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Sipho Hlongwane Bemoans Police Incompetency at Oscar Pistorius Trial and Marikana Commission

Get Me StartedSipho Hlongwane, author of Get Me Started, has written a column for Business Day on how the Oscar Pistorius trial has highlighted the failings of the South African Police Service.

Hlongwane insists that the way evidence was collected at the scene after Pistorius shot Reeva Steenkamp shows negligence and incompetency on behalf of the police. He also mentions the alleged tampering of evidence that has been uncovered by the Marikana commission.

This is the great tragedy of the justice system. It doesn’t matter that we might have brilliant judges and lawyers. They have to rely on the work of the police. And when the South African Police Service fails us so spectacularly, it is the public that ultimately suffers for it.

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Secret Gardens of Cape Town #9: The Vineyard Hotel River Walk

Vineyard River Walk2I know of two writers who cannot abide anyone seeing, let alone touching, their feet, but I have no issue with it. Friends gave me a gift voucher to the spa that has been voted the best in Africa: the Angsana at the Vineyard. I chose a colour the Pantone people call Black Red. And after the luxury of a foot massage, with my toes twinkling and nails painted to perfection, there was ginger tea with a view of the almost primordial gardens of the Vineyard Hotel.


Way back in the mists of time, I had heard there was a river at the Vineyard Hotel, but I never went there. So decades have passed and only because of my toes have I discovered this treasure of a garden. It’s beyond the boring grass (don’t get me wrong, I like grass, but it’s not usually exciting). You go down a cobbled pathway and stairs and then, abracadabra, appears the ‘River Walk’. Why haven’t I been here before? Why didn’t people tell me how sublime this place is? It’s magic. There are cycads, Stinkwoods, Kapok trees, bush willows. And it has certainly been a secret from me.

Hotel view2

Maybe you need to have a coffee at the restaurant to justify sauntering about the garden, but don’t spend too much time under the pergola looking out at the manicured grass; layers of terrace and the river wilderness (complete with a hundred year old tortoise) await you. And the air there is cool and mossy-sweet and dragonflies flit between the water lilies. Its most recent author, or the gardening equivalent thereof, is Anne Sutton, who was named an Icon of Landscape Architecture and who passed away in 2011. What a beautiful legacy of leaves and bush willows she has left.

Devilskein&Dearlove is due to be published by Random House Umuzi in SA and Arachne press in the UK in July 2014. It is a ‘Secret Garden’ for the 21st century, set in Long Street Cape Town. Perfect for precocious readers from the age of 12 and up!

Stormers are the lightning rod

April 8 2014 at 03:46pm

CT_oped stormers0TRYING TIMES: The reason why the Stormers are at the bottom of the log is bumbling management by unaccountable amateurs who dont have a clue about how to manage some of the finest professional athletes in the world, says the writer 

Liz McGregor


It was odd, last week, to see Western Province president Thelo Wakefield sitting in the seat normally occupied by Stormers captain, Jean de Villiers. In the chair beside Wakefield – the one in which us rugby writers have become used to seeing Stormers coach Allister Coetzee, week after week, was Gert Smal, whom Wakefield was introducing to us as the new director of rugby.

But what was even more disconcerting was the difference in attitude.

After the kind of loss that has devastated the Stormers over the past few weeks, De Villiers, despite a freshly battered body and ego, would have done an immediate mea culpa, an unflinching analysis of his own and his team’s role in their defeat. Allister Coetzee would have done the same. Each would evince an admirable refusal to blame. Responsibility for failure and for the rectification of mistakes would be entirely their own.

Wakefield was the opposite. Despite the fact that he is the big boss – the man ultimately in charge of this team – he showed not a shadow of self-doubt. Proudly introducing his new white knight – Smal – he kept using the word “quality”. We need to surround ourselves with quality people, he announced.

What was he saying? That the coaching team lacked quality and he was now going to save the day by imposing another leader on the pack?

CT_oped wakefield0

Watching this self-congratulatory display, I thought: this is the reason why the Stormers are at the bottom of the log: this bumbling management by unaccountable amateurs who don’t have a clue about how to manage some of the finest professional athletes in the world.

Whenever I raise this issue in Western Province circles, I am told that the problem lies in the fact that it is 91 amateur clubs which govern Western Province rugby. But surely they too must wonder why their elite team persistently fails to reach its potential? And this applies not only to the Stormers.

