By Amanda Ngudle

Sports were once the mainstay of the school scene in townships and rural areas.
Today, the field has not only shrunk but has been abandoned. Where there is attention, the benefactor comes riding on a horse called greed.
There was a time when schools had a great variety of competitive options for pupils. While many students got involved in sports for sheer love, there were significant benefits from these extracurricular activities too.
Sports used to get even the most hardened school loafers to attend school.
The tragedy of it all is that South Africa’s history of apartheid has left its indelible footprints in school not only in academic excellence but also in the sports arena.
Schools in formerly white suburbs boast excellent sports facilities while township schools have to do with ramshackle facilities if there are any.
South Africa would be lucky to churn out world-beating black sports heroes at the rate things are going.
What is even sad is, that youngsters who are not involved in extracurricular activities end up picking vices that increase crime levels.
What happened?
“The same can be said for choral music, beauty pageants, anti-littering campaigns and entertainment in the schools,” said Zanele Mbatha-Kasongo, a principal at a Johannesburg school.
“While we used to send brilliant pupils to represent the school on the circuit, then the district and to the province before, finally, national levels, we have been left with nothing. We have a proper talent drain,” she lamented.
“Children are only taught prescribed curriculum before the bell rings, and everyone schleps off home.”
Sports talent scouts like Jazzman Mahlakgane of The Professionals, a sports professional agent that has signed several players with overseas teams, say they have noticed with regret the dwindling numbers of young people recruited from schools. He calls it a tragedy. “We have noticed this tragic decline over the past 10 years or so. Upon enquiry, we were told by the schools that there were no dedicated school sports masters.”
And the reason for the decline in the number of sports masters stems from the fact that they don’t get paid for offering extra-curricular programmes.
Many used to blame The South African Democratic Teachers Union which was said to have bestowed teachers the right to decline to offer extra-curricular activities in schools citing an already big responsibility in teaching. But Nomsa Cele, the spokesperson for the organisation denies these allegations.
“Even now as I’m talking to you, I just came out of our National General Council meeting where we took serious resolve to take back our role in sports development,” she said.
“We have observed with regret that sponsors have overtaken the role whereas they came as just sponsors. They have commercialised our school activities and labelled them with their organisations. Choral Music has become a property of Old Mutual.
“Soccer in schools has become known as the Kay Motsepe Schools Cup: Football (KMSC Football) sponsored by the Motsepe Foundation and Sanlam.
“It was launched in 2004 at public, private and independent high schools around South Africa. It is the biggest school football tournament in the country, with more than 5 000 schools participating annually.
“Each provincial champion gets an amount of R100 000. The competition carries a prize of R1 000 000 for the winning team, as well as R600 000, R500 000 and R400 000 for the second, third and fourth schools respectively. The prize money is used for school-related development projects, such as the improvement of school infrastructure, office blocks, libraries, classrooms, ablution facilities and sporting facilities.”
At the root of the problem is the capitalisation of sports. While educators like Mbatha-Kasongo and Nene, want full control of sports and other extra-curricular activities at school so that every learner is given a fair chance in faring these different non-collegiate activities, sponsors run with their own programmes and leave those who don’t make the immediate cut to their own devices.
And for most, their pastime has turned into binging on alcohol, underage sexual activities as well as the most dreaded drug problem.
Mahlakgane agrees that schools should be at the centre of control in these activities saying there are life orientated and life orientation is one of the major subjects, teachers are more equipped in dealing with pupils and how to place different players in different positions.
“Schools also feed national teams, so the conflict between corporate and teachers is an important one because alienating schools and taking the cream of the crop and paying them back in infrastructure benefits only a few,” said Mbatha-Kasongo.
“We want to see every child find a place for him or herself in the world of talent interests.
“And right now, a child who does not score goals is left behind, when he could have been an assistant coach or a goalkeeper. It’s bad for the morale of the kids.”
Mahlakgane says it is the responsibility of everyone to bring back the glory in school tournaments and choral competitions.
“All stakeholders, parents, teachers, community members, basic education ministry, SGBs and the student themselves need to take the initiative to bring back the fun in learning. It’s for everyone’s benefit and mental health.”

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