INCIDENTS AT NELSPRUIT GOLF CLUB
HOW CONSISTENT IS SOUTH AFRICAN GOLF ADMINISTRATION IN DEALING WITH DISCIPLINARY ACTIONS?
he Constitution of South Africa, section 33(1), states “Everyone has the right to administrative action that is lawful, reasonable and procedurally fair.”
The SA Golf Association (SAGA) Disciplinary Hearing Guide states “South African law requires that no person may be deprived of his or her rights without a fair process.”
Any member of a golf club would thus expect that disciplinary hearings at golf clubs will be dealt with consistently and with proper adherence to laws, procedures and professionalism.
Golf is a sport governed by ethics, principle and self-governance. In the public eye it is a noble sport that has a proud history of being well disciplined with established rules, guidelines and ethics.
What happens when members of a golf club insist on enforcement of the ethics, integrity and governance that form the backbone of what golf stands for?
The SAGA, Mpumalanga Golf Union (MGU) and Nelspruit Golf Club (NGC) have in the recent past been confronted with this dilemma.
A Nelspruit member was expelled for life from the club for using a single swear word describing his feeling towards the club. The incident took place during a Special General Meeting in which he and his wife, also a club member, were verbally abused for pointing out the non-compliance to the club’s constitution. This had resulted in an unconstitutionally elected management committee, potentially mis-stated financial statements, and the ‘management committee’ not informing members of all proposed changes to the club’s constitution.
None of the actions taken by the ‘management committee’ to expel the member were in line with any legislation in South Africa, the
TSAGA Disciplinary Hearing Guide, and the Nelspruit GC constitution, including the refusal by the club and MGU to hear his appeal. The non-compliance with principles of natural justice has been reported to all golfing bodies up to and including the SAGA. To date no actions have been taken to address this gross injustice.
To put this sanction into perspective, a teenager was assaulted on the Nelspruit course in a racial incident during October 2016. All the golfers involved, including the teenager, were suspended pending a hearing, which only took place six weeks after the incident. At the hearing, the assaulted teenager and one of the golfers were suspended for 18 months, this sentence being suspended for a period of two years.
Due to the incident having been reported in newspapers, social media and television, the teenager was found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute and for behaviour unbecoming a golfer.
Further examples of the lack of consistency of disciplinary sanctions at Nelspruit GC:
In another racial incident, a NGC member assaulted a person in the bar of another Lowveld golf club, resulting in the person being taken to hospital. The sanction for this was a 6-month suspension, reduced to 3 months after appeal.
A NGC member was suspended by the MGU for 3 months after playing a tee shot from an energy drink bottle and doing a “Happy Gilmore” after a Handicap Betterball league match had finished.
A NGC member swore at a home owner while retrieving his ball from the owner’s property adjoining the course. The member was suspended for 3 months.
It is left to the reader to draw a conclusion as to whether the SAGA, MGU and NGC have handled these situations consistently within the restrictions of legislation and with the expected integrity and ethics.
In closing, the novelist Elie Wiesel wrote: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” And “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Jock of the Bushveld statue at Nelspruit.