Fred de Jong: Driver offers hope for future

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I have been in South Africa for one month now and have lived within the protective Fifa bubble of security and privilege. As match commissioner I am provided with a driver and a car on match days. My last ride gave me a rare opportunity to talk to one of the volunteers who was my driver. His name was Linda which brought a long low chuckle from his barrel chest. "I know in some cultures it is a girl's name," he chortled without a hint of embarrassment.

I was fortunate to hear a brief version of Linda's life story.

Linda is one of 17 brothers and sisters. Nine boys and eight girls spanning some 34 years from oldest to youngest. A talented footballer, a striker with pace and an eye for the goal, Linda was scouted by South Africa's top club side Kaiser Chiefs as a youngster. He was unable to take up the opportunity for fear of punishment from his older brothers as he was needed on the family farm. His jobs were to watch over the animals and tend the crops. Watching the animals meant keeping an eye out for predatory animals such as lions and leopards. Hunting was part of his upbringing. For food? No, it was about becoming a man. And what did he use for hunting, guns? No, no, stones, sharp sticks and traps.

Then the farm was confiscated by the apartheid regime. Driven from the land, the family of 19 needed to start over. They were forced into town. Work had to be found.

Putting food on the table was a continual problem.

Are they able to get their land back now? "We have applied to the land claims authorities but the land claims process is very slow. And we do not want to solve one problem and create another. The people who did this are all dead anyway."

Now Linda is a teacher. He has five sons and is trying to put three through tertiary education. Paying 35,000 rand ($7000) for each child's annual fees on a teacher's salary makes for a delicate balancing act.

I asked him what the biggest difference for him has been since apartheid was dissolved. I was expecting bitterness, cynicism, talk of greater freedom or getting back what was rightfully ours. His reply was: "We are now a people of reconciliation, a people of acceptance and forgiveness. Different cultures learning to live together."

It was a beautiful, humbling response.

South Africa has problems, not the least the gap between rich and poor, white and black. The road to lasting peace and reconciliation is a long one. But driving with a man called Linda made it all seem possible.

Fred de Jong is a former All White

- NZ Herald

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