Wayde van Niekerk and Cheslin Kolbe are both products of champion parents. Picture: Screenshot
Wayde van Niekerk and Cheslin Kolbe are both products of champion parents. Picture: Screenshot

Wayde van Niekerk and Cheslin Kolbe are both products of champion parents

By Cheryl Roberts Time of article published Nov 10, 2019

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Look at this South African sports narrative: two young sportsmen, both from anti-apartheid sports communities who played their grassroots sport in the same hood, have gone on to not only win Olympic medals, but become world sports champions. They are athlete Wayde van Niekerk and rugby player Cheslin Kolbe.

Both Wayde and Cheslin, related as family, in their growing-up years lived in Kraaifontein during the apartheid era. Both went to government primary schools. Both participated in and excelled at athletics.

Wayde went all the way to become Olympic and world champion. Cheslin got to play more rugby at high school and went all the way to winning an Olympic bronze medal and World Cup gold medal in rugby.

Both Cheslin and Wayde’s parents also played sport - with scarce resources and facilities available in their disadvantaged schools and communities. They were sports champions in rugby (Cheslin’s father) and athletics (Wayde’s mother) and got selected into national teams, representing oppressed sports people who played non-racial sport, under the leadership of the SA Council on Sport (Sacos).

This was also anti-apartheid sport whereby the choice was made not to support apartheid in sport, nor play with apartheid-supporting sports structures. Playing anti-apartheid, non-racial sport meant waiting for apartheid to be abolished and for a democratic South Africa to be birthed.

It meant sacrificing international participation until apartheid was defeated and all South Africans could vote in a democratic election.

This is a real-life story coming out of South Africa: the narrative of people oppressed under apartheid because they were not white.

Although not many sports facilities and resources were available in marginalised, deprived communities, sports organisations rose up within communities and created opportunities for the youth and women and men to participate in sport.

While apartheid organised sport on “whites-only” terms, disadvantaged oppressed people organised their sports constitutions on “non-racial” terms, with no racial discrimination.

But it wasn’t just about playing non-racial sport; it was about playing anti-apartheid sport.

It was about playing sport for freedom from apartheid, freedom to live in a democratic society. Playing non-racial sport also meant we didn’t play international sport, because we did not want to play against those who were complicit with apartheid.

Playing non-racial sport meant you played on sandy grounds, with no government funding, and were ignored by corporate sponsors. Yet, sports talent surfaced among disadvantaged sports people.

The anti-apartheid sports struggle wasn’t easy. Much sports talent that surfaced among oppressed black communities got sacrificed for freedom from apartheid.

Oppressed athletes could have participated in world sports events and become world champions, but they sacrificed their talent at the altar of not playing apartheid sport - which also meant international sport.

Twenty-five years ago came the advent of the post-apartheid era and the ushering in of a democratic South Africa - a country littered with inequalities and subsequent challenges had to proceed to provide for the people, and not just a white minority.

Today, in a remarkable turn of events, we have two world champions who first played their grassroots sport in the same hood, emerged from anti- apartheid sports-playing communities and families and have parents who played anti-apartheid sport and were sports champions.

Wayde and Cheslin’s parents made sacrifices so that their children - and indeed South Africa’s children - could play sport in a free country and represent a democratic South Africa.

* Cheryl Roberts is a sports activist.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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