Following the recent xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa, Pretoria and its fellow member states of the Southern African Development Community have a perfect opportunity starting this weekend to heal the wounds caused by the shameless acts.
SADC leaders tackled the xenophobic attacks at their extraordinary summit in Zimbabwe last month and South Africa is taking measures to prevent a recurrence of the scourge.
The 2015 Cosafa Cup being hosted by South Africa in the North West province for two weeks could not have come at an opportune time for the Southern African region. It presents the region with a chance to use sport as a medium to promote unity and integration among its citizens.
At the height of the xenophobic attacks, some football fans in a number of Southern African countries had called for a boycott of the 2015 Cosafa Cup to air the region’s disapproval of the attacks that left seven people dead, displaced several thousands while others lost their household property and cars.
The attacks exploded in Durban and the KwaZulu Natal province before spreading to Johannesburg and the Gauteng province. The attacks only stopped when the South African government deployed the army to help the police quell the disturbances. The attacks targeted mostly immigrants from Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Somalia and other parts of the continent.
The governments of Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique were forced to dispatch buses to South Africa to evacuate their nationals.
This explains why the loudest calls to boycott the 2015 Cosafa Cup were coming from Zimbabwe.
But the calls were misplaced because football leaders, even from the countries whose nationals were the worst affected victims, argued that the world’s most beautiful game presented a good chance to help unite South Africans and foreigners living in their country.
The region’s football leaders believed the Cosafa Cup could be used a powerful medium to showcase the beauty of Southern African camaraderie and shame the agents of the xenophobic attacks.
The Lifelong Footballers Trust of Zimbabwe argued that for the Zimbabwe national soccer team, the Warriors, to play in the tournament in South Africa, where thousands of their countrymen and women were attacked in the country’s townships, would be an insult to all those who borne the brunt of the xenophobic attacks.
Perhaps they were misjudging the power of sport in uniting people and as a weapon for change.
The international community used sport as a powerful tool to fight apartheid, throwing South Africa out of the world’s sporting communities, and barring teams and sportspeople from competing in that country.
The Zimbabwe Football Association argued that boycotting the tournament was not the appropriate measure to deal with these ghastly malpractices as two wrongs did not make a right.
“We are of the considered view that the Cosafa tournament itself will send a clear message to perpetrators of violence that regardless of different nationalities, people can exist in harmony.
“The Cosafa tournament will inevitably demonstrate that football has unquestionable power to surpass borders and nationalities.
“The tournament will also reveal that football is a gigantic agent for peace,” said ZIFA spokesman Xolisani Gwesela. Let the games unite us!