The Proteas’ series win in the West Indies was made possible by the team’s determination as a unit. That was flagrantly obvious. The performances of the fielders, senior batsmen and the bowling unit sealed the victory, yet the leadership and the team’s belief in each other enabled them to hold their nerve at key moments.          

Mark Boucher and Enoch Nkwe spoke of the fireside chats in their preparation camp. The frankness of those exchanges facilitated a united squad with shared values and a common purpose. When the going got tough there were no dropped heads, just a steely resolve. That made the difference when the batting crumbled and left them badly exposed.

They, like the Springbok rugby and Proteas netball teams, gave us yet another glimpse of what SA could be like if we challenged, embraced and understood our diverse strengths. The Proteas achieved that throughout the tour. The T20 team had to endure constant changes in team selection in an effort to find the best combination, yet their fortitude never faltered.

As SA citizens, we need to draw on this example to rebuild our nation one generation at a time.

We can also draw on the words of a 13-year-old boy from Dragon School, Oxford, in the UK. In 2019, Gus de Bono, captain of the under-13 cricket team, wrote to thank Ukhanyo Primary in Masiphumelele township for hosting a day of sport and learning. The Dragon School’s parents and children were apprehensive when they arrived, having never visited a township. Gus de Bono wrote: “Both our and the Ukhanyo teams were nervous at our first meeting but soon we were laughing together. They say sport is a language that everyone understands, and here we were actually speaking it.”

Sport crosses religious, racial, wealth, cultural and international boundaries like no other interaction.

SA’s painful history hampers our ability to see past our set ideas, hurt, guilt or anger. In this tumultuous country we habitually judge and seldom see others as individuals. Theoretical liberalism is easy to sprout but difficult to live by. We invariably remain stuck in our historical references and deeply held beliefs. The dream of a nonracial society that embodies unity in diversity seems a long way off. We as citizens need to change this dynamic.

Sport, together with other passionate activities such as life skills and a top-class education, is the healing balm that can lead to a healthy nation. This holistic trilogy makes schools the heart of this much-needed renaissance.

Yet 23,000 schools have few resources, no after-school activities or sporting facilities. The task is gargantuan. With our national government lacking the will, skill or resources to change this, it has to become a community initiative. 

Schools have a responsibility way past academic results. SA’s so-named “basic” education is just that — extremely basic. Yet the majority of our educators in these impossibly huge and poorly resourced underprivileged schools teach with passion and skill. On-the-ground initiatives with communal support are vital. Here are just two examples:

• In the 1990s, as part of a broad programme involving all non-teaching staff, a science lab assistant at St John’s College in Johannesburg was given the opportunity to send his three boys to the school. Almost inevitably the first son battled socially and academically but managed. Four years later, the youngest son of the three, having learnt from his school-going brothers, started in Grade 0 at St John’s and breezed through, an enthusiastic maths and computer boff, a fine athlete, popular and confident. One family at a time.

• The other example is a community/school project, ensuring a rich learning environment of education, sport and life skills. The primary schools of Ukhanyo in Masiphumelele township in Cape Town, Nkondlo in the Mthatha district and Westlake Primary in the Western Cape are examples of schools thriving with an extensive holistic education. These community initiatives receive wonderful support from NGOs, individuals, foundations, Rotary clubs and businesses. These schools have fine dedicated principals and staff with a strong volunteer committee that work together. This type of initiative can be replicated one school at a time.

There are so many other incredible grass-roots initiatives flourishing. We have the ability to build future generations of South Africans. Today we often blame, point, wound, cry victim, do not understand privilege, hold onto our prejudices and pay lip service to equal opportunity. Our nation needs to change the way we engage; it must be done openly and with a generous heart.

An educational renaissance will develop confident and skilled generations to come. Education should have been the government’s primary focus in 1994, but in this they failed dismally. We as citizens must not.




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