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Ken Borland



I know a week is a long time in sport, but … 0

Posted on March 20, 2017 by Ken

 

I’ve always known that a week can be a long time in the world of sport, but I go away for eight nights to the bush of northern Limpopo and return to find rugby’s entire landscape changing with indecent haste compared to the months of feet-dragging that often characterise a game that has been presided over at some stages by dinosaurs or the old farts of the straw-chair brigade.

One of the changes I saw coming before my departure. I always love unintended consequences and it was former Springboks and Bulls defence coach John McFarland who pointed out to me that the rulemakers’ new emphasis on keeping tackles lower, away from the head and shoulders, was at least partly responsible for the sudden rash of offloads we have seen from the South African teams, who have traditionally preferred taking contact and winning some hard-earned, psychologically-meaningful centimetres.

So it’s not just a mindset change amongst our franchise coaches and players, but also that tacklers are now being forced down below the arms, allowing the hands to be free to keep the ball alive.

Time will tell whether that more skilful approach is carried through to the Springboks, but the national team has already had better preparation than last year with a camp and they look better resourced too in terms of coaching staff.

One of those additional resources is Cheetahs coach Franco Smith and it may be just as well that he has earned a promotion because he might be out of a decent Super Rugby job next year. If we believe what the New Zealand media tell us, then the Cheetahs as well as the Southern Kings will be axed from Super Rugby under the new, hopefully improved format for 2018 that is yet to be unveiled.

Harold Verster, the CEO of the Cheetahs, cheerfully told the world though that he keeps his “ear to the ground” and that the rumbling noise he hears is not a rampaging stampede of buffalo at all, but the sound of the Grey College-Free State-somewhere else in the country pipeline running smoothly. He says the Cheetahs are safe.

You cannot be nearly as optimistic about the Kings, however. They would seem to be sitting ducks as not only are they struggling on the field but they are a financial drain on the South African Rugby Union and money always shouts loudest when it comes to administrators, like politicians.

Speaking of politicians, you cannot escape the irony that Cheeky Watson, the self-proclaimed messiah of transformation, has now left Eastern Cape rugby and has done more damage to the nursery of Black rugby in our country than anything since a Nationalist government functionary.

If you called him a blood-sucking tick you would probably be understating his effect. The man has been a full-blown parasite on the game in that vulnerable region, more like the deadly malaria protozoans that kill half-a-million people a year in sub-Saharan Africa.

Later this year, the British and Irish Lions tour New Zealand in what should be the rugby highlight of 2017, but this type of proper tour probably won’t become more common given the news this week that a new global rugby calendar is being introduced. Coming into effect in 2020, it has reducing player workload as one of its main tenets.

Tours by northern hemisphere teams to the southern hemisphere will be pushed back to July, but this will allow Super Rugby to be completed in one fell swoop from February to June. This is a good thing and will come into effect in 2019, because that is a World Cup year.

The 2023 World Cup is another story of course, with South Africa seemingly ranged against France and Ireland for the right to host the tournament. If you can believe what came out of sports minister Fikile Mbalula’s mouth this week, then government is now backing the bid.

Then again, Mbalula might just have been trying to distract from the fiasco that was Durban’s Commonwealth Games bid. The chairman of that bid was Mark Alexander, the president of the South African Rugby Union, but that’s a story for another day.

Ndumo Game Reserve 0

Posted on March 16, 2017 by Ken

 

A spectacular sky over Ndumu after an equally spectacular storm

A spectacular sky over Ndumu after an equally spectacular storm

Ndumo Game Reserve is known as one of the best bird-spotting places in the country, but most of the twitching efforts are concentrated around the sand, fig and riverine forests.

The south-western portion of the park is under-rated Acacia woodland and my latest trip to this Zululand gem produced a sighting that will live long in the memory as one of the most amazing things I’ve seen.

Gorgeous Bush Shrike generally sticks to dense cover and normally only offers a sneak-peek to the many who seek this quite dazzling, aptly-named bird.

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Gorgeous Bush Shrike in one of its typical tangled thickets

It is one of Ndumo’s characteristic birds though, even if the beautiful, ringing “kong-kong-kowit” call is heard far more often than the bird is actually seen.

