South Africa has a new minister of sport and recreation. The fact that she happens to be a woman shouldn’t matter, but it does. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
For the first time in the country’s history, South Africa will have a woman as minister of sport and recreation. On Monday, during a not-quite-midnight Cabinet reshuffle, Tokozile Xasa was handed the portfolio, shifting over from tourism.
Xasa has been fairly low key in her government positions. She took over the tourism gig in a previously reshuffle, instigated by Jacob Zuma. Aside from having had to deny a fake report that she endorsed poaching, and the fact that her department spent R9.6-million with Bell Pottinger, the 52-year old has been going about her business without much fanfare.
A former teacher, and the first female mayor of a district municipality in the transitional period of local government in the Eastern Cape, Xasa holds a Bachelor in Public Administration and Psychology from the Walter Sisulu University and a Master in Public Administration from the MPA – University of Fort Hare.
Like many of her predecessors in the role, she has no direct background in sport. However, like her predecessors, this should not affect her ability to manage the portfolio.
How long she will have this portfolio will remain to be seen, though. Cyril Ramaphosa has promised that he will shrink his Cabinet – with sport likely to merge with Arts and Culture – a position currently held by Nathi Mthethwa.
For now, her appointment is significant.
The importance of the sport and recreation portfolio is often underestimated, as is the delicate balance with which it has to be managed.
Ministers in this position have to keep an eye on how the country’s various governing bodies conduct themselves – and whether they deliver on their mandates – without directly interfering in their business.
Sport is critical for the development of the country’s youth. Mass participation programmes should not only serve as means of distraction from society’s ills, but must offer a pathway to professionalism. Balancing this in a difficult economic climate where budgets are being cut is extremely difficult.
But overseeing that the systems put in place but the country’s respective governing bodies are managed properly – instead of being a way to tick boxes – is crucial. There are no easy wins here, it is a long-term and often thankless fight.
Fortunately, two “easy wins” have already been set in motion.
At the top of Xasa’s agenda will be overseeing the two “independent” ministerial inquiries set up by her predecessor, Thulas Nxesi. The first deals with alleged corruption at Sascoc. The other relates to the Soweto derby tragedy from 2017.
Before reviewing the recommendations set out by the committees when they conclude, perhaps she can start by making sure these inquiries improve on their transparency.
Beyond, this, in whatever short time she has in the job, Xasa must aggressively pursue the female agenda in South African sport.
She can start in KwaZulu-Natal, where pilot research from the Girls Only Project reveals that young girls are being harassed by their male coaches or administrators, with “transactional sex” being one of the biggest issues.
It is unlikely that this problem is exclusive to the pilot research and Xasa would do well to imitate further investigations into the safety of young girls across the country who just want to play sport.
She should also consider the barriers – like the lack of access to sanitary products – that often hampers participation. Dealing with unequal pay – or in some cases no pay at all – for the women who participate in “male dominated sports” should also be prioritised.
For this reason, the fact that she happens to be a woman is critical. Representation at top level matters because it comes with a fresh perspective.
Changing the system of mass participation for young girls aspiring to be sports stars is not an overnight job, but reviewing some basics in order to ensure girls are safe and their barriers to entry are broken down would be a good start.
As a woman in a the top job, and a prominent member of the ANC Women’s League, she will be expected to fight for a cause that has been neglected for far too long.
Balancing this, alongside all the other challenges, is not a job anyone would envy. DM
Photo: Then Deputy Minister of Tourism Tokozile Xasa addresses members of the media about the 2017 Local Government Tourism Conference to take place at Emperors Palace, from 3 to 4 April 2017. (Photo: GCIS)
"Go down this set of stairs and then just run - run as fast as you can." ~ Lt David Brink, 9/11