'Our people have suffered enough': Gauteng legislature worried as government fails to help athletes

21 January 2021 - 07:00
Mbali Hlophe, MEC of sport, arts, culture and recreation in Gauteng.
Mbali Hlophe, MEC of sport, arts, culture and recreation in Gauteng.
Image: Sunday Times

Gauteng-based athletes have endured months of struggle, seemingly without help from the provincial government. 

Unable to compete due to Covid-19 for almost a year, many athletes had hoped for assistance — but claimed that despite submitting applications for Covid relief funding, they had been left empty-handed.

The issue was raised by the Gauteng legislature's sport, recreation, arts and culture portfolio committee this week, with MPLs concerned at the delays in the payment of the relief fund by the provincial government.

Committee chairperson William Matsheke, of the ANC, said they were concerned that despite the Gauteng sports department, led by MEC Mbali Hlophe, having made funding available to qualifying sectors affected by the pandemic, some beneficiaries had not been paid the much-needed relief.

“As the portfolio committee, we will be convening an urgent roundtable discussion with the department and stakeholders to understand what could have led to this delay,” he said.

Matsheke said the committee had requested both Hlophe and her head of department to urgently deal with the issue.

“Our people have suffered enough during the pandemic, and continue to do so. We urge the department to immediately resolve this matter,” he said.

This week, athletes claimed that they had been kept in the dark regarding their claims submitted to the Gauteng department of sport from the Covid-19 relief fund.

The department opened the second round of relief fund applications in October.

Athletes said Hlophe's office had promised to pay them before the end of last year, but they are still waiting for their money.

The department has hired auditors to audit its financial records, and cited that as the reason for the delay in payment for the second-round applicants.

Department spokesperson Nomazwe Ntlokwana confirmed that the payments had been delayed, but did not shed further light on the matter.

“I do not have further comment,” said Ntlokwana.

Cross-country champion Precious Mashele told TimesLIVE's sister publication Sowetan last week that he had applied for the funding and was still waiting to receive his payment.

“Nothing happened in December,” he said.

Another athlete, who did not want to be named, said the department did not update them about the payment.

“I applied twice, and when I asked about the money, they said they would pay before the end of December. But nothing has happened,” said the fed-up athlete.

Thapelo Phora, the 2019 400m World Champs semi-finalist, confirmed that he also did not get paid, despite sending in two applications — in July and October.

The University of Pretoria-based athlete has no sponsors and did not race last year, and he was hoping that the relief fund money would help him close the gap created by the postponement of the sport by Athletics SA last year. He said he had a bleak Christmas.