13 July 2024 | 11:47 PM

Saru, Lotto high-tackle Alicedale rugby

Key Takeaways

South Africa’s early Rugby World Cup exit this week has again turned the spotlight on the problems of player development and in this regard, the story of a small rugby-loving community in the Eastern Cape is an illuminating one.

A pool of 120 potential young Springboks play club rugby on the sun-baked tufty Transriviere rugby field in Alicedale, which has become an example of broken promises.

After a much-vaunted R30-million national rugby academy failed to materialise in Alicedale in 2008, the South African Rugby Union (Saru) also pulled out of a R4-million upgrade to the Transriviere rugby field that was part of the rugby academy development.

Saru spokesperson Andy Colquhoun said “the costs were prohibitive and in the absence of external funding, the concept was shelved”. He added that Saru does not fund the development of rugby fields.

But the Alicedale rugby community has now suffered a third shuddering high tackle, this time from the National Lottery: an administrative snarl-up means more than R2-million in grant money cannot be disbursed.

In April 2004 the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund approved a grant of R3.2-million to the Makana Municipality for the upgrade of communal sports facilities.

Initial tranche

An initial tranche of R1.2-million was released immediately, documents show, which was used to upgrade a soccer field in Alicedale.

According to the grant agreement, “subsequent payments will be made only on receipt of a satisfactory progress report showing how the funds already received have been utilised”.

A subsequent payment was earmarked for Transriviere rugby field, but has never materialised.

Makana spokesperson Thanduxolo Matebese said that the municipality had met the terms and conditions of the first tranche, including submitting a financial report.

“We suspect that there is confusion within the [National Lottery] office because one of the officials … who received our reports enabling us to get the second tranche confirmed that it did receive the reports and the other one … is denying it,” Matebese said.

But National Lottery Board spokesperson Sershan Naidoo contradicted Matebese, saying that “there is a progress report [from Makana] outstanding”. Naidoo said that a site report, finalised in August this year, “was presented to the distributing agency for consideration” but added “we will not be able to comment until the agency has considered [it]”.

Asked when the agency is scheduled to meet, Naidoo did not respond.

Smells a rat

Alicedale resident Eli Konstant smells a rat: “Why can’t the municipality prove that the first batch of money was spent properly and why can’t Lotto comment on what’s happening?” she asked.

Konstant has spent years hounding the municipality and lottery for answers. “I’m the local pain-in-the-arse,” she said. “The money we’re talking about is a drop in the ocean, but if spent properly, it can do so much for a place like Alicedale.”

The effect of the broken promises is that the two club rugby sides who share Transriviere face expulsion from the provincial Super League next season because their home field is too dangerous to play on.

Rosebuds club chair Herbert Bruintjies said that Alicedale had an estimated 85% unemployment rate, but that rugby had helped keep crime rates down.

Rosebuds, which is more than 50 years old, and the other local club St Marks, provide a steady stream of players to the Eastern Cape Country Districts team.

The Eastern Cape has historically been a rugby province. According to Tony McKeever, the former chief executive of provincial rugby franchise the Southern Spears, 40% of all registered players in South Africa ply their trade in the Eastern Cape.

Southern Spears

Writing for the Mail & Guardian‘s Thought Leader in 2008, McKeever claimed that it was Saru’s failure to negotiate the Southern Spears entry into the expanded Super 15 in 2006 that led to the proposed foundation of an elite rugby academy in Alicedale.

Ironically, the coach of the Southern Spears’ in 2006 was none other than Springbok coach Pieter de Villiers.

“An elite rugby academy in Alicedale didn’t make sense, quite frankly, but the place really needs a decent field, clubhouse and mobile gym,” McKeever said this week.

“Saru needs to apply its mind to how we can service the talent that we have and not shut talented black rugby players out.”

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit initiative to develop investigative journalism in the public interest, produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for all our stories, activities and sources of funding.

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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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