Rugby protests and staying in the pain

It’s 1981 and the Springboks are playing the All Blacks in Auckland. I’m 13 and huddled in front of a screen long before sunrise to watch the game. To my irritation a light aircraft is buzzing the stadium dropping flour bombs onto the field and people are invading the pitch as a protest against Apartheid. For a moment I wonder why they’re so angry at us but then the game kicks off and my attention shifts.

Last night as I was going to bed I caught a glimpse of another rugby match. A knife pierced my heart as I realised that I was watching a lynching. A racist assault emanating from the evil depths of our past like sewage coming up from a blocked pipe and pouring out into the room. I spent today looking for comfort, preferring to ignore the brutal reality of the video clip and then, as if in answer, I found pictures of students holding hands, kneeling in prayer and standing together. I want to feel better about us, I want to celebrate the rainbow nation.

But I can’t!

I want to do that, I really do. I want to believe its all alright, that the rainbow nation will rise.

But I can’t.

I don’t want to confront the images and truth of racist brutality in my neighbourhood, on my newsfeed, on the rugby field..in my life. I want to smile with relief, click, share and move on with my life of careless ease.

But I can’t, I just can’t.

The students in the circle are doing a brave and courageous thing. But it will be a meaningless palliative if we allow their actions to simply medicate our emotions without dealing with the underlying reality. If we do, if we allow ourselves to move too quickly past the pain then we will fail ourselves and this moment in our history. If we turn the perpetrators of this racist violence into extremists who are far from us, then we turn away from the cup of salvation that is being offered to us in this moment of pain.

The Old Testament talks badly of prophets who shout peace peace when there is no peace, who whitewash walls and tickle our ears. Its easier, its nicer, its more comfortable to share and read about the students showing unity.

But we must stay with the pain of what we see on the field. We must stay there and watch our story unfold and we must discover ourselves on that field. We embrace the awful heart wrenching truth that what happened on that rugby field is a mirror for the daily violence of squalor, of shacks, of dysfunctional schools, of portable toilets, of apartheid, of colonialism, of humiliation, of life. A daily violence that we tolerate. We must sit with that pain and let it penetrate our very being until we cry out in lament. It is this pain that will ultimately lead us to a place where we can truly stand together.

We are at a kairos moment in this beloved land of ours. We stand on the edge of possibility and imagination, we stand with a chance to undo centuries of evil and injustice in this land. But sitting in my garden I know that this will take sacrifice and courage I wonder if there isn’t another way, if I really have to drink this cup. And then I remember another man who asked for a cup to be taken from Him only to ultimately recognise that He needed to drink it.

And nothing was ever the same again.

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