Superstars – and super neglect

While our government ministers pass the buck and get their priorities wrong, our rural children suffer.

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One of my memories of the Bophuthatswana homeland is a song sung during the mzabalazo, or demonstrations. It was called Ditonki di a poka ko Bophuthatswana – “The ghosts of the donkeys have come back to haunt Lucas Mangope and Bophuthatswana”.

The song referred to the so-called donkey massacre. During the mid-1980s, Mangope instructed his police and defence force to kill donkeys in many parts of Bophuthatswana. Being a child at the time, I never understood the reason for this apparently heartless deed. Recently, while in Mahikeng, I asked a well-known elderly farmer from the area, Gideon Morule, why Mangope had issued this instruction.

It turned out that none other than Morule himself had written to Mangope and his Cabinet recommending that the donkeys be culled. He was writing on behalf of the then Bophuthatswana Farmers’ Union, who were deeply concerned about the effects of a severe drought in the area. They urged that the government control the donkey population as it was on the increase and competing with other livestock for grazing.

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Mangope heeded the call and huge numbers of donkeys were destroyed across Bophuthatswana. The move, according to Morule, was simply a desperate way of addressing food security. Yet it provoked much anger. The point is this: as the criticism grew, Mangope took full responsibility for the unpopular decision, which was made with the best intentions. (What could be more rational than ensuring food security for your people, after all?)

When under pressure, he didn’t blame the farmers’ union. He acknowledged that he had given the order to destroy the donkeys. Can this be said about our leaders today? Hardly. Just look at the disgraceful Limpopo schoolbook episode, where everyone is passing the buck while our children’s futures are being compromised. It seems our ministers have simply forgotten what their roles are.

A rural perspective
And now Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula wants to pay US entertainer Beyoncé R17 million to perform at the second annual South African Sports Awards. That’s R17 million for an American star to land here, doubtless kiss the ground and give us the ‘motherland’ nonsense, and spend an hour entertaining an audience. What does this have to do with agriculture? Well, nothing, and everything.

Does the minister know how many farm and rural schools there are without sports infrastructure? There is constant government talk about the need to improve sporting facilities and opportunities at grass roots level, and the need in poor rural areas is most acute of all. Rural development is not only Ministers Gugile Nkwinti’s and Tina Joemat-Pettersson’s problem – it’s everyone’s. For without rural development, how can we begin to ensure food security or general stability?

Even Mangope, for all his faults, recognised this. A final point: if Mbalula wants to waste millions on a star, why not a sports star, like Usain Bolt or Serena Williams? Surely that will be more of an inspiration to our sporting youngsters than some arbitrary singer?