The late long-distance swimmer Theodore Yach Photo: Jason Boud / African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town – Renaming the Robben Island to Cape Town swim after late open-water swimmer Theodore Yach is inconsiderate to indigenous people of the land, and there are others much more worthy of having the route named after them, such as Khoi chief Autshumao.

These are the sentiments by indigenous group Khoisan Defiance Campaign and the ANC in the province after Western Cape Premier Helen Zille announced that she supported the call by M&C Saatchi chief executive Mike Abel to rename the Robben Island to Cape Town swim, the “Theodore Yach Challenge”.

Yach died this week.

Zille sent her condolences to his family, saying: “I can think of no honour more appropriate than naming this event after Mr Yach. He was the first person in history to complete the Robben Island to Cape Town swim a full 100 times over.

“Theodore Yach was an extraordinary man. He was the visionary and the brains behind the City Improvement District and has played a huge role in the transformation of the City.”

In 2016, Yach became the first person to complete the Robben Island Crossing 100 times. The swim from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay is 10.4km, and takes place in icy waters.

Khoisan Defiance campaign spokesperson Sammy Claasen said Autshumao, also known as Herry the strandloper, should be honoured instead, as he was the first person to successfully complete the swim.

In 1659, after losing a war to the Dutch settlers, Autshomao, Simon Boubou and Khamy became the first prisoners on Robben Island after they were banished by Jan van Riebeeck.

Autshumao and his fellow escapees are the only people to successfully escape from Robben Island.

“Why is it so difficult for the Khoi to get recognition in this province? We respect (Yach) and his ability, but he was not the first person to swim the route. If Zille wants this to go ahead, she needs to open it to public participation,” Claasen said.

ANC provincial secretary Faiez Jacobs said the route is historical to indigenous people and to those who fought an apartheid state.

“Autshomao was a local hero, and then there are our liberators who were incarcerated at Robben Island who should have the route renamed after them instead,” Jacobs said.

Cape Times