Cape Town – Tens of thousands of motorcyclists polished up their bikes, decorated them with toys of all descriptions and rode in huge parades all over Southern Africa on Sunday in the annual Charity Toy Run.
This is the day when South Africa’s loudest minority reaches out to its most silent, making Christmas come true for tens of thousands of children in institutions and unfunded care and welfare programmes across the country.
Rain seemed to be looming when the morning dawned overcast and chilly, but that didn't dampen the spirits of riders who turned out in their thousands for a warm-hearted cause.
In the end, the weather gods rewarded the bikers for their tenacity when the clouds cleared and laid on a summer vibe for the 34th running of South Africa's biggest annual charity event.
The Gauteng Toy Run saw more than 15 000 motorcyclists converge on Benoni Northerns sports grounds, bringing with them in excess of 20 000 toys that will make this Christmas a little sunnier for orphans and disadvantaged children.
Five separate mass rides, starting at different points around Johannesburg, turned Gauteng's roads into a colourful carnival as toy-festooned bikes, waved along by enthusiastic spectators, formed kilometres-long convoys along the routes. Toy Run marshals efficiently ushered the convoys through intersections (and thank you to the motorists who patiently waited for the riders to pass).
Benoni Northerns bustled with activity as the bikers arrived and handed in their gifts, forming an impressively-sized pile that was as usual dominated by soft toys - the teddy bear is after all the symbol of the Toy Run.
Thereafter the bikers lingered to enjoy the food, drinks and live rock music put on for their entertainment, and browsed the numerous stalls with entirely more decorum than the Black Friday melee in the shops two days earlier.
Organiser Pete Beart said there had again been a big turnout of local residents, and families turned up in their cars to donate toys and enjoy the buzz and camaraderie that has come to characterise this annual feel-good event – but the biggest reward was the smiles it would bring to children who would otherwise have no Christmas to look forward to.
Two processions - one from Grand West Casino in the North and the other from Ottery Centre in the southern suburbs, with a combined total estimated at 7500 machines (about 100 times as many as the 76 bikes that turned out for the first Toy Run in 1983) converged on Kenilworth racecourse, escorted by the Cape Town Traffic Department. There they were joined by hundreds more, in cars and on foot, many of whom weren’t bikers but who wanted to be part of this iconic