I had enjoyed an excellent sighting earlier in the day along the southern boundary fence of the park when I heard one calling next to the road. I was expecting to be looking for a bird skulking, as usual, low down in the bush and it took me a while to realise that the member of the pair that was actually calling was sitting out in the open!

IMG_1857[1]

Gorgeous Bush Shrike

But that sighting paled in comparison to what happened later, further down that road in the Paphukulu section as the sand forest thicket starts to open up into more open woodland.

I came across four Gorgeous Bush Shrike, calling and displaying, lifting their heads to expose their bright red throats, and I was able to follow them for a few hundred metres as they continued through the bushes on the side of the road!

One of the Gorgeous Bush Shrike briefly sitting out in the open

One of the Gorgeous Bush Shrike briefly sitting out in the open

This thorny woodland provides handy perches for birds via the boundary fence and the cattle farm outside offers different habitat to the bushveld inside the park, leading to plenty of sightings.

Steppe Buzzard is more a bird of the open habitats outside the park, but seeing as though their migration pattern follows mountains like the nearby Lebombos and this was late October, maybe the one grooming itself on a fence post was just taking a breather from its long journey.

Little Bee-Eater was also on the boundary fence and there were three Redbilled Oxpecker on a telephone pole.

Another migrant raptor, the Yellowbilled Kite, flew over and seemed to be eating something on the wing, while another skulker, the Sombre Bulbul, was kindly calling from the top of a tree for an easy tick.

A Sabota Lark was being unkindly bullied by a Rattling Cisticola (two typical bushveld species), while a group of four Plumcoloured Starlings were dashing about and the black-and-white wings of an African Hoopoe in flight caught the eye.

As the road curves northwards towards what once was the Matandeni Hide, two African Openbill were soaring overhead.

The Matendeni Hide is no more, but the NRC Picnic Spot is a pleasant stop, with Grey Sunbird chip-chip-chipping away in the trees. I was watching a Variable Skink climb one of those trees when suddenly a Redfronted Tinker Barbet alighted on it. What was strange was that the bird looked heat-stressed, with its beak wide open, and it was totally silent – unusual on a day that only reached 33°C for a bird that normally calls incessantly through even the hottest days!

Typical woodland birds like Blackbacked Puffback, Cardinal Woodpecker, Orangebreasted Bush Shrike and Common Scimitarbill were also present, while Crested Francolin and Red Duiker are often seen on the road to Ziposheni.

Another Ndumo special, the infrequent Caspian Tern, allowed for great views as it was flying close to the shore of the Nyamithi Pan.

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern upperside

 

Caspian Tern underside

Caspian Tern underside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This fever tree lined oasis is well worth paying closer attention to via a guided walk; on the last two occasions I have been to Ndumu, the drought meant there was no water around the hides, with all the water birds concentrated closer to the inlet near the Mjanshi road. While the egrets, flamingos and pelicans were all way to the left of the hide, where the water has retreated to, a Spurwinged Goose did present itself straight in front of the hide on the bone-dry pan!

As we crossed the Mjanshi Spruit on the guided walk, we were welcomed by a pair of Malachite Kingfisher and as the water pooled in the pan we spotted Wood Sandpiper, Saddlebilled Stork, Greenshank, Pied Avocet and a Grey Heron atop a Hippopotamus!

Smaller waders were plentiful too with Ringed Plover, Kittlitz’s Plover looking mean guarding their bit of dry land, Common and Curlew Sandpipers and a big flock of Little Stint, which looked like tiny dots on the pan. Broadbilled Rollers were in the fever trees.

Both Lesser and Greater Flamingo were present, along with Pinkbacked Pelican and Great White Pelican, which suddenly stampeded off the banks into the water, obviously mobbing a school of fish, although probably only the first ten pelicans caught anything!

Flamingos on Nyamithi Pan

Flamingos on Nyamithi Pan

Pelicans & Yellowbilled Storks on Nyamithi Pan

Pelicans & Yellowbilled Storks on Nyamithi Pan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ndumo campsite is also excellent for birds and I was given a very happy welcome to camp by an Nyala female and her ‘teenage’ daughter eating the pods of a Natal Mahogany tree very close to where I was pitching my tent.

