As you know very well, we are a divided nation with a history of pain that won't be erased by you lifting a trophy. We are a nation becoming, in conflict with our past and future. One side black, one side white, one poor and one privileged. We are defined by 300 years of every form of oppression.
Even for something as simple as sport, we have been in the past incapable of sharing the same sporting heroes
The inescapable truth of it is that we intertwined with the same force that divides us… our history.
Our identities are converging on a ground of violence, prejudice and perpetual social conflict. With persistent negation, various tribes, cultures and languages of South Africa are begrudgingly becoming one through the evolution of merely sharing the same space.
Naturally, there are parts of our history that will remain divided. There are white compatriots who are purposefully ignorant of our beautiful histories such as The Winter Rose rugby or Dan Dumile Qeqe. On my end, I will continue to reject Springbok teams that mirror the 1950 Group Areas Act which legally divided society and, by extension, rugby. The insistence of division was further exhibited by the 1953 Separate Amenities Act which was specific to rugby fields.
This is our hateful history.
Although this divided history is written in concrete, we are with time gradually sharing new sporting heroes. The youth are beginning to admire sporting heroes across racial lines. Sporting men and women are starting to represent more than a race and gender, but a nation. I believe Caster Semenya is one such example. She enjoys the support that transcends gender and race. Granted, this will not change the greater challenge of systematic racism and sexism, but transcendent athletes are able to give us a glimpse into the possibility of unity.
I know you know the history of this country well enough to know that these divides cannot be placed on the shoulders of great athletes such as yourself to fix. You are a sportsman who competes on the idea of equality. You do so, knowing very well that your upbringing was not equal. With all the odds against you, you rose to measure greater than your adversities.
With all your greatness, I truly believe it would be a convenient dereliction for us to impose on a sport the responsibility of repairing a nation. The idea of nation building cannot be imposed solely upon yourself and your teammates. Nation building requires a nation, all of us in our own spaces bettering ourselves towards the idea of a united South Africa.
However, a greater part of this responsibility of nation building must be expected of our leaders and those who govern us. Unlike us, they possess the means of public office to dictate a more shared prosperity.
I want to be frank with you and possibly unburden you of any pressure you may carry. The idea of a South African nation of great commonality and unity rests upon the foundation of shared economic prosperity. It is not your performance at the World Cup that will take 29% South Africans out of unemployment. Your performance will not end gender-based violence and crimes. Your performance will not create racial and social harmony. Your performance will not end corruption. It will not impose upon our leaders the great urgency of our economic crisis. And although we may wish it, your performance will not even end load shedding
What you will do is play a sport of 80 minutes on a 107m x 72m pitch of grass. With all the passion, you will attempt to score more points than your opponents… simple. All we want from you is your best; what we will take from that is powerful possibilities.
Possibilities that a black child can rise above structural adversity and stand on a world stage as a champion. Possibilities that, with all of our challenges and differences, we can set shared objectives and accomplish them. Possibilities that we need not be confined to our past. Possibilities that we are capable of continuously producing great leaders. Possibilities that 58 million South Africans, with contrasting histories, can momentarily share the same hopes. Possibilities that leaders can sacrifice themselves for our collective benefit. Possibilities that, without trivialising our genuine grievances, we can in fact be stronger together.
These are the possibilities we can take from this mere sport. When you lead your team on the field on Saturday, lead them out with our truths. Truth that states that we are not yet one, but we are a nation becoming. A truth that reminds the world that we are a resilient nation, characteristically inclined to do the impossible.
Bokke, Captain, God's speed.
- Mayihlome Tshwete is a former spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs and son of the late Steve Tshwete, democratic South Africa's first minister of sport, overseeing the country's re-entry into international sport.
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