Beginning the year with branding Bafana Bafana a “bunch of losers” was in rather bad taste for a minister tasked with ensuring the country is always behind their national team to boost morale.
This, however, was partly offset by Fikile Mbalula’s charisma, which has always made him some sort of a media darling regardless of the portfolio he holds.
Unlike most of his predecessors, Mbalula is succeeding at playing the lead cheerleader for the sporting fraternity. Like other former ministers of sport, Mbalula has been big on talking transformation – correctly so – but thin on how implementation will be effected other than trying to intimidate sporting bodies.
History should have taught him that such tactics do not work, particularly while developing fresh talent is still being neglected.
Although it is promising that several federations, such as the South African Rugby Union and Cricket South Africa, have signed the transformation charter drawn up by the Eminent Persons Group in April, what Mbalula needs to prioritise now is policy that will be implemented effectively. If this does not happen, his warning of “consequences” to those who fail to reach transformation targets will remain an empty threat.
Mbalula’s tough approach to overseeing South African sport is unlikely to yield positive results. His threat to raise a levy on sports tickets, for instance, without discussing the matter with the various sports bodies before presenting the proposal to Parliament, was ill-advised.
Politically, Mbalula wields little influence, so his performance in government is the only thing that can speak for him. Skipping appearances in Parliament – where he is required to account for his portfolio, and in favour of flitting off to an award ceremony – makes him look like a juvenile who is struggling to prioritise his job.
If Cabinet ministers were assessed on their ability to rub shoulders with socialites, Mbalula would get a B. He is also active on social networking forums and has a fondness for posting selfies.
If ministers were judged on their blind allegiance to Number One, Mbalula would get an A.
His real challenge is to bring meaningful change to communities at grass-roots level by building infrastructure and unearthing raw talent.