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Is A White Mafia Trampling Black Dreams?

South Africa may be world famous for rugby but most of its 52 million people feel left out. Poor administration, squabbling and little money mean the number of black players making it from the bottom of the game are getting fewer. FORBES AFRICA went to the rugged grassroots of the game to find out what is going wrong.

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For decades, Dan Qeqe Stadium, in the dusty Zwide township of Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, was a bedrock of black rugby and home to African Bombers, a former first-tier club. It nurtured a handful of professionals, including Springboks Akona Ndungane and Siya Kolisi. The two were among the few blacks to represent their country and earn big money.

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA – JULY 23: Akona Ndungane of Bulls scores during the Absa Currie Cup match between Vodacom Blue Bulls and Toyota Free State Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld on July 23, 2011 in Pretoria, South Africa (Photo by Lee Warren/ Gallo Images/Getty Images)

These days Dan Qeqe is a rundown shadow of itself. The changing rooms are dilapidated and the pitch is baked hard with patches of red grass. Despite the dire condition, without fail, every winter hundreds of boys tackle each other on this pitch; the hope of becoming a Springbok lives on. As a young lad, I donned my oversized hand-me-down rugby jersey and threw my body into the tussle for the oval ball. We stomped the pitch, barefoot, until we were hardened veterans at 17. In 15 years I covered every inch and cut my knees open every week.

Fifty kilometers north of Dan Qeqe Stadium is the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, a state-of-the-art facility built for the football World Cup in 2010. It is home to Eastern Province Rugby Union (EPRU). In the hot days of summer, just before Christmas, this was the scene of a battle for the soul of grassroots African rugby. It was where managers from over 100 clubs fought their provincial bosses. It was so bad that a scuffle broke out and the security manhandled the angry.

It is part of a struggle to bring hope to black rugby in one of Africa’s hotbeds of the game. The problems run deep at EPRU. For years, there’s been no sponsorship due to lack of accountability; for months players weren’t paid and their reputable coach Carlos Spencer resigned; black players left in droves under claims of financial discrimination and the controversial signing of eight white players, compared to one black player, for the 2016 Super Rugby season.

Bantwini Matika, the coach of the rugby club Young Collegians and a chairman of a national lobby group Rugby Transformation Coalition, led the fight.

“We have identified these problems for years and followed the due process but without any reward. Now we have seen a collapse of the whole system. Financially, never before has EP Rugby been so in the red. It’s a crisis of unprecedented proportions,” says Matika.

The clubs demanded accountability and a change of management in the provincial structure. At the top of the agenda was the non-payment of EP Kings – the provincial players.

“We are in a serious crisis in the Eastern Cape. This is the home of black rugby. The only reason we got the Super Rugby franchise was solely because Saru (the South African Rugby Union) wanted to create a platform for black players to showcase their talent to the world and for Springbok selection. This has been in the plans of Saru since time immemorial that we need a platform for black players and then the franchise was ideal… Unfortunately the Eastern Cape, which is Border and Eastern Province, has always been unstable because of a lack of resources and lack of sponsors, no solid administrators,” says Matika.

Since 2014, EPRU has not held a quarterly meeting nor AGM. Matika says, besides the annual grant from Saru, EPRU cannot attract sponsorship because there’s no financial accountability.

“That’s a recipe for disaster. We have talent in abundance (but) our system and administration is not in place. If we don’t have ethical and decisive leadership, if we don’t have proper resources to create an enabling environment for our young people to prosper, we are doomed to fail. Hence you see them running to other unions at a young age. The rot is within the administration,” says Matika.

Mervin Green is Saru’s general manager in strategic performance. He says EPRU made it difficult for Saru to support them in running the business.

“Saru does not interfere with union’s domestic affairs, such as clubs and schools development. We support unions with finances and expertise to ensure they deliver on their own development programs. It is indeed not an ideal situation for everyone what is currently happening at EPRU. However, it is only the clubs that can change the situation,” says Green.

Transformation Rugby Coalition was launched in Soweto, Johannesburg, in 2012. Matika, the former University of Fort Hare captain and coach, was its founding chairman. He laments the lack of transformation in the Springboks.

“After realizing that all the agreements around transformation, whether it is through charters or Saru development plans since 2000, every three years we have a new document that is fruitless. All the rugby activists and (concerned) managers nationwide decided to launch this national structure in 2013 in Soweto. I am glad now we are speaking with one voice and seem to be making a difference and the approach is working for us.”

A few months before the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England, calls were made not to send the Springboks because they didn’t have enough black players. Political party, Agency for New Agenda, made a court bid to block the team from leaving. They lost the case. This followed Saru’s climb down from the 50% black Springbok representation by 2015, they moved it to 2019. The move did not go down well with Transformation Rugby Coalition.

