Banyana Banyana have yet to be paid the full sum of money promised to them by the South African Football Association (Safa) for finishing second at the Africa Women Cup of Nations (Awcon) in Ghana in December.
Members of the national women’s football team have grown increasingly frustrated in what is turning into a protracted battle over pay and have threatened to strike after Safa failed to honour public commitments to the team.
The money owed to most members of the squad is about R75 000 a player and includes the team’s stipends and the bonus earned for finishing as runners-up at Awcon.
Banyana Banyana are due to face the Netherlands at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday in the Winnie Madikizela-Mandela Challenge, but the team was willing to boycott the match in protest over delayed payment, according to senior players.
Safa held crunch talks with the team on Tuesday and have managed to stave off the action by promising that half of the money owed would be paid by the end of the week.
The strike would have meant players would not honour scheduled interviews or attend training sessions.
Four players, who spoke to the Mail & Guardian on condition of anonymity, said they are owed in the region of R75 00 each, the majority of which stems from a promised bonus.
Before Banyana departed for Awcon in mid-November, Safa held a press conference during which the association revealed a bonus structure dependent on where the team finished in the competition. A second-place finish was worth R1 575 00 plus an R840 00 participation fee.
After Banyana finished as runners-up, they were greeted at OR Tambo International Airport by an adoring public and senior Safa representatives, who handed over a cardboard cheque for R2 415 00. Safa president Danny Jordaan presented the cheque to captain Janine van Wyk.
“Safa handed over Banyana Banyana their promised cheque incentives,” Safa’s website stated on the day.
The players, however, said they never received their dues.
“Some of the players are breadwinners and depend on this money to provide for their families and themselves,” said one of the players who spoke to the M&G.
She and the other three fear they will be victimised if they speak out. “No one wants to lose their place in the team because of this.”
The last pay cheque the players say they received was on December 19 and was related to match fees they earned in Awcon.
The absence of a professional league means those who are unable to secure a move overseas rely on the money they get from their time in the Banyana team. Despite the growth of the sport in the country, national team players are regularly driven to seek employment outside of football.
Banyana players don’t earn a monthly salary and only get a daily stipend for the days they spend in camp. They earn R400 when on national duty in the country, and receive R4 00 for a draw and R5 700 for a win.
Safa had reportedly first attempted to respond to the frustration in the camp by sending a letter to the players, which was read aloud by team manager Lauren Duncan on Tuesday morning. The letter promised the players would get paid by February 15. It is not known who signed the letter.
But the players were still not happy.“We want to demand that they pay us this month. The 15th is a bit too far. We want to see something in black-and-white that says when we will be paid,” said another of the four players.
The team’s management called a meeting with Safa acting chief executive Russell Paul later that day. He assured the players that they would be paid half the money on Friday (January 18), and the rest by the middle of February, before the team heads out to the Cyprus Cup, which starts on February 27.
“They haven’t paid us. They owe us about R75 000. We were only given R37 000, which came from Sasol as a bonus,” said a senior player.
The team was ready to go on strike, suspending all their responsibilities, including media engagements.
“No one was supposed to do any of the interviews but, because they promised that the matter would be resolved soon, we obliged. We didn’t even get to see the letter they promised us because they know it would have ended up in the media. We don’t have anyone who can stand up for us.”
On Thursday morning, Paul confirmed that he has been in continued discussions with the players. Asked whether there was still money due to players, he said: “I can confirm that their payments will take place. That’s what I can confirm after discussions with them. As far as nonpayment is concerned, we’ve had discussions with the team.”
With regard to the issue of the outstanding Awcon bonus, he said that half of it had already been paid and there was an understanding that the rest would only be paid next month.
“The agreement with the players was that we would be paying it by the 15th of February and it would probably be paid before then,” he said. “Half has already been paid.”
He could not comment on the precise amount owed to players.
“It’s difficult for me to give you an indication on numbers. Half was already paid — they received a payment in December and there’s an agreement that the balance will be paid on or before the 15th of February. We’re honouring that and if anything they’ll be paid probably by tomorrow [January 18].”
But the players say they did not know about this agreement until Tuesday.
Paul said he had no knowledge of plans to strike.
This is not the first time Banyana have protested. After qualifying for Awcon in July last year, Banyana were not paid and attempted to force the matter by refusing to return their Nike national team kit until Safa paid what was due to them. Soon after the incident, they also wrote to Jordaan to demand a raise.
Players say they are now sceptical about the promises made to them.
At its constitutional congress in October 2017, Safa resolved to establish a full-time professional competition for women — the Safa National Women’s League. A similar promise to launch a professional women’s league was made in 2008 by then Safa president Molefi Oliphant, but that commitment was not fulfilled.
On Wednesday, Sports Minister Tokozile Xasa did reveal at a breakfast she hosted for Banyana that her department would dedicate R5-million to the competition over the next three years.
But on Thursday morning it was announced that the launch of the league has been pushed back to August.
“South Africans took a lot of interest in the fact that they are still not paid, hence today we are taking a step forward to make our intervention to launch the premier league,” Xasa said.
“So that we can gradually see them getting into serious and further developments that will assist us in growing them. We want to see them earning out of football.”
Since 2009, most women football players plying their trade in South Africa compete in the Sasol League. According to Safa, 2 800 women, comprising 144 teams across the nine provinces, participate in the competition. Although this provides the opportunity to play regularly, for the majority of players there is little or no financial incentive.