Several promising young softballers sat cramped in buses on a rainy yet humid Sunday morning, waiting for someone to open a UCT students residence where they were supposed to stay during the SA Schools Games in Cape Town last week. More than four hours later, they were still waiting to enter the St Peter's Place residence in Mowbray.
Between showers, the players had to endure the walk to a nearby shopping mall's toilets because the residence remained shut.
The lunch they were supposed to have at the residence did not arrive.
Elsewhere, some of the other provincial schools squads, including the volleyball, baseball and table tennis teams, were experiencing similar problems... accommodation locked and no caterer in sight.
Yet the enthusiasm of the aspiring sports stars aged 12 to 17 from the Western Cape and other provinces, like Limpopo, Eastern Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, did not waver.
They were motivated to excel at this, the inaugural and biggest mass school sports event yet held under the auspices of the national Sports and Education Ministries. The softballers' fatigue and weariness showed when they were at last shown to their rooms at about 16:00 to freshen up for the opening ceremony of the games at the Bellville Athletics Stadium at 19:00.
The ceremony bonded the youth and lifted their spirits. The announcement that the Sports and Education Ministries had spent R25 million to cover all costs, including transport, accommodation and team kits for the 5 000 participants, was warmly applauded.
The games were on track after a disastrous start to the day.
Yet, there were concerns that the huge cash flow could set off a gravy train for people making no meaningful contribution.
There were also clear signs of the jobs for pals arrangements that have so often bedevilled our society. The large number of VIP ticket holders elbowing their way to the private suites at Bellville for free grub suggested all was not well. A Western Cape Sports Department staffer openly pointed out some of his colleagues making their way to suites. He said their contribution to the event was ziltsch.
Several teachers also headed for the VIP area, although the children they were responsible for had not received a proper meal.
The young softballers' supper (mince food that turned sour) arrived at 02:00 on Monday morning. The team management refused the food. Then no breakfast was provided before the softball and baseball teams respectively left for Turfhall Stadium in Crawford and Kenwyn at 06:00 on Monday morning.
The WP Federation, aware of the catering fiasco, provided food for the Western Cape softballers. The other provinces, amid strong protests, had to provide their own meals, ahead of the five energy-sapping matches each province faced on the opening day.
The national organisers then disclosed that the Gauteng-based caterer (does this not wreak of a jobs-for-pals from up north deal?) was given the boot and that other caterers were being brought on board.
The first caterer and his cronies apparently flew to Cape Town without a cooking utensil or a tin of beans with which to set up their catering service. Mince, hot dogs and junk food party packs consisting of chips, lollipops and biscuits were their specialities.Not the kind of sustenance to keep young sports people going in the summer heat.
Fingers, as expected, are now pointed at the national and provincial organisers for their incompetence. Some teachers, who joined these big-wigs in the VIP suites while the children went hungry, also need to do some explaining.
Thelma Achilles, the national schools softball president, apologised to the provinces at the closing ceremony. And so did Noore Nacerodien, the president of the WPSF and vice-president of Softball South Africa (SSA).
The SSA vice-president added that the organising debacle that unfolded made a mockery of the lighting of candles that was dedicated to the 16 Days of Activism Campaign Against the Abuse of Women and Children.
Who dares to differ with him? Letting children sit in cramped buses for over four hours and letting them go hungry are surely gross acts of abuse...