Poverty….disease… gender inequity.. illiteracy… drug and alcohol abuse… unemployment… resource differentials…race conflict… religion… historical inequalities and legacies of oppression. When one thinks about the potential drivers of conflict in a country like South Africa, these are often the first issues that come to mind. But when I asked Dr. Marion Keim in a recent interview what she would say were the primary drivers of conflict, the idea of generalizing about the South African context seemed irrelevant. In fact, these issues are the primary drivers of conflict everywhere. At the community, provincial, national, and continental levels, conflict is generalizable only insofar as it is multidimensional. As Dr. Keim wisely suggested, perhaps it is more instructive to ask what brings people together than it is to determine what pulls them apart.
That is why Dr. Keim and other educators, coaches, entrepreneurs and NGOs have looked to sport as a tool for community development and peacebuilding. Whether its rugby, basketball, hiking, running, or the most ubiquitous sport in South Africa – soccer – community leaders have found great success in harnessing the inclusive power of sport for good. While the social context may very from city to city or province to province, sport works similarly as a adhesive across localities. This can be seen quite clearly in the case of South Africa, where sports programs in the Western Cape and Kwazulu Natal (KZN) operate similarly despite very different circumstances. KZN has the highest rate of HIV incidence and prevalence in the country, widespread poverty and illiteracy and a very different demographic profile than the Western Cape, by far the wealthiest but perhaps the most unequal of South Africa’s provinces. The Western Cape is the only province with a different government, run by the Democratic Alliance, where the rest of SA’s provinces are headed by the ANC (which also has a majority in national parliament). And yet, despite these differences, NGOs like PeacePlayers International , Girls and Football SA and Hoops4Hope have successfully employed sport as an entry point to build trust, develop communities and empower youth.
A final lesson from Dr. Marion is that locally-led and locally-developed organizations are the ones that have the best chance of creating sustainable change over long periods of time. People on the ground are the best source of information for what social ills exist that should be corrected. The social legacy of the World Cup included the proliferation of projects that used sport for social transformation and economic development. Unfortunately, some of those initiatives wore out as quickly as they were begun. Many organizations that work in South Africa do so as part of larger international networks: perhaps they were started by foreigners, or maybe their funding comes from overseas sources. This, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. But what seems to be a crucial ingredient for programmatic success is local ownership and local buy-in. Dr. Keim says it best… “to become a partner you have to be local, you have to be here working with us every day, or you can say you want to assist in a certain way but then ask first. What is it that is needed and how can we contribute?”