The great matriarch of sports

Very few can disagree with the notion that sports have played a large role in building the rainbow nation we see today


Very few can disagree with the notion that sports have played a large role in building the rainbow nation we see today. It was, in fact, Nelson Mandela who showed the powerful role sport can play in building a rainbow nation. This was displayed by the momentous congratulations and hearty hug he gave Francois Pienaar at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which South Africa won.
The baton of South African cohesion and unity through sports was passed onto Tokozile Xasa in February 2018. Xasa took office as the Minister of Sport and Recreation. With her experience in activism and political office, Xasa has intelligently and intentionally taken steps to ensure equal opportunities for all within the sport and recreation value chain.

The Department of Sport and Recreation South Africa (SRSA) is guided by the ideals of the National Development Plan (NDP), which is a basic map to the economic freedom of all South Africans, and aims to provide access to opportunities for all South Africans. One of the outcomes of the NDP is social cohesion. A clear goal is to forge an overarching identity as a South African and as a proudly South African citizen. Sport and recreation is a powerful weapon in this aspect. Sport has seen South Africans forgetting their skin colour and identifying themselves as part of a rainbow nation, with talent and tolerance as the key drivers of success. Sport has been powerful in combatting racist sentiments to date. Xasa has become the matriarch of sports and the mother of unity in South Africa. Her beginnings are humble, however, and demonstrate a passion for being a servant from a very early age.

Xasa is the embodiment of struggle and the socio-economic challenges that face the majority of South Africans and, more importantly, the embodiment of triumph, growth, evolution and revolution.

Orphaned at 10 years old, today, she runs a family and is now the matriarch of every aspiring sportsperson in South Africa. She leads this family with heart, a sense of cohesion and development in mind, as well as an eye for the future of South African unity and talent. A clear, unmistakable force, Xasa will chart new paths that will present opportunities for sportspeople in rural areas, and provide clear exposure for lesser-known sports and for women who are, most often, performing just as well as their male counterparts.

Many call for this transformation and sport has seen numerous successes in this area. It has unearthed the talent that was initially covered by Apartheid and shown South Africa’s bright national and international sports future. The rapid pace of sports transformation in South Africa has, amongst one of its many highlights, seen a black female at the helm of the Ministry.

It is the belief that the sports arena, and all aspects of sports development in South Africa, should reflect the demographics of the country. Furthermore, the broadcast and coverage of sports in South Africa should cater to the variety of sports enjoyed by all South Africans.

For many years, sports have tugged at the heartstrings of many South Africans, eliciting feelings of jubilation and frustration due to events such as South Africa seeing its first black Rugby Captain, Siya Kolisi, and the controversy surrounding Caster Semenya. Rugby was seen as the sport of ‘the oppressor’ but now has South Africans of all colours flocking to stadiums to support the Springboks.

Xasa has been able to use her experience to merge economic growth and sports tourism to benefit South Africans running businesses near sports hubs at key South African sporting events. Important events such as the Comrades Marathon and the Soweto derby bring economic opportunities for the people in the area and ensure a positive experience for many people visiting the area. Excellently coordinated international sporting events produce positive sentiments about South Africa and debunk many untrue myths about the country, thus driving tourism into South Africa, not only for sporting events but also as a premier holiday destination. Thus, sports become a catalyst for the country's economic growth. Transformation in sport has been a long-standing conversation. The topic has received criticism and naysayers have been saying that meritocracy should be the order of the day. At the dawn of democracy, it was clear that sports such as rugby and cricket did not reflect the demographics of the country. Kagiso Rabada, Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Temba Bavuma and Lungi Ngidi, current prominent players in the current South African cricket team, have shown the success of these transformative initiatives.

Xasa points out that the success of all these players is really no surprise. Systems and processes were already in place to ensure their success. Many of the prominent black players we see today were carefully nurtured through development programmes. For instance, Rabada was already participating in the U19 Cricket World Cup and his debut in national cricket dates back to 2014. A mere four years later, Rabada is now regarded as the best young player in the world. A mere two months ago, Rabada was the youngest ever bowler to take 150 wickets in Test cricket. The successes of these players ensure that young aspiring sportspeople can have a can-do attitude due to seeing the successes of these players.

Xasa is a trailblazer and this is not her first time as the first black female in a political portfolio. Xasa was the first female Mayor in the transitional local government for the Kei District Municipality, now called the OR Tambo District Municipality, in the Eastern Cape. Xasa’s belief in the ruling party, the ANC, is unquestionable and her participation in the women’s league saw her being elected to the ANC Women’s League’s National Executive Committee, where she once served with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Xasa, as a matriarch of sports, is shifting the perceptions of sport and its influence on unity and building a rainbow nation one event at a time.

