“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else can. Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair.” These are powerful words spoken by former President Nelson Mandela who believed that sport can transcend race, politics and unite a country.
South Africa experienced this feeling of solidarity in 1995 when the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup; in 1996 with Bafana Bafana winning the African Cup of Nations; and more recently during the hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Former President Mandela touched South African hearts when he wore the No 6 Springbok jersey during the 1995 Rugby World Cup final and later by presenting the cup to captain Francois Pienaar.
In a country where sport had long been divided along racial lines, these sporting events and achievements became catalysts to inclusive social change and reconciliation.
Given our history of unequal distribution of resources to different sporting codes and unequal access to sporting opportunities, last year government has adopted a national strategy to reconstruct and revitalise the sport and recreation sector.
The National Sport and Recreation Plan (NSRP) calls for an integrated, coordinated, functional and performance oriented sport system to be put in place for us to become a winning and an active sport nation.
The plan also calls for the creation of an enabling environment to ensure that as many South Africans as possible have access to sport and recreation activities, especially those from disadvantaged communities.
Broadening the base of sport and recreation in South Africa; nurturing talent in schools and aligning local government, federations and schools is the starting point for this plan. To achieve this, the Department of Sport and Recreation South Africa (SRSA) urged provinces, municipalities and schools to base their own strategies on the NSRP.
According to the Minister of Sport and Recreation South Africa, Fikile Mbalula, this plan is in line with the Department’s 20 year strategy to reposition South Africa to use sport and recreation as catalysts for socio-economic transformation and social cohesion.
Speaking at the opening of the two day Municipal Conference on Sport and Recreation last year, Minister Mbalula stated: "We must all strive to use the sport plan to increase social cohesion and provide much needed opportunities for engagement in community life, foster healthy lifestyles as well as reducing conflict and criminal behavior through education and sport."
In a similar vein, President Jacob Zuma proclaimed the importance of sport as a catalyst to unite the country in his speech at the Social Cohesion Summit last year: “Sport has always played an important role in our historical mission to build a united, non-racial and prosperous South Africa and a better world. Almost all sporting codes in our country such as rugby and cricket have made a contribution to build social cohesion and human solidarity.”
An important part of this plan is the Transformation Charter which aims to ensure equitable access, resource availability and equal participation opportunities for all South Africans. The preamble of the national sport and recreation plan states: “The purpose of the Charter is to transform the delivery of sport in South Africa to reap benefits such as the establishment of a competitive and demographically representative sports system guided by the values of equal opportunity, fairness and just behaviour, equitable resource distribution, empowerment, and affirmation.”
Significant progress has been made since the NSRP was approved by Cabinet last year. One of the successes is that South Africa was awarded Best Sports Tourism Destination in the World. Also, physical education was reintroduced in schools and good advances have been made in the refurbishment of children’s play parks.
Moreover, school sport leagues were activated; and the first SA Schools National Championships were held in December 2012 with 3 272 participants. Additional sporting codes for example table tennis have been recognized and will now be funded. Lastly, SRSA is working closely with the Department of Health to encourage South Africans to become active and healthy.
The NSRP is a major milestone for the country; it is also a testament to government’s commitment to enhance inclusive citizenship and nation building. The plan also advances the goals of National Development Plan (NDP) produced by the National Planning Commission (NPC). The 2030 vision statement asserts that “through sports of all kinds, we push the limits of our possibilities”.
However, we cannot achieve this without the mass participation of communities, because this is where champions are born and identified. Therefore, we call on all South Africans particularly the marginalised and disadvantaged to participate so that our athletes truly represent the best of all of us.
Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS)