Wrong route to deal with ‘forgotten people’

Fans during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Champions Tour in Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Fans during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Champions Tour in Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Image: Michael Sheehan

Sunday’s Springbok tour of the Bay churned up a myriad of emotions.

For some, it elicited feelings of joy, hope and unity and for others who stood in the rain and wind for hours, only to have the tour route changed, it was disappointment and anger.

Anger that, in the northern areas, led some residents to burn tyres, throw stones and block roads.

Let us be clear that destructive behaviour, regardless of what sparks it, cannot and must not be accepted. It has no place in our society and discourse. 

Equally, we believe it is also necessary to examine the context behind the anger felt by thousands of disappointed Bok fans in this city. 

For many in the Bay’s northern areas, as well as Rosedale in Uitenhage, the very idea that the Springboks would parade through their neighbourhood was immensely important.

This is because there remains a historical narrative, real or perceived, that those living in those areas in particular have been systematically marginalised — by both pre- and post-apartheid governments. 

It is a belief that their communities have never been top of mind, that government continues to neglect them and pleas to have social ills, such as gangsterism and poverty, rooted out, are ignored.

Whether you agree or not, that sentiment is a pervasive one. 

On Sunday, those living there missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, with many watching as their children shed tears of disappointment.

It is also the reason why many have defined their bitter disappointment as a result of yet another example of systemic exclusion, rather than purely a logistic stuff-up as understood by those who live elsewhere in the city. 

The anger and destructive behavior that followed — the latter not justifiable —  must be understood not as a result of an isolated incident and was not solely directed at the aborted Springbok tour. It was an expression of years of frustration.

In a fractured society such as ours more attention should be paid to issues of this nature by those in positions of decision making. 

Local organisers of the Bok tour should have realised that to leave Rosedale and the northern areas specifically out of the mix would reinforce the perception that these communities are, once again, “forgotten people”.                                                                  

For South Africans to truly be “stronger together”, working to change those perceptions is essential. 

What the people of the northern areas and Uitenhage ultimately need is real, structural change brought about by a more efficient government.

But they also need a system that listens and leaders who are conscious to enduring historic perceptions in our society.