As always, Little Swifts and Lesser Striped Swallows were zooming around the buildings, calling contentedly, while a Blackeyed Bulbul called cheerfully from a tree that was not unlike the Whomping Willow from the Harry Potter series.

Emeraldspotted Wood Dove

Hadeda Ibis provided a very noisy start to the next day, while Purplebanded Sunbird was up by the offices, where so many of the sunbirds seem to hang out.

A pair of Pied Crow have commandeered the communications mast in camp and croak loudly as they fly about, even attacking a drone that the staff were trying out!

Woollynecked Stork flew over camp, as did two displaying Cuckoo Hawk, while Yellowfronted Canary foraged on the sparse lawn. A pair of Yellowbellied Bulbul were sitting in a thicket with much wing-quivering going on.

Their Terrestrial Brownbul cousins were having a whale of a time at the bird bath close to my site, while a Bearded Robin sat by and watched.

Even while cooling off in the most-welcome swimming pool, birds can be spotted – a sub-adult African Fish Eagle was soaring majestically high above and White Helmetshrike were also seen.

Outside the main office, there is a lovely Marula tree and barely two metres off the ground, in the fork between two branches, is a Spotted Eagle Owl nest with at least one young, while a Wood Owl was spotted on the lawn next to the ablutions one evening.

The central portions of Ndumo are dominated by what is known as Mahemane Bush, a near-impenetrable thicket of inhospitable spiny trees and plants that must have been a nightmare for early travellers on the route to Delagoa Bay.

But the dense tangle is a perfect home for Apalises and a Yellowbreasted and a Rudd’s Apalis were having a skirmish, and in fact the rarer Rudd’s was more prominent on this trip than its common cousin.

As one heads north towards the Usutu River one comes across the clearing where the Diphini Hide once stood, overlooking the Mtikini tributary of the Usutu, which flows into Banzi Pan. Down below in the shadows amongst the Fever Trees was a Whitethroated Robin and a Greenbacked Camaroptera was busy stripping spider web off what looked like an egg casing. The little warbler-like bird got a bit tangled in the process but made off with quite a decent ball of webbing in the end, no doubt for use in sowing together its nest.

One can then turn south-west into more sand forest, with a giraffe deep inside this unusual habitat surprisingly being the first thing I saw on the Mabayeni Road.

The third day was set aside for the trip to Red Cliffs, one of my favourite excursions in any game reserve, anywhere.

Looking down at the Usutu River from Red Cliffs

Looking down at the Usutu River from Red Cliffs

The main road from camp was drier than usual, with the drought not having broken yet in early summer, but there was still plenty of birding activity, with quite the overnight storm having brought some much-needed rain.

An immature Southern Banded Snake Eagle flew into a leafless tree and stayed a good while, while there were five Purplecrested Lourie in a busy group, interacting and calling.

A five-strong group of Redbilled Helmetshrike included a couple of juveniles, while a Goldenbreasted Bunting went fluttering after an insect (they don’t just eat seeds).

Green Pigeon, Bluegrey Flycatcher, Goldenrumped Tinker Barbet and a little group of Chinspot Batis were present and Blackheaded Oriole was yet another bird gathering nesting material.

Red Cliffs was a hive of activity, with a Marsh Terrapin crossing the entrance road, no doubt coming from nearby Shokwe Pan and looking for a temporary pan made by the rain.

Two Yellowspotted Nicator were really unobtrusive even though they were calling loudly, in stark contrast to some Water Dikkop that were roosting calmly by some foliage on a sandbank of the Usutu River. Until a Southern Banded Snake Eagle flew over and then all hell broke loose!

A pair of Pied Kingfisher were hovering over the river and some Yellowbilled Stork were far upstream, but a Little Sparrowhawk, closer to hand, was given away by a Forktailed Drongo dive-bombing it.

Where is Ndumo?

