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The day SA cricketer Tabraiz Shamsi gave me hope for a better world

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Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African ambassador to Ireland.

I would have been impressed by any player who was so kind to children in the middle of a match, but what moved me was the symbolism of what was happening.

Last weekend, I went to the Newlands Cricket Ground to watch a T20 match between Titans and Western Province. With only a handful of spectators (Cricket SA, what on earth is going on?), the usually reserved members’ area was open. Apart from providing us with a great view, it was also next to the stairs that lead to the players’ dressing rooms. 

After the first innings, the players headed up the stairs. My eye was caught by three little boys standing next to the railings hoping to get autographs from the passing players. They wore kippahs (little head coverings) and had Tzitzis (knotted prayer fringes) attached to their clothes, so were clearly from Orthodox or observant Jewish households. 

The boys’ growing disappointment was visible as all the players rushed past them. Then, joy of joys, one player stopped. It was Tabraiz Shamsi. He patiently signed their shirts, bats and pieces of paper while chatting to them. They then asked for his cap. He explained that he needed it, but they pleaded. After a game of rock-paper-scissors (his suggestion), one little boy walked away beaming with Shamsi’s cap. 

I would have been impressed by any player who was so kind to children in the middle of a match, but what moved me was the symbolism of what was happening. Shamsi is, of course, Muslim. There were no cameras or journalists, so I’m sure this was not something he did consciously. In any case, it happened too fast and spontaneously. He was just genuinely kind and generous to these boys — something they will never forget — and it moved me. 

Over the past few months, I have struggled with how to bridge the polarisation that the Gaza-Israel conflict has brought about. 

While I abhor the acts of Hamas, I find it particularly difficult when friends whom I have known to be kind, compassionate and fighters for human rights, justify the ongoing deaths and suffering of so many women and children at the hands of the Israeli Defense Forces as mere collateral damage.

Every discussion I have had and every column I’ve written ended up with some accusation of anti-Semitism or naivety; it seems there is no middle ground.

After I related the story of Shamsi and the Jewish boys to a family member, he sent me the link to a TED Talk between two peacemakers — one  Palestinian and the other Israeli. 

Maoz Inon, who grew up close to the Gaza border, founded tourism projects in partnership with Arab Israelis to encourage cross-cultural dialogue. 

Aziz Abu Sarah’s 14-year-old brother was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier when Aziz was 10. Sitting across from each other, Maoz described to Aziz how his parents were burnt to death during the 7 October attacks by Hamas. 

Then followed the most amazing conversation filled with compassion and understanding for each other as well as a shared commitment to peace. I was moved to tears by these two men, who had every right to be angry and seek revenge, yet were determined to honour their fallen parents, friends and siblings by modelling a future where peace could reign for Jews and Palestinians. 

These two men also made me think about how divided South Africans still are — 30 years after the country’s first democratic elections. As is common during election times, these divisions are again becoming more stark as racial and economic differences are highlighted by political parties. 

During their talk, Moaz and Aziz insisted on the importance of being able to ask the hard questions and being willing to listen to the other side. I agree and, like them, I believe that a lack of understanding and recognition of our different historical narratives makes it very difficult to narrow the divides between us and find a shared vision for our country. 

Both men came to the understanding that it is through action — through deeds of kindness and compassion — that people and the world change. Sometimes it takes tremendous courage, as with Moaz, Aziz and many South Africans who forgave those who killed or tortured family members. But it is also through small acts of kindness of which we can all be part, that real change happens. 

On the evening after that cricket match, as I prepared for sleep, I saw in my mind’s eye a little boy in an orthodox Jewish household falling asleep with Tabriaz Shamsi’s cap next to his bed. That image gave me hope that we might still see Israelis and Palestinians, as well as South Africans of all races, finding peace and understanding of one another and creating a world of hope for our children. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Luke S says:

    Thank you

  • Rod Stewart says:

    Amen!

  • Tom Bosman says:

    It is not the politics, it is not the economy. It is sport stupid

  • Steven Burnett says:

    Feelgood story on Spin doctor needs no spin doctor. Dm needs to tell more of this

  • Mohammed Bashir Khan says:

    White South Africans remain ardent Israel supporters. It will never change.

    • Russ C says:

      Not true! I am white and SouthAfrican and l do NOT support Israel. Don’t generalise.

    • Rodney Weidemann says:

      Not all white South Africans. Many of us are appalled at the genocide being conducted by the IDF in Gaza, and while I may still be of the opinion that the ANC laid charges against Israel at the ICJ as a form of electioneering – just because it may have been done for the wrong reason doesn’t make it any less just or right.

    • Luke S says:

      Sorry my friend, but that generalisation is the same as saying everyone who criticises Israel is antisemitic – it’s racism. I am white, pushing 50, and definitely do not support the Israeli regime or what it has done and continues to do to the Palestinian people. If I were forced to fight and choose a side, I would be in Gaza in a heartbeat, fighting the oppression. I have many white friends who feel the same. Can you not see the tone of skin of the author of this article?

    • Luke S says:

      Sorry my friend, but that generalisation is the same as saying everyone who criticises Israel is antisemitic – it’s racism. I am white, pushing 50, and definitely do not support the Israeli regime or what it has done and continues to do to the Palestinian people. If I were forced to fight and choose a side, I would be in Gaza in a heartbeat, fighting the oppression. I have many white friends who feel the same. Can you not see the tone of skin of the author of this article?

    • Ben Harper says:

      Hahahahaha

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