The Oxford dictionary defines a treasure as “something much loved or a highly valued person”. If I were to ask you, like it was asked of me recently, to name something that you really treasure, I guess you’d be able to list a number of items very quickly. I know I did. But if I ask you to create a list of people you treasure in your life or in your community, could you be as quick-on-the-draw? Many can construct lists of international stars, politicians, celebrities, musicians or artists they admire or have disdain for. My sense though is most people can't construct a list of highly valued persons from their community. And this should bother you.
A few weeks ago I attended one of the numerous rugby derbies between schools in Paarl. A row in front of me, on the main stand, sat a hero of our local community, a formidable nation builder that deserves to be recognized and celebrated for his achievements, without fail. He is one of the most successful Rugby coaches in the modern era, having annexed the Tr-Nations Rugby Championship and the Lions series and taking the national team to the quarter-finals of the World Cup. The country invested significant capital in him yet he is a forgotten man in our Rugby circles. He is basically without a job despite openings at franchises across the country. He should be revered yet he is not.
I watched him closely as he became animated at the exchanges on the field between opposing players. He looked happy and content. I felt aggrieved that we’ve allowed him to simply slip into the shadows as if he never garnered the spotlight.
Pieter de Villiers is not the first local that has risen above his circumstances and achieved success in life or international sport. Neither will he be the last. Like many locals who have shown their prowess across many areas, he runs the serious risk of becoming yesterday’s news and relegated to the annuals of History if we allow this to happen. How many have not suffered such a fate already; poets, playwrights, artists, community leaders and religious stalwarts. Completely forgotten and often ridiculed in the mainstream as if their contributions to building our local communities or the nation made little impact. Yet without them, we probably would not have the liberties we take for granted today.
It is an indictment of all of us should we not pay attention to this issue. Our communities are struggling to maintain identity in the face of modernization and the fallout of our desire to be a leading player on the continent and the world stage. When all else fails, it's the rich potpourri of the contributions of local personalities in local communities that allow us to rally to each others’ sides. We need our leading lights, we need to keep their legacies alive, we need to forever celebrate them! If we don’t, we will loosen the very fabric that has kept our sense of community and identity tight over many, many years in the face of adversity and strife. And we will be poorer for it.