Detailed map of Ndumo

Sightings List

Vervet Monkey

Nyala

Crested Guineafowl

Southern Banded Snake Eagle

Forktailed Drongo

Little Swift

Lesser Striped Swallow

Emeraldspotted Wood Dove

Blackeyed Bulbul

Hadeda Ibis

Purplebanded Sunbird

Brownhooded Kingfisher

Impala

Crowned Hornbill

Purplecrested Lourie

Southern Black Flycatcher

Browncrowned Tchagra

Little Bee-Eater

Fantailed Flycatcher

Southern Black Tit

Cape White-Eye

Redbilled Oxpecker

Gorgeous Bush Shrike

Egyptian Goose

Whitebellied Sunbird

Steppe Buzzard

Yellowbilled Kite

Whitebrowed Scrub Robin

Sombre Bulbul

Longbilled Crombec

Yellow Weaver

Sabota Lark

Plumcoloured Starling

Glossy Starling

African Hoopoe

Yellowbilled Hornbill

African Openbill

Grey Sunbird

Spottedbacked Weaver

Variable Skink

Redfronted Tinker Barbet

Blackbacked Puffback

Cardinal Woodpecker

European Swallow

Orangebreasted Bush Shrike

Common Scimitarbill

Crested Francolin

Red Duiker

Redbilled Helmetshrike

Bateleur

Striped Kingfisher

Blue Wildebeest

Plains Zebra

Goldenbreasted Bunting

Pied Crow

Woollynecked Stork

Pallid Flycatcher

Rattling Cisticola

Grey Duiker

Kurrichane Thrush

Yellowbreasted Apalis

Rudd’s Apalis

Whitethroated Robin

Greenbacked Camaroptera

Giraffe

European Bee-Eater

Goldentailed Woodpecker

Black Kite

Rock Monitor

Redeyed Dove

Goldenrumped Tinker Barbet

Yellowfronted Canary

Yellowthroated Sparrow

Cuckoo Hawk

Yellowbellied Bulbul

African Fish Eagle

Paradise Flycatcher

Great White Egret

Lesser Flamingo

Spurwinged Goose

Pinkbacked Pelican

Trumpeter Hornbill

Striped Skink

Blackheaded Oriole

Chinspot Batis

Marsh Terrapin

Yellowspotted Nicator

Blacksmith Plover

Water Dikkop

Threebanded Plover

Yellowbilled Stork

Blackwinged Stilt

Blackbellied Starling

Greenbacked Heron

African Pied Wagtail

Little Sparrowhawk

Pied Kingfisher

White Helmetshrike

Cape Dwarf Gecko

Wood Owl

Green Pigeon

Bluegrey Flycatcher

Malachite Kingfisher

Wood Sandpiper

Saddlebilled Stork

Greater Honeyguide

Greenshank

Broadbilled Roller

Pied Avocet

Grey Heron

Ringed Plover

Kittlitz’s Plover

Common Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper

Little Stint

Hippopotamus

Nile Crocodile

Greater Flamingo

Goliath Heron

Collared Sunbird

Caspian Tern

Great White Pelican

African Spoonbill

Whitebreasted Cormorant

Little Egret

Terrestrial Bulbul

Bearded Robin

Spotted Eagle Owl

Warthog

 

Former Vaal greats tapping into the reservoir of footballing talent in Sedibeng 0

Posted on July 29, 2016 by Ken

 

There is a vast, largely untapped reservoir of footballing talent lurking out of sight and out of mind near Johannesburg. The gritty industrial area known as the Vaal south of Jozi is a region that lives in the shadow of the great city and its famous stepchild, Soweto.

More than one million people live in the Sedibeng region that includes historic locations like Sharpeville, Sebokeng and Evaton. The Vaal is also the gravitational heart for the northern Free State dorps of Heilbron, Parys, Kroonstad, Sasolburg and also Heidelberg.

Rich in political history, this area has a lesser known heroic soccer past too, with a local team being the first to represent then newly-democratic South Africa in African competition.

While the locals complain about the roads that are rapidly becoming potholes surrounded by islands of tar and wonder how the massive ArcelorMittal factory in Vanderbijlpark benefits the community, there is a group of residents who are laying the foundations for not only the development of all that football talent in the region, but also a long-desired return of professional soccer to the Vaal Triangle.

Vaal Professionals were based in the Sedibeng region and used to be one of the most feared teams in the old national soccer league, winning the BobSave SuperBowl (now the Nedbank Cup) in 1994, becoming the first South African team to play in the Mandela Cup – the African Cup Winners’ cup – and being a founder member of the PSL in 1996.