The Western Cape boasts the richest rugby talent in a well-endowed country. A study by the Sports Science Institute of South Africa shows that 46 percent of rugby-playing high schools are in the Western Cape. It is these schools which produce our rugby players. All the union has to do is recognise this talent and manage it to its full potential.

It is interesting to compare the Western Province Rugby Union with that of the Blue Bulls, who have reinvented themselves and modernised in the two decades of democratic rule – and the advent of professionalism. The reservoir of talent upon which the Bulls can draw is minuscule by comparison with that of WP: only 16 percent of rugby-playing schools are in Gauteng and these schools have to feed both the Lions and the Bulls. Where the Bulls excel is in quality of management. The fact that there are far fewer amateur clubs in the region is a huge advantage. The number of superannuated club presidents clogging up their board does not succeed in inhibiting a dynamic and accountable professional arm.

Each of the Bulls teams – Super Rugby, Currie Cup, under-21 and under-19 – has a phalanx of specialist coaches and fitness and medical staff. They have dedicated scouts who keep databases of every promising schoolboy in the country: they plot his progress over the years and snap up the best.

Management takes responsibility for its appointments and supports its coaching staff, both publicly and privately. Chief executive Barend van Graan resisted the public’s baying for the head of Frans Ludeke in 2008 when he lost his first 14 Super Rugby games after succeeding Heyneke Meyer as head coach. Instead he quietly worked with Ludecke, who went on to vindicate Van Graan’s faith.

The same applies to the Bulls’ management of players. They take promising youngsters and train them up. They look after their most valuable players: an excellent example is how Victor Matfield is being managed. He is not being made to play on tour now – instead he is rested so that he is in peak condition to boost the Springbok squad later this year. Meanwhile, in best Bulls tradition, he is working with young players, passing on his skills.

Western Province are lucky enough to have the Springbok captain in their ranks but they show absolutely no grace or vision in how they manage Jean de Villiers: playing him into the ground without any consideration for his own or the country’s best interests.

One of the most admirable qualities of South African rugby teams is their loyalty. Partly this is because it is enforced by draconian contracts which forbid any public criticism of their bosses.

But mostly it is to do with the dynamic of this ultimate of team sports. The reliance of teammates on each other is absolute – for their lives, ultimately – because rugby players can and do get fatally injured. So it is very rare to hear complaints from either coaches or players. But, such is the level of demoralisation in the Stormers camp at the moment that some of it is leaking out.

Players feel that skimping on medical staff exacerbates the injury crisis.

The same skimping applies to the coaching staff: Coetzee is head coach of Super Rugby and Currie Cup rugby and he has also been responsible for recruitment. There is no specialist kicking coach.

Wakefield’s grandiose unveiling of his newest appointment just when the team for which he is responsible was at their lowest ebb was, I thought, excessively shabby.

Smal may well turn out to be a wonderful addition to the Stormers. But he is just as likely to join the list of talented, dedicated men such as Rassie Erasmus and Nick Mallett who are just too big for the small men who employ them.

l McGregor is author of Touch, Pause, Engage: Exploring the Heart of South African Rugby and, most recently: Springbok Factory: What it Takes to be a Bok (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

Sipho Hlongwane on Fikile Mbalula's Claim that Satanism Was Behind Zuma Being Booed

Get Me StartedSipho Hlongwane, author of Get Me Started, has written a column for Business Day about Sports and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula’s comment on the people in the crowd at a recent soccer game who booed President Jacob Zuma: “All of their plans, infused in Satanism at best, will never succeed in the future because their plans are nothing else but filled with evil.”

“What Mbalula is really saying is that the African National Congress rules by divine right,” Hlongwane writes. “There is no attempt by the ruling party to engage with dissent and understand it. If they don’t do that, there is therefore no attempt to fix the underlying problems.”

Poor Satan. What did he ever do to Sports and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula?

Almost two weeks ago, Bafana Bafana played Brazil in an international football friendly. As is a politician’s wont when there’s a bit of spotlight somewhere, President Jacob Zuma was present at the FNB Stadium to do the “meet and greet” with the players, except his moment was tarnished, again, by jeers from sections of the audience. He must be thoroughly sick of that place by now.

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Let the experts run rugby

FRIDAY’S annual general meeting of the South African Rugby Union (Saru) was a surreal experience for a journalist. It comes across as a harmonious, well-ordered affair, with the presidents and vice-presidents of each of the 14 member unions — plus the 13-strong executive council — in their crisp white shirts and green Saru ties seated in a large rectangle in a conference room in Newlands Southern Sun hotel.

