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KZN Gaming, Betting Tax Amendments may close the door to horseracing for generations to come

 

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By S’manga Khumalo

As a youngster growing up in KwaMashu, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), I never would have dreamed that I would someday be two-time winner of Africa’s greatest horseracing event – the Hollywoodbets Durban July and two-time South African champion jockey.

Horseracing has been a door into a life I could not have imagined. I can only hope that this same door will lead many young, black people to even greater success than mine. But this door may soon be shut closed by a well-intentioned yet ill-conceived legislative measure now under consideration in the KwaZulu-Natal provincial legislature.

The problem is a proposal in the Gaming and Betting Tax Amendment Bill that would divert funding from the province’s racecourse operator, Gold Circle, to a soon-to-be-established ‘Transformation Fund’.

Currently, Gold Circle receives 3% of the proceeds from betting on the races. The Bill proposes to cut this to 1.6% with the rest being allocated to the fund. As the name of the fund suggests, the purpose of the proposal is to advance transformation in the horseracing industry. This would be a wonderful suggestion but for one snag: transformation is already being done by the best-placed stakeholder, and this proposal would undermine that work.

My own success is a testament to the work the industry already does to advance transformation. I was first spotted by a talent scout, not at an expensive private school, but at Mzuvele Secondary School. The man was looking for potential jockeys, and my small frame – which hadn’t always been an advantage – finally worked in my favour. At just 14 or 15, I didn’t have any plans, but when this opportunity came, I took it with both hands and haven’t looked back since.

After a successful interview, my journey began. I read a lot in those early days, and was inspired by the story of the late Gift Funeka, the first black jockey to ride in the Durban July. As it happened, he was also from KwaMashu. The South African Jockey Academy was very helpful in assisting with my application and I was lucky to have my mother’s support in this pursuit.

The first time I saw a horse was terrifying. Imagine yourself as a tiny young man standing next to a 500kg animal. But it was also exhilarating. Starting in 2000, I embarked on a five-year apprenticeship that involved early mornings, a lot of riding, mucking out stables, and learning to take care of horses.

To receive this training at no cost was a life-changing opportunity. There were only a few black guys then; there are many more today. A new generation of black professional jockeys are coming up behind me, and I hope the likes of myself and Gift Funeka will inspire many more. But this journey is only possible because many people are giving generously of their time and expertise to train youngsters.

Gold Circle is a huge financial supporter of the Academy and of many other stakeholders in the industry in KZN. It uses the funding it receives from the tax on winning punters’ fixed odds bets to support all these stakeholders in the industry, including rural racing. Go to any track and see the number of black racegoers, jockeys, grooms, employees, and small business owners. This is where the transformation and development are actually happening.

It is because of Gold Circle’s investment in institutions across the industry that I grew to become a skilled jockey and won the Hollywoodbets Durban July for the second time in 2022. And it is also Gold Circle’s funding of the prize money that makes this a viable professional option for anyone other than the rich.

I absolutely agree that the transformation and development of the horseracing industry in KZN is important, but I am living proof of the fact that the industry is capable of, and is, transforming by itself without a government-run Transformation Fund.

In fact, the South African Jockey Academy was the first non-racial secondary school in the country. My personal experience demonstrates that more than 20 years ago, the Academy was already scouting for young black people to train to become professional jockeys. Today, more than three quarters of the apprentice intake at the Academy are black people.

All this only begs the question, what will a Transformation Fund do that Gold Circle isn’t, and what additional value will such a fund bring to this effort?

If it fails to enhance transformation, the loss to the province will be great. The July brings hundreds of millions of Rands into the province and, as we recover from the blows of the past three years, we need all the revenue we can get to rebuild our province and protect the vital jobs we have.

 

Original Article

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