Most of us seem paralysed by the enormity of the horror and by a sense of helplessness in helping to end the carnage. But we would be remiss if we did not use this moment, not only to bear witness, but to reflect on the coexistence of despair and joy.
I have come to believe that it is possible and often necessary to exist in two realities at once to be able to continue to put one foot in front of the other.
When my family was in exile, the trauma, grief and loss my parents navigated were unimaginable. Yet, through those moments, they were committed to creating enclaves of normalcy for us to live a somewhat normal life, punctuated by pockets of joy that were held together by a community dedicating their lives to a better South Africa.
This was necessary not only for us, but also for their sanity and morale so that they wouldn’t shrivel up and die from a sense of hopelessness that seemed ever threatening. It was also necessary to inculcate a sense of hope for a functional life beyond the one of their immediate suffering.
In South Africa, we have been overcome by the joy of the Springboks’ victory. But many, rightly so, have grappled with the question of whether or not it is fair to do so while millions in our country languish in poverty and thousands are dying in the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Whereas some say glibly that sports and politics do not mix, I disagree. And captain Siya Kolisi captured it well when he said: “This was not about us as players – this victory was for every South African, and we showed what is possible with this diverse team. This trophy was for the people experiencing tough circumstances – those in Zwide, Goodwood and Malmesbury, and all other communities and townships …”
The Springboks have gone from having no black players to fielding one in their first Rugby World Cup in 1995, which they won, to their first black captain setting a record of winning two world cups.
This would have never happened had black people during the apartheid era given in to their exclusion from the sport and drowned in the despair of the times, with no hope of ever knowing what it would be like to feel the joy of playing a sport they love and one day representing their country at such a level.
Perhaps, if nothing else, the lesson for us this week in South Africa is that we should focus on the things that unify us, with a view to work continuously on building on them and recognising each other’s personhood so that relations do not degenerate into attempts at annihilating each other. DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.