Reconciling riot hotspots through sports and storytelling


In his state of the province address on Thursday 24 February, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Premier Sihle Zikalala indicated that the region is on its way to economic recovery after the riots, looting and violence in July 2021.

Zikalala also spoke about the reconciliation and healing process that affected communities need to undergo in the wake of the civil unrest. Since September 2021, social change NPO Heartlines, together with church leaders and other NPOs in the province, has been working to help communities in KZN achieve this.

Following a reconciliatory workshop Heartlines hosted with church leaders from Phoenix, Inanda, Ntuzuma and KwaMashu, Pastor Sibusiso Mtakati proposed a sports day as a way to demonstrate their commitment and trust in one another. The sports event took place on Saturday 19 February at the Dr John Langalibalele Dube Stadium in Inanda.

A representative of Heartlines, and one of the event organisers, Craig Bouchier, said the day was an opportunity to show the communities of Phoenix, Inanda, Ntuzuma and KwaMashu that church leaders in the area are united.

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Bishop Johnny Isaacs from Mighty Revivals Ministries flexes his skills before the anticipated soccer match between KZN church leaders.

Bishop Johnny Isaacs, who has lived in Phoenix for 46 years, said it was the first time he had been to Inanda. He viewed the sports day as a meaningful milestone in the reconciliation journey in eThekwini.

“I’m so emotional, seeing everyone laughing together. The unity has been incredible to witness,” said Mtakati about the response to the sports day.

The event was also supported by the eThekwini Municipality Department of Sports and Recreation, as well as the Department of Community Safety. Nabulo Nkwanyana, a representative from the Department of Sports and Recreation, said that the event was an example of the power sport has to unite people in South Africa.

Reconciliation process

In September 2021, in response to the July unrest, Heartlines hosted 28 church leaders from KZN in a two-day Bridge Leadership Engagement.

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Church leaders at the sports day praying together. 

Bridge Engagements are facilitated workshops that help groups grapple with the question of how to foster greater levels of trust and understanding amongst themselves, and their wider communities. These workshops were developed as part of Heartlines’ What’s Your Story? initiative, which uses personal storytelling as a tool to break down barriers and unlock creative strategies for change.

Pastor Jay Naidoo from Saints Church in Verulam was part of the KZN Bridge Engagement: “It was an amazing experience, we were different ethnic groups of people and we built new relationships. Since the Bridge we have noticed that more churches are coming together, we can see change starting to take place. We share coffee together, ministry teams visit different areas that they have never been to before, we are building new relationships and getting stronger as we form unity in Christ,” he says.

Mtakati adds, “Sharing my story at the Bridge was a powerful experience, I felt a great sense of relief. As we were engaging, the idea of using sports came about, because it can bring about change. Today’s event is an act that shows that we are united in our diversity. We understand that achieving reconciliation is a process and we are going to have more events in the future.”

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Phoenix Church leaders with Pastor Sbu Mtakati from Inanda and Sarah Montgomery.

Sarah Montgomery, consultant to the KwaZulu-Natal Church Council (KZNCC), was involved in the KZNCC’s work to support church leaders during the July riots. “In the context of Phoenix, Inanda, Newlands, KwaMashu and surrounding areas, the violence took on a particular slant…we needed to respond to the fear in a way that protects our neighbours and de-escalates violence,” she said.

Montgomery added that the sports day “was a way to explore how we can bring all of those people together to start talking, to start sharing, to start meeting”.

Although there is still a long way to go, church leaders, Heartlines and the KZNCC will continue to strengthen networks between church leaders, with a vision to continue fostering peace, providing social and economic relief, and building stronger communities.


09 Jun 2021|Neziswa Titi, Children’s Institute of UCT

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