Johannesburg - The sports ministry seems to thrive on being perceived to be doing something instead of actually doing it, let alone properly.
My first and only Fikile Mbalula press conference was about six years ago, when he was relatively new to his minister of sport gig.
Given that his press conferences are affairs in which a lot is said without it making a lot of sense, all I remember of it was that he was an hour and a half late, and whatever minion was his spokesperson at the time asked those in the room to stand up when he walked in.
With him also having christened himself Mr Razzmatazz, an unfavourable first impression was formed. On the face of it, he was either too busy or didn’t respect other people’s time (there was no apology for being late), and clearly he was a very important man.
So when I tried to follow his press conference a few days ago, in which he was to explain how South Africa lost a one-horse race to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games, it was hardly a surprise that he was reportedly almost 90 minutes late.
He then promptly did what he always does when the brown stuff hits the fan – he took zero responsibility. When a country spends R118 million to lose a sure thing because there appears to have been a miscalculation of how much it would cost to host the games and basic deadlines were missed, one would expect someone to take the blame.
But neither Mbalula nor sporting body Sascoc took responsibility, preferring to spin the whole thing as if they were taking a new-found stance on financial responsibility to save us all from wasteful expenditure. This is from the same people who can’t explain what the R118 million spent on supposedly bidding for an event Durban won’t host in five years was actually spent on.
Then the real Mbalula kicked in. While most would have thought he had 118 million reasons to wind his neck in, he carried on his Twitter spat with sports presenter Robert Marawa and – in a massive about-turn – announced his backing for South Africa to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
The irritating thing about the Twitter spat with Marawa is that it is always dressed up as a legitimate battle for the soul of South African sport. Given that, up until a couple of years ago, Marawa used to MC the SA Sports Awards – which is effectively Mbalula’s personal fiefdom – it’s more logical to suspect a personal falling out.
Coupled with the Marawa red herring, the inexplicable decision to support SA Rugby’s bid to host the 2023 Cup neatly encapsulates how distraction is an important weapon in Mbalula’s arsenal in running the sports department.
If he is not distracted by what is said about him on Twitter, or suffering a case of the Twitter fingers himself by blocking said offenders, he is distracting the South African public from whatever clanger he’s dropped.
With Durban losing its bid to host the Commonwealth Games, is it too sinister to think that suddenly endorsing a bid to host a Rugby World Cup is a transparent ruse to help us forget 2022-gate?
Mbalula’s decision to unban rugby from bidding to host international tournaments was supposed to hinge on SA Rugby proving that the organisation had transformed. Mbalula must have his ear to the ground, because the rest of us don’t see any changes on that front.
The sports ministry seems to thrive on being perceived to be doing something instead of actually doing it, let alone properly.
Quite how this equates to leadership, I don’t know. To be fair to Mbalula, the bar has never been high when it comes to the department . The exception was when the late Steve Tshwete held the position. Hard but fair, Tshwete was a good negotiator, who came to be known as Mr Fixit because of how tricky the environment was in South Africa at the time. Tshwete also struck you as someone who actually loved sport, as that famous picture of his embrace with Peter Kirsten at the 1992 Cricket World Cup showed.
Mbalula strikes you as a fair-weather sports fan, siding with a “bunch of winners” one moment and rejecting “a bunch of losers” the next.
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