But football politics and the depressed economic situation of the region reared their ugly heads and Vaal Professionals disappeared around the turn of the century. Their coach at that time was the former Kaizer Chiefs legend Simon “Bull” Lehoko and he is behind the efforts to resurrect the club where his fabulous career started.

“Back in 1970, the NPSL was formed and we were one of the founder members. I played for Vaal Professionals for seven years, but in my eighth year I went to Kaizer Chiefs and Vaal Professionals were relegated to the second division,” said Lehoko.

“I spent eight years at Kaizer Chiefs before I retired in 1985 because of my knee. Kaizer Motaung refused to let me go, but I came back home to work with young guys and rebuild the Vaal Professionals team with Johannes “Man” Direro and 10 other players from Real X20, my father’s team.

“Then the split came, when the NSL was formed in 1985 and they took all the best teams and sponsors. But the NPSL president was our own George Thabe, a local man, so it made it tough for us to choose who to follow.”

He said, “But the George Thabe Stadium was still full when we played the top teams and it became a stronghold of the NPSL, even though the NSL was favoured in places like Boipatong and Sebokeng. But there was no prize money in the NPSL for three or four years and the players called a meeting with the supporters. Players were starting to go for nothing and we were aware that we could lose the whole team.

“So we decided to leave the NPSL but the NSL gave us a second-division place in 1988 even though they had promised us a first division place because we were very strong, winning the NPSL from 1986 to 1988. We chased promotion until 1991, but there was a lot of bribery in those days and points were taken away from us.

“We would lead for the whole year but then it would fall apart at the end with referees giving us red cards and other things. An example was what happened to us when we were leading 3-0 at Potgietersrus. The referee gave penalties against us until it was 3-4 and then the red cards came.

“Teams fielded ineligible players against us and we won those cases despite the arbitrator being the same guy who heard the original case. We were also offered R150 000 to only take promotion the following year,” Lehoko remembered.

Promotion eventually came and Vaal Professionals were a tough side to beat, especially at their home venues of George Thabe and Zamdela stadiums.

“We were doing well and teams like Chiefs and Pirates used to jump the fences here to avoid the muti they thought was outside the change rooms …

“But by 1997/98, everybody was after us. We were offered R8-million to disappear but this club serves the community! They won’t go to Orlando Stadium or go watch Kaizer Chiefs, we even had a supporters’ club in Soweto.

“So they tried to relegate us using the referees. But one referee actually gave his money back, saying Vaal Professionals were too powerful. The only way they could beat us was by underhand means,” he said.

While Lehoko and several of his former Vaal Professionals colleagues have their hearts set on top-level football returning to the area, they are also squarely behind efforts at grassroots level to develop not only the football skills of youth in the area but also their life skills and ability to handle the tremendous social challenges they face.

The idea of drawing on the experience of these former professional footballers was Richard “Bricks” Mokolo’s. A former Vaal Professionals player, Mokolo is a paralegal for the Centre for Human Rights and the Orange Farm Human Rights Advice Centre, and is also involved in campaigns against racism and xenophobia.

He formed the Soccer Legends in 2007 and the impressive initiative benefits both the former players, who often don’t know what to do with themselves once their careers have ended, and the youth who need guidance and inspiration.

“For most former players, it’s a dramatic life change when you retire and it can become very stressful. They feel they’ve lost control of their lives; you’re no more Bull the Man. That kind of prestige is addictive and they lose their dignity along with the fame and respect. Now you’re on your own plus you have to provide for your family and you’re unemployed,” said Mokolo.

“But we’ve opened the door with this programme for the legends to get recognition and their space back. Before, a lot of these former players were unemployed and they would just drink during the day. Man Direro was a teacher and this gives him a chance to do something, to share his experience with learners and assist with life skills as well as being a soccer coach. There are about 40 former professional footballers in the Soccer Legends and they can also assist current players to plan and prepare for the future.”

This means half the benefit goes to the former players doing the teaching and the other half to their students. But they are not just being given football tips by the pros but also being taught life skills.

