at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Johannesburg - South Africa's athletics team, whose performance at the 2012 London Paralympics inspired the nation, were themselves moved by the warm welcome they received on returning home at OR Tambo International Airport.
“I never expected it to be like this. I've never seen anything like this,” said sprinter Oscar “Blade Runner” Pistorius.
From the moment they stepped through the doors, they were greeted with loud cheers, the beat of djembe drums and the blare of vuvuzelas.
Waiting to receive the athletes were people holding signs saying “welcome back” and individual signs praising their favourite athletes.
“Oscar, Henri and Jana want a hug”, read one from two siblings for the “Blade Runner”. Henri and Jana's mother, Lili Potgieter, said her children were big fans of Pistorius. “They just think he's great. He's a superhero,” she said.
Potgieter said her father, who lives with the family, is confined to a wheelchair. Watching the athletes of the Paralympics was important for her children to understand what disabled people could achieve. “They're different... They're different, but the same,” she said.
Also inspired were several disabled athletes including the North West boccia team.
National boccia champion Martin Ramathsa said he was excited to watch fellow disabled athletes compete at the Paralympics.
“I was so satisfied,” said Ramathsa.
Part of the warm welcome included schoolchildren from Ithembelihle Lsen School, a school for disabled children, singing 'Shosholoza'.”
Student Teboho, who does not have a surname, said the athletes inspired her to keep a good attitude even if she's faced with challenges.
“I like that if they fail they always keep a positive mind,” Teboho said.
Sports and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula called the team “tenacious” and “driven” and credited them for changing perceptions of the disabled.
“The face of disability has changed forever,” Mbalula said. Democratic Alliance spokesman Mmusi Maimane also attended the welcome and issued a statement calling the athletes an inspiration.
“I was particularly struck this morning by the large number of disabled young people who attended the welcoming celebrations,” he said. “Even though our paralympians are heroes to us all, it was clear that disabled South Africans found special inspiration in the successes of our paralympian heroes.”
The warm welcome home was not only for the paralympians fans but also their families.
Carene Fourie was eagerly awaiting the arrival of her husband, sprinter Arnu Fourie, who won a gold and bronze medal in London, with her mother-in-law Marinda Cilliers.
Fourie said her husband trained daily and while the family had to give up time with him they didn't view it as a sacrifice.
“You don't really see it as a sacrifice because you're part of the goals,” she said, while Cilliers nodded in agreement.
South Africa's Paralympic team finished in 17th position, securing 29 medals, including eight gold, 12 silver, and nine bronze.