“The disappointing factor is that we are not getting a hearing. We speak and we write to Saru but they are not interested in what we saying. At the personal and individual capacity, Saru President Oregan Hoskins would respond with promises but there’s nothing happening, nor do we get any recognition from Sascoc (South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee). We would expect that as a lobby group we should have a budget from government but we are currently sustaining ourselves from our own pockets,” says Matika.

The African dream of playing professional rugby reaches far beyond the Eastern Cape. It’s mid-January, a thousand kilometers north of Dan Qeqe stadium. About 40 barefoot boys, aged between nine and 13, are taken through their paces on a rugby field in Braamfischerville, at the Soweto Rugby Club. Their coach is 35-year-old, chubby and outspoken, Zola Ntlokoma.

“We don’t only create rugby players here, we encourage discipline and we want them to pass with good marks. If you don’t go to school, we have no business with you,” Ntlokoma tells me.

Like his counterpart, Matika in Port Elizabeth, Ntlokoma decries the lack of support for grassroots rugby and asserts that he will transform Braamfischerville into a rugby hotbed. Soweto is a football area with three clubs in the Premier Soccer League.

“Out of 49 townships there’s none with a junior team anymore after [the Golden] Lions Rugby Union took over development and government pumped money to them to champion development. But the money is not filtered down to grassroots where it is needed most. Hence we were forced by those circumstances to form Soweto Rugby Union. It’s not a racial thing, it is just we are tired of complaining. We won’t beg someone to play rugby, we love rugby,” he says.

Ntlokoma, who is also the secretary of Transformation Rugby Coalition, says in the 1990s Soweto Rugby Club dominated the Golden Lions Rugby junior teams with star player Stanley Mlotshwa representing the junior national team in 1998. The last was Malungisa Nkosi, who played for the under-19s in the World Championships in 2006, in Dubai.

Transformation Rugby Coalition researched why black players were not as involved in South African rugby as they should be.

“We discovered that rugby is not run as it is portrayed in the media. There’s a lot that our government doesn’t understand about how rugby runs. We felt that this is a mafia-like organization. It is held to ransom by businesspeople in Stellenbosch who are controlling the executive of Saru, telling them this is the direction they must take. It is that rich white group that decides who is going to be the president of Saru and the coach of the Springboks,” says Ntlokoma.

“Englishmen introduced rugby in South Africa, not the Afrikaners. Now should we give up and say it is the Afrikaners’ sport, I don’t think we will be doing justice to back off. It is a South African sport, that’s why we should continue embracing it. Some of us still hate the Springbok emblem because it reminds us of apartheid… I was a gangster and this sport gave me a second chance in life. Rugby, like any other sport, it changes people’s lives,” he says.

Liz McGregor, a rugby writer based in Cape Town, says Saru has enough money to expedite transformation. She’s sceptical about the target of 50% black representation in 2019.

“If our promising young black players are not being given regular game time at this level now, the next target – 50% of black Springboks by 2019 – also looks like a chimera. I have heard complaints about marginalization from black players for years, at provincial and national level. If the strategic transformation plan were effective, marginalization should be a thing of the past,” she says.

McGregor raises concerns about Hoskins’ silence about the failure to hit targets in the Springbok teams.

“Grassroots development will always be a key strategic imperative of Saru. The current strategic transformation plan emphasizes the importance of this transformation dimension. We are actively involved in all unions to ensure we provide access to the game and particularly focusing on schools where there was no rugby before,” counters Green.

Green says Saru’s recruitment drive in 2015 saw 80,000 new players from over 300 schools around South Africa.

“The program for participation will be extended to high schools this year and we hope to reach township and rural schools to be in organized leagues. Our focus is also on capacitation programs of thousands of teachers and volunteers as certificated coaches, match officials and administrators,” says Green.

Clearly there are not enough to help more black Africans play the sport.

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30 under 30

Applications Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020

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FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.


JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.

The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.

Past honorees include Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.

What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous. 

Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”

If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by applying or submitting your nomination.

NOMINATIONS AND APPLICATIONS CRITERIA:

Business and Technology categories

  1. Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
  3. Business/businesses should be two years or older
  4. Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
  5. Must be profit generating
  6. Must employ people in Africa
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Sports category

  1. Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be representing an African team
  3. Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
  4. Should be making significant earnings
  5. Should have some endorsement deals
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Creatives category

  1. Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be from or based in Africa
  3. Should be making significant earnings
  4. Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
  5. Must have social influence
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Your entry should include:

  • Country
  • Full Names
  • Company name/Team you are applying with
  • A short motivation on why you should be on the list
  • A short profile on self and company
  • Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
  • All social media handles
  • Contact information
  • High-res images of yourself

Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on [email protected]

Nominations close on 3 February 2020.

