Sport for Development & Peace: Tribute to Senzo Meyiwa


Sport has proven over the years that it is a powerful tool for human development and peace in almost every society. Even in countries that are confronted with war and civil strife, sport can be a bridge which can be used to reach out to warring parties to help with rehabilitation, social therapy and nation-building.  As much as sport is an important intervention, it cannot be a panacea for all challenges facing societies today.

For example in Brazil, sport especially football, is one of the most viable ways of poverty alleviation as a thousands of youngsters can earn a living and even accumulate decent wealth as professional footballers. It is sometimes the only way out of the crime infested favelas (slums) of the major cities.

Sunday 26th October 2014 will forever remain etched in the memories of African sport and football lovers in general as the day on which the life of the South African National Football Team captain was snatched away by the barrel of the gun. Senzo Meyiwa, a young and vastly talented man was gunned down senselessly in the suburb of Vosloorus, Johannesburg.

There was and still is an outpouring of grief from those who knew the young man personally and from people who just saw him perform his goal –keeping heroics on television. Senzo Meyiwa’s death has emphasized some home truths that Africa as a whole needs to realise. 

There is need to actively engage communities in fighting crime. It is the responsibility of communities, assisted by state and local security forces, to ensure safe and crime free neighbourhoods. Communities cannot afford to be passive passengers on matters that concern their well-being such as crime prevention.

Young people have abundant energy and strength and if these attributes are not constructively engaged in poverty stricken and deprived environments, the inevitable results are alcohol and substance abuse as well as juvenile delinquency and crime. Coupled with the free flow of guns and ammunition, especially in South Africa, you actually have a recipe for disaster.

Instead of scratching the surface and addressing the symptoms, society needs to go to the root or the underlying causes of this sad situation that has been manifested by the untimely death of this young man. Of course, there is need to limit the access to guns and ammunition by every Tom, Dick and Harry in the various communities. However, what is important is to work on the minds of people, especially the young ones, to turn their lives away from alcohol or drug- centred entertainment.

To do so is easier said than done. It calls for investment in the construction and maintenance of sport and recreation facilities as well as training of sport development and social workers to engage young people, especially in the disadvantaged and underprivileged neighbourhoods. In addition, there is need for massive education on the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse in schools, sports clubs, health centres and other community forums. It is very difficult to combat trafficking of arms and drugs when there is great demand and lucrative markets for the contraband.

A multi-faceted approach requires that the issue of demand is also addressed. The same applies to the evil of trafficking of girls and young women for sexual exploitation. The trafficking itself is indeed a symptom of a much bigger problem, which, if not addressed, can cause the break-down of societies as we know them.

The tragedy of Senzo Meyiwa is not just a South African issue. It is indeed a headache for all governments of the region. Sometimes, tragedy can be powerful teacher. It is a like a rude awakening calling people from their collective slumber to address problems that have been festering like terribly infected wounds for a long time. 

Although political leaders and ordinary people have been aware of these problems, no concerted efforts have been made to find long term solutions to the issues at hand. Now there is nowhere to hide   for both the political leaders and people.

Sport for development and peace, as one of the possible interventions, has been widely acclaimed even by the United Nations as a tool for nation building. It addresses, in a democratic and participatory manner, various challenges faced by the community.  Solutions cannot be imposed from above by respective governments but they can facilitate and play a catalytic role to help communities and ultimately the nations as collectives, to move forward.

There has been an unhealthy concentration and investment of resources in high performance or elite sport to the detriment of community based programmes which can help to transform the lives of young people in underprivileged communities for the better. This leads to social exclusion, alienation and marginalization whereby criminal groups and gangs emerge who do not identify with broader society.

Such people, acting individually or collectively, have nothing to lose from terrorising the rest of society. It is such people that need to be taken care of through innovative ways and means. Of course, through the justice system, they can always be locked up in prisons but jailing them still does not address the issues or enable people to sleep better and live without fear in their communities.

The Southern Times Sports Forum believes that the tragic death of Senzo Meyiwa must galvanize all stakeholders to critically look at themselves and determine the roles they can play in transforming the lives of ordinary people for the better. Sport for development and peace can play a critical role in this regard. 

Senzo Meyiwa was indeed a brave and wonderful captain for Orlando Pirates and Bafana Bafana, leading by example on the field of play. May His Soul Rest in Eternal Peace!

November 2014
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