While South Africa is on the brink of racial tension, can the Lions Tour help inspire a divided nation?
A third wave of Covid-19 has claimed over 1,600 lives since Monday, bringing the total death toll to just under 66,000.
A spate of violent protests sparked by the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma has fueled an already unstable social order.
More than 100 people died in property damage estimated at £ 750 million.
Up to 75% of youth in the country are unemployed as racial tensions continue to simmer in the country with the most inequalities in the world.
The three tests, which begin next Saturday, will be held in empty stadiums due to the pandemic. Players and coaches in both camps have been limited to biosafe blisters, although some have still contracted the virus.
When referee Jaco Peyper ended the proceedings, the cognitive dam broke. As the players shook hands, the sobering waters of reality flooded the mind, making the spectacle at the cave-like Cape Town Stadium seem trivial by comparison.
Siya Kolisi lifts the trophy as South Africa wins the 2019 Rugby World Cup final at Yokohama Stadium.
But however unprecedented these times may seem, they are not entirely without comparison.
South Africa is a country that has always walked a fine line between tragedy and triumph, and its sports teams, especially the Springboks, have served as beacons in dark moments.
“Winning games is one thing, but these players feel like they offer greater service,” says Lloyd Burnard, editor of Sport24 and author of the book Miracle Men, which commemorates South Africans’ victory at the 2019 Rugby World Cup records.
“They won’t necessarily use what is happening as motivation to improve their performance, but they will recognize that through performance there is an opportunity to inspire people in these difficult times.”
The World Cup victory 20 months ago, like the one in 1995, united the South Africans across racial and class boundaries.
The journey of Captain Siya Kolisi, during which he reached the height of his sport despite his childhood in poverty, inspired millions of people. The four-day Victory Parade, which zigzagged through suburbs, townships and inner cities, was a celebration for everyone.
“But how long does this euphoria last?” Asks Burnard. “The deeply rooted problems are still there. Rugby can only remedy this for a short time. But 2019 showed the best version of ourselves. Just because it was fleeting doesn’t mean it wasn’t real. “
Then what would victory in the Lions series mean for the country?
The problems it is facing now are bigger than those in 2019. And beyond rugby lovers, there are some doubts that this competition will have a lot of penetration, especially as the games are locked behind an expensive paywall.
If there are legitimate doubts about the lasting effect of the sport, it is worth questioning the decisions made to hold this event. In an open letter published in June, the International Commission of Jurors (ICJ) human rights group expressed concerns about the apparent prioritization of “young fit healthy individuals who [covid] Vaccinations “.
“We asked the Minister of Health for clarity and transparency as to why exactly the introduction of vaccines by the government and the approval guidelines of the World Health Organization were deviated from,” says Kajaal Ramjathan-Keogh, ICJ Africa Director. “This appeared to be a discriminatory and unfair practice that could prove to be an obstacle to fair access to vaccines.”
Not that Ramjathan-Keogh asked for the tour to be canceled. There is no denying that the sport has a unique status in South Africa, no matter how illusory a driver for unity.
This is necessary now more than ever.