committee that revised the rule book for the National Assembly tightened up measures to deal with unruliness, it failed to deal decisively with the unforgiving reality that 48 hours – not a week – is an aeon in South African politics.
In terms of the rules, for instance, MPs need to submit questions for President Jacob Zuma at least 16 days before he takes to the podium for oral replies, and at least nine days before Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa replies.
The yawning time lag means that the executive not only has an inordinate amount of time to sculpt answers and prepare for possible supplementary questions, it also means that by the time of the actual response, the question has all too often lost relevance, or the answer has been recycled so many times that viewers have switched off the parliamentary channel – in the absence of live-action tussles courtesy of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and parliamentary bouncers.
The failure to introduce oral questions without notice was one of the reasons the DA kicked up a fuss in the rules committee – belatedly it seems – on the day the report was approved this week.
The new rules, which have been undergoing revision by the committee for more than two years, were subsequently passed by majority vote in the National Assembly on Thursday.
So, for now, the country is stuck with a fragile Parliament and a stale format.
This was evident when Ramaphosa presented his oral replies on Wednesday. He delivered his memoirs of a trip to South Sudan – 10 days earlier – and reported back on a gathering of the World Economic Forum in Kigali that took place before that.
A question about the abuse of food parcels for votes came 20 days after the Public Protector’s report had been released.
The EFF escaped this plenary and other goings-on this week after being forcibly removed and suspended during President Zuma’s oral replies the previous week.
By so doing, the young rebel party had the last laugh, even in its absence.
While MPs of other parties – except the Congress of the People, which has waged an extended boycott of Parliament over its handling of the Nkandla saga – were sweating it out in the House and fulfilling their duties, the EFF sneakily got a head start on the election campaign.
+ This article first appeared on in City Press and Media 24 publications