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Sport

The Springboks And The Cup Of Good Hope

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After their epic win beating England at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan on November 2, the Springboks returned home to South Africa, undertaking a nation-wide tour, in an open-top bus, holding high the Webb Ellis Cup. In this image, in the township of Soweto, they pass the iconic Vilakazi Street with throngs of screaming, cheering residents and Springbok fans lining the street. The sport united the racially-divided country. For the third time in history, the South African national rugby team was crowned world champions.

Image by Motlabana Monnakgotla

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Déjà vu: South Africa Back to Winning

Our Publisher reflects on the recent Springbok victory in Yokohoma, Japan

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Rugby World Cup 2019, Final: England v South Africa Mtach viewing at Nelson Mandela Square

By Rakesh Wahi, Publisher
FORBES AFRICA

Rugby is as foreign to me as cricket is to the average American. However, having lived in South Africa for 15 years, there is no way to avoid being pulled into the sport. November 2, 2019, is therefore a date that will be celebrated in South Africa’s sporting posterity. In many ways, it’s déjà vu for South Africans; at a pivotal time in history, on June 24, 1995, the Springboks beat the All Blacks (the national rugby team of New Zealand) in the final of the World Cup. The game united a racially-divided country coming out of apartheid and at the forefront of this victory was none other than President Nelson Mandela or our beloved Madiba. In a very symbolic coincidence, 24 years later, history repeated itself.

South Africans watched with pride as Siya Kolisi lifted the gold trophy in Yokohama, Japan, as had Francois Pienaar done so 24 years ago in Johannesburg. My mind immediately reflected on this extremely opportune event in South Africa’s history.

The last decade has not been easy; the country has slipped into economic doldrums from which there seems to be no clear path ahead. The political transition from the previously corrupt regime has not been easy and it has been disheartening to see a rapid deterioration in the economic condition of the country. The sad reality is that there literally seems to be no apparent light at the end of the tunnel; with blackouts and load-shedding, a currency that is amongst the most volatile in the world, rising unemployment and rising crime amongst many other issues facing the country.

Rakesh Wahi, Publisher Forbes Africa

Something needed to change. There was a need for an event to change this despondent state of mind and the South African rugby team seems to have given a glimmer of hope that could not have come at a more opportune time. As South African flags were flying all over the world on November 2, something clicked to say that there is hope ahead and if people come together under a common mission, they can be the change that they want to see.

Isn’t life all about hope? Nothing defies gravity and just goes up; Newton taught us that everything that goes up will come down. Vicissitudes are a part of life and the true character of people, society or a nation is tested on how they navigate past these curve balls that make us despair. As we head into 2020, it is my sincere prayer that we see a new dawn and a better future in South Africa with renewed vigor and vitality.

Talking about sports and sportsmen, there is another important lesson that we need to take away. Having been a sportsman all my life, I have had a belief that people who have played team sports like cricket, rugby, soccer, hockey etc make great team players and leaders. However, other sports like golf, diving and squash teach you focus. In all cases, the greatest attribute of all is how to reset your mind after adversity. While most of us moved on after amateur sports to find our place in the world, the real sportspeople to watch and learn from are professionals. It is their grit and determination.

My own belief is that one must learn how to detach from a rear view mirror. You cannot ignore what is behind you because that is your history; you must learn from it. Our experiences are unique and so is our history. It must be our greatest teacher. However, that’s where it must end. As humans, we must learn to break the proverbial rear view mirror and stop worrying about the past. You cannot change what is behind you but you can influence and change what is yet to come.

I had the good fortune of playing golf with Chester Williams (former rugby player who was the first person of color to play for the Springboks in the historic win in 1995 and sadly passed away in September 2019) more than once at the SuperSport Celebrity Golf Shootout.

Chester played his golf fearlessly; perhaps the way he led his life. He would drive the ball 300 meters and on occasion went into the woods or in deep rough. Psychologically, as golfers know, this sets you back just looking at a bad lie, an embedded or unplayable ball or a dropped shot in a hazard. For a seasoned golfer, it is not the shot that you have hit but the one that you are about to hit. Chester has a repertoire of recovery shots and always seemed to be in the game even after some wayward moments. There is a profound lesson in all of this. You have to blank your mind from the negativity or sometimes helplessness and bring a can do and positive frame of reference back into your game (and life). Hit that recovery shot well and get back in the game; that’s what champions do.

We need to now focus our attention on the next shot and try and change the future than stay in the past.

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