DA welcomes Deputy Minister Mafu’s instruction on safeguarding accountability to Parliament

Issued by Veronica van Dyk MP – DA Deputy Shadow Minister for Sports, Arts and Culture
05 Dec 2022 in News

Note to Editors: Please find attached English and Afrikaans soundbites by Veronica van Dyk MP.

The DA welcomes the Deputy Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, Nocawe Mafu’s instruction to all South African sport federations that feedback regarding safeguarding should be standard in all presentations to Parliament.

Deputy Minister Mafu’s instruction during Friday’s parliamentary portfolio committee on sport, arts and culture meeting, embodies what the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) campaign should be – implementable action that will better the lives of GBV victims in a practical way.

After many years of the DA trying to hold sport federations to account on the protection of athletes against abuse, and the federations’ seeming unwillingness to put the well-being of their athletes first in this regard, it is encouraging to have the Deputy Minister fight in our corner. This is a step in the right direction. But we cannot stop here. More needs to be done to ensure that athletes who are victims of harassment, abuse, sexual abuse and exploitation are protected.

More often than not, the DA’s questions regarding safeguarding in general, and certain allegations of abuse and consequence management in particular, get treated as bothersome. This is truly troubling in a country where GBV is the daily norm for thousands of women and children and perpetually on the increase.

From the DA’s engagement with organisations that work with such victims, it is clear that abuse is rife in many of the country’s sport codes. One of the organisations that assist victims of abuse in sports, the Olivia Jasriel-Foundation, is working on 36 historic cases and 51 current cases of abuse in 22 different sport federations.

Yet, effective safeguarding and reporting of abuse still seems to be a problem in South African sport, despite the laws relating to the obligations in terms of reporting abuse. Safeguarding policies on federations’ websites are not enough. Federations need to start protecting victims and valuing their safety and well-being over the abuser’s.

Institutional culture and the tolerance of violence in sport should be addressed as unequal power relations between athletes, individuals in positions of authority and some training environments unfortunately provide opportunities for abuse. Most of the cases that the Olivia Jasriel-Foundation is dealing with are of coaches taking advantage of young athletes. Victims do not always understand the reporting procedures and often fear victimisation, not being believed, and possible exclusion from a team.

Sport federations also need to step up. When victims come forward, they need support from the relevant federation. Unfortunately, this often seems not to be the case. In one such instance, abuse by a gymnastics coach was reported through the Guardian, the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee’s (SASCOC) preferred safeguarding partner. After an internal investigation, the coach was found innocent, yet he has since been arrested and is awaiting his first court date. The DA has submitted written questions to SASCOC regarding the Guardian.

If we are ever to root out abuse, all role players need to unite in our efforts to safeguard vulnerable athletes. Safeguarding policies can only make a difference if they are consistently implemented without fear or favour.