Describing this year’s Olympic team as “a bunch of winners”, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula today announced generous cash rewards for the country’s returning sportsmen and women.
“Boys and girls, you really made South Africa proud by collecting those bronze, silver and gold medals,” Mbalula said yesterday on the arrival of Team SA at OR Tambo International Airport from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where they won 10 medals.
“I know Gideon Sam [president of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee] said he would give athletes R500 000, but today when I woke up, I was so happy and I decided to increase the offer.”
Mbalula said 400m champion and world record holder Wayde van Niekerk would receive R150 000 in addition to the R500 000 he would get for his gold medal. Caster Semenya, the 800m winner, would receive an additional R100 000, he said.
“Those who managed to get silver medals will receive an additional R70 000 each and R50 000 for bronze recipients.”
The minister said the athletes had brought joy to millions of South Africans who had watched them perform. “Minister of finance, please don’t cut our budget. Instead, increase it so that we can produce more medals in the next four years,” he added.
Mbalula called on the private sector to invest more in local talent. “I’m happy for Telkom. You have supported Usain Bolt and it’s enough. Now, please support Wayde van Niekerk and Caster Semenya,” Mbalula said. “I’m inviting corporate South Africa to shower these athletes with more money and give them sponsorship because government cannot do it alone.”
Team SA received a warm welcome from hundreds of people who braved yesterday’s cold weather to be at the airport from as early as 6am. Many were spotted dressed warmly, with blankets wrapped around them.
The team’s flight, scheduled to arrive at 7.25am, was delayed to 7.55am, but this did not dampen the spirits of the many people who were there, blowing vuvuzelas and singing.
Pupils from the Solid Foundation Primary School kept chanting “go Team SA”, while hoisting placards reading “well done Team SA”. Well-known female football fan Joy “Mama Joy” Mathebula could not hide her excitement, saying she was proud of Team SA.