“It’s not just about soccer but also about social challenges. We’re not just teaching them skills because they come from poor families and we can’t forget about their backgrounds. We teach the Soccer Legends to deal with these issues. We’ve conducted research into the challenges facing both current and future players, and substance abuse is the main problem.

“We also offer counselling for those who’ve suffered domestic violence and we can mediate as alternative role models in the community. We encourage the children to use libraries and we support reading and writing projects.

“The kids may not have seen the Soccer Legends play, but when they’re introduced it motivates children through sports,” Mokolo points out.

A prime example of the success of the Soccer Legends project comes in the form of the Jet Nteo and Mohloli secondary schools, who have excelled in the Motsepe Cup, a top-class national schools competition that this year offers R1-million to the winning team.

A year after introducing the Soccer Legends programme to the Boipatong school, Jet Nteo won the Motsepe Cup and Mohloli, from Sharpeville, also have a fine record in the competition.

Lehoko said: “Bricks is a professor of life skills and he organised courses for us at the Sports Science Institute, the department of sports and recreation and Theta. But to do these courses you rely on sponsorships.”

The Soccer Legends is a pilot project and Mokolo says a lack of funding is all that is holding it back from making an even bigger impact in the Sedibeng area.

“We’ve started a pilot project and we’re seeing the results. The problem is we have no sponsors. Most times we’re in the schools it’s because we’ve volunteered and we can’t keep the children for more than three hours without food. The municipality says they have no money to help us.”

Among the dozens of complaints heard in one day chatting to the Soccer Legends were that local politicians are more interested in petty power plays than actually supporting efforts to benefit the community, that promises made before the 2010 World Cup have never come to fruition and that professional teams don’t belong to the communities they are based in.

People inside the municipality want to control the football projects, but they know nothing about football and they don’t want to bring these opportunities to the Soccer Legends. They’re not actually implementing anything,” Aggripa “Malombo” Tsoari complained.

“Most people here are saying the Soccer Legends are the last hope,” according to Mokolo.

“By 2008 we were strong and preparing for the World Cup. They were told after the World Cup that their lives would change … We were given hope that life will change, and things have changed, but only to make us poorer.”

Not coincidentally, the hundreds of protesters who gathered in Zamdela in early April were venting their anger at the alleged corruption in mayor Brutus Mahlaku’s office.

As Mokolo pointed out, footballers have also been at the forefront of local politics in this country. “We used to say we were victims of apartheid and we couldn’t take our talent to the outside world. At Vaal Professionals, one of our officials was a security policeman. He would take our training in the morning and then arrest us at night for being protesters!

“It was a milestone when football liberation was achieved and we were integrated 19 years before Nelson Mandela was released. But now we’re football victims but no one called us to the TRC.”

So instead Mokolo, the sort of proactive, hands-on administrator that gets things going and makes ideas work, has set up the Bull Lehoko Fund to “capacitate” the Soccer Legends. “There’s no chance of politicians doing anything, so we need to come up with strategies to survive, like the Bull Lehoko Fund which links football to social challenges like nutrition, food and education. As a group, we want to arm ourselves with different skills,” said Mokolo.

How exciting would it be to see not only the return of Vaal Professionals but also the grassroots growth of the game in that area being put under the control of professionals like the Soccer Legends?

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-07-30-soccer-the-forgotten-talents-of-the-vaal-professionals/#.V583c_l97IU

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  • Thought of the Day

    1 Corinthians 3:3 - "For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?"

    One of my favourite U2 songs is a collaboration with Johnny Cash called The Wanderer, and it features the line "they say they want the kingdom, but they don't want God in it".
    Many people say they believe in God, but they don't experience his loving presence. They may be active in Christian work, but only if they have their way. If they cannot be leaders, they refuse to be involved.
    Because they refuse to allow God to fill their lives with his love, they remain weak and powerless.
    Spiritual maturity means developing a greater love for others.

    "When the love of Christ saturates you, immature attitudes such as pettiness, jealousy and strife are dissolved.
    "It is only when you have an intimate relationship with the Lord that you receive sufficient grace to rise above this immaturity and enjoy the solid food that the Holy Spirit gives you." - Solly Ozrovech, A Shelter From The Storm



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