Is sport still relevant in higher education institutions? What impact does it have on the livelihood of the sportsmen and women of the Eastern Cape, a province rich in raw talent, uncut diamonds waiting to be polished, but at times lacking the necessary tools and facilities to take those abilities to higher levels? Our vast region makes it almost impossible for many young people to make it to the top with getting lost in the system and falling by the wayside. Ours is the poorest of the poor provinces in the country, with higher education and sport the key to our only hope of escaping from the hard knocks of life.
In recent years there have been success stories on the rugby field, with four teams representing institutions of higher learning – Nelson Mandela University Madibaz, Fort Hare Blues, Walter Sisulu All Blacks and Rhodes University – all plying their trade in the Varsity Shield, and with many excelling in athletics, cricket, soccer and many others. The players come from as far afield as Qumbu, Idutywa, Cala, Qoboqobo, Komani, Ncera, Mthatha, King William’s Town and other places in the region.
The province has some of the best universities in Rhodes and NMU, academically ranked in the top 2000 in the world. To be precise, Rhodes ranked 1295 (10th in South Africa) and NMU 1655 (12th in South Africa). There are prestigious institutions like Fort Hare with a rich history of leadership excellence, WSU and institutions like Lovedale College, Ikhala College, Fort Cox, King Hintsa and many more providing the backbone of our region.
It is a vast and complex situation that varies from institution to institution. Also, geographical factors play a role with regard to urban (metro) to rural (small towns).
What is the state of these institutions and can they keep up with some of the top universities in South Africa? Talent is no issue as there is abundance, but it seems these athletes are snatched away by institutions outside the Eastern Cape with ours unable to hold on to their talent. Akhona Mgijima of WSU stated: “Our Institutions have a long way to go because we do not have proper sports facilities and adequate training equipment. We have also not invested in scientific machinery to enhance performance. We have not dedicated enough financial resources to transform sport from amateur to high performance. We also don’t value the human resources we have because most are underpaid and undermined and yet are qualified.”
Rhodes University rugby head coach Carlos Katywa is adamant that enough opportunities are given to talented students. “Sport is at an almost high thanks to Varsity sport and the initiative of trying to level all sporting fields,” he said. On the other hand, Ntsikelelo Ngcakana from NMU, reiterated the fact that most universities outside the province have a bigger budget and more incentives and use that as a carrot to lure some of the best talent out of the province. He said: “The standard between our institutions and those in the top provinces are miles apart.”
That was supported by Katywa who said these institutions have huge budgets and can approach big companies to provide bursaries to hundreds of students in different sporting codes, and also bring in specialised coaches.
It is different strokes for different folks. Lovedale College King campus co-ordinator Luchulumanco Shugu believes sport in general has declined due to budget constraints.
Evidence from research is clear – children and youth who are involved in physical activities such as sport fare better in school and higher institutions, have higher social skills and are more team-orientated. It is clear that there is greater need for EC institutions to effectively and efficiently come to the party in order for talent to prosper.