Important and potentially controversial elections — including that of Saru president, vice-president, deputy president and two executive council members — were conducted in near unanimity. The annual report, which recorded how Saru’s R800m income was spent, was approved without a murmur of dissent.

The only indication of the months of feverish schlentering and deal-making that preceded this polished performance was that it started uncharacteristically late, waiting for the emergence of small groups of flustered-looking men from various corners of the hotel. Some of the deal-making was clearly very last-minute indeed.

So Oregan Hoskins was unanimously awarded an unprecedented third term as Saru president; Mark Alexander will stay on as deputy and James Stofberg as vice-president. The candidates to two vacant executive council positions were elected unopposed.

The off-the-record briefing to justify this was that Hoskins needs to retain his presidency in order to keep his position on the International Rugby Board (IRB) and it is good for South Africa to have our man at the IRB, especially when it comes to bidding for the next available Rugby World Cup hosting opportunity — in 2023.

Mark Alexander needed to stay on because Saru is at a crucial phase in its negotiations with New Zealand and Australia over the make-up of the next five-year Super Rugby/Rugby Championships deal, which kicks off in 2016. Overall, the message was: continuity is good.

All of this is probably true but, given the level to which parochial self-interest underlies most of the decisions taken here, trade-offs were more likely to have been the clincher. Lucrative Test matches offered in exchange for electoral support, for instance.

Given that many of these men have been engaging in musical chairs for years, it was good to see an injection of new blood in the form of Border Union president Phumlani Mkolo. Aged 36 and the only black African president, he at least represents the average South African, unlike the middle-aged, paler-skinned old boys’ club which still dominates this, Saru’s highest body.

Merit is rarely a factor. One wouldn’t entrust a primary school netball team to some members of the executive council, never mind a globally competitive team.

Nevertheless, it is worth attending these meetings because they include some of rugby’s top power-brokers, and private conversations with the sharper among them confirm the powerful undercurrents swirling beneath the apparently serene surface.

For instance, some of the bigger unions’ impatience at the absurd amount of power wielded by the smaller unions, and the inefficiency and waste of resources that results. Each of the 14 unions now gets a minimum of close to R10m a year from Saru, which the small unions waste on bragging rights to their own professional teams.

Meanwhile, we can’t afford to pay our real athletes properly so we lose them to Japan and France and thus undermine the Springboks and the Super Rugby teams.

It is worth stating yet again how pernicious the Saru constitution is. Weighted in favour of the small unions, this guarantees each of them equal voting rights to the big, effective unions. It results in this splintering of power, undermining the efficacy of South African rugby as a whole.

The problem is that Saru is answerable only to the IRB. The government can intervene but its solution does not seem to be particularly workable either.

They are proposing that all sports codes, including rugby, align their administrative structures with the geopolitical provinces. This would entail cutting the Saru unions from 14 to nine. But it would still mean that provinces where barely any rugby is played, such as Limpopo and North West, would have the same clout as the Western Cape and Eastern Cape, where an overwhelming proportion of the country’s rugby is played.

The government’s argument is that these provincial structures would then be responsible for spreading the game within their regions. This would be great if feasible but all evidence points to the contrary. There is no consistent, effective sports programmes in state schools — neither of the Departments of Education nor Sport and Recreation have been able to get this together.

We have to be pragmatic about this and work with what works. In rugby, development is all but confined to the traditional schools, namely the 143 that have produced the vast majority of Springboks since 1992. If we want to boast the best rugby team in the world, we must let the professionals do their job. The answer is to cut out the small unions and eradicate the power of amateur clubs over professional rugby.

Last Friday’s meeting should be the last time we see this flabby body representing South African rugby.

• McGregor is author of Springbok Factory: What it takes to be a Bok

This column first appeared in Business Day


Potgooi: Keina Swart gesels oor haar gesin se leeslus en Bloujaar, haar nuwe jeugroman

BloujaarKeina Swart se jeugroman Bloujaar het onlangs by Protea verskyn. Sy het met Ilse Salzwedel gesels op RSG se radioprogram Skrywers en Boeke oor haar tienerroman, hoe om kinders aan die lees te kry en haar eie kroos se liefde vir boeke.

“Dit is belangrik dat jy nie lees vir jouself hou nie,” sê Swart en verduidelik dat lees en besoeke aan boekwinkels ‘n rustige gesinsaktiwiteit in hul huis is. Sy vertel ook van Skoobs, ‘n wonderboekwinkel in die Monte Casino-kompleks in Johannesburg.

Die onderhoud begin om 27:40. Luister na die potgooi: