Rugby allows the students from South Africa’s Zisukanyo Secondary School and American International School to interact in an experience that would under any other circumstance have never occurred.
“We are in a disadvantaged school,” Ms. Sotashe solemnly declares to her Business Studies class at Zisukanyo Secondary School in Cape Town. The class looks at her with knowing faces. They heard this before. Their government, media, and community remind the young adults that they have the short end of the stick. Most would expect the students to give up because of the townships’ shortcomings, but these South Africans use rugby as the remedy to their obstacles.
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It is summertime and the smoldering heat attacks the shacks and the newly built concrete houses in the township of Philippe. Fans and air conditioning are close to non-existent so they eat African salad, a mixture of sour milk and grain, to tame the fire. When it is night, the locals stuff newspaper in the cracks to eliminate the cold. As they wake, roosters crow and the students must boil water from the spout outside because internal running water in a privilege not a necessity. They put on their uniform and head to school where three students share one book, copying the lesson and homework for the day because the school cannot afford books for all. Afterschool, they have rugby practice on a grassless area they proudly call the “graveyard”. Many are barefoot, stepping on rocks and sticks. The students then begin their trek home; some are close but others have a 30 minute brisk walk across a bridge.
However, when the Zisukanyo students stepped onto the American International School’s pitch, their hardships disappeared. Despite AIS’s perfectly green field and obviously well-off students, the Zisukanyo rugby team was determined to prove their equality. The rugby ball served as glue for the two teams that are the antithesis of each other. As the game progressed, a tackle became a way to break the social and economic barriers that held them apart. Once a sign of dominance, each try the Zisukanyo made proved that they are equal to their richer counterparts. Although they have different home, school, and financial situations, the blood they shed on the pitch and their dedication to rugby are the same. Whether you’re South African, white, a mixture of the two, or anything in between; we are one people gathered under the umbrella of rugby.
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