Her advocacy for women and social development is clearly seen through her work, even prior to leading this portfolio. Prior to her work in any political governance structure, Xasa served as a teacher for nine years and in that time, she actively worked with girls as a Guide Mistress and Librarian. Her fight for women is demonstrated by her plea to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to broadcast more women’s sport and for them to be more than mere footnotes in sports coverage. Transformation in women’s sports coverage is important for the following reason: we have two female teams that are in the World Cup, the Under-17 Female Football team and the Women’s Cricket team. Very little is known about this due to the lack of coverage. Xasa has tackled this issue head-on.

Her positions in political roles show a clear passion for the betterment of the lives of the everyday South African walking on the street. These positions have brought about a policy change and have tackled the most pertinent of socio-economic challenges in South Africa. No one can deny the importance of black land ownership as a reform to past oppressive laws. Xasa has been in the eye of the storm with regard to these issues through her role as the MEC for Social Development and Housing. The current technical recession that South Africa faces has resulted in President Cyril Ramaphosa making a bid for investment into South Africa. Xasa understands the economic struggles of this country and has tackled them in the Premier’s Office under the Economic Affairs portfolio.

Xasa understands South Africa’s economic drivers very well, as she previously led the Tourism Ministry, and tourism is a clear economic driver. Her office also led the transformation in tourism through the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) Tourism Sector Charter, which enables many black-owned tourism establishments to greatly benefit from enterprise and supplier development initiatives. Due to her service and passion for economic development, she was bestowed with the honour of delivering the Bishop Thabo Makgoba Inaugural Lecture 2018 on leadership and local economic development.

Xasa is also a learned woman and her intention to be a public servant is reflected in the various qualifications she sought. She holds a BA degree in Public Administration and Political Studies from what is now the Walter Sisulu University. Additionally, she holds an Honours and Master’s degree from the University of Fort Hare.

Xasa now tackles the issue of social cohesion in South Africa and believes that sports development is a key driver. A visit to the SRSA's website shows the multiple sports programmes spearheaded by this audacious department and the multifaceted approach to bringing about transformation. The website shows the reach of the department and the great matriarch of sports addressing social challenges, congratulating many of her children for their successes and wishing them luck on their international missions to ensure South African talent is displayed to the world at large.

South Africans tune into the Olympics in large numbers every four years. The true potential of South African talent is not limited to Caster Semenya or Chad le Clos, it is also displayed in the Youth Olympic Games’ victories. The Ministry of Sport has overseen some prominent sporting victories and the number of medals won in the Youth Olympic Games has increased. At the previous Youth Olympic Games, South Africa left with only one medal. At the recent games, South Africa left with seven medals: Luke Davids in athletics, Michael Houlie in swimming, Dane Roets in athletics, Ruan Lange in gymnastics, Amber Schlebusch in triathlon, Dune Coetzee in swimming and Hannah Garton in equestrian.

These successes in the Youth Olympic Games are part of a chain reaction set in motion by the relationships with other portfolios such as the Department of Basic Education. A memorandum was signed with the Department of Basic Education, which will allow the department to have a pipeline of ambitious, young sportspeople, and which will bring about the prominence of physical education in schools.

These chain reactions are evident and have born fruit in sports today. The SRSA has put policies and procedures in place, which have brought about the success of some of the sports icons we see today. For example, Siya Kolisi is from a very poor area in the Eastern Cape but, today, he is leading the South African Rugby team. His talent was nurtured through various development programmes throughout his youth. With his rise to the top, many youths, who are also from impoverished areas, see themselves in this hero.

Through the department’s encouragement and under coach Rassie Erasmus, transformation in rugby has taken place at a dizzying pace. Many black players have reached prominence.

This is the first chain reaction that has shown the power of this change. A closer look at our stadiums now shows rugby and cricket stadiums with more black people attending these events with great excitement and anticipation. Xasa contends that sport is one of the most unifying agents in South Africa.

Xasa believes very strongly in rural development and her many programmes seek to unearth more Siya Kolisis. Transformation in sport is multi-faceted and is so much more than just seeing our favourite players. Transformation in sport refers to leadership, coaching and development in teams.

Part of the transformation agenda is to ensure that all South Africans are exposed to sporting activities. The SRSA has lobbied ICASA to ensure an equal playing field in the broadcasting of sports across variety and gender. The lobby has specifically called for a system promoting more women’s sports coverage.

Recreation is also an important aspect of South African life. Leading an active life is an important aspect of the NDP to ensure a healthy workforce and population. On 5 and 7 October, the department hosted a national recreation day and big walk, which attracted over 12 000 and 32 000 South Africans respectively. The aim of these events is to encourage South Africans to choose to become more active citizens. An active society produces a stronger population that is up to the challenges of a modern life. With South Africa’s alarming obesity rates, physical activity has become a must.

No one can doubt that South Africa has seen many successes in the years following Apartheid. Few can argue about the role that sport has played in this aspect. Moreover, no one can deny the force that women in office present and how their perseverance and nurturing nature can produce a country worth noticing on the world stage. The matriarch of sports, Mama Tokozile Xasa, is up to this task. Let’s all stand and watch her perform her magic in the sporting arena and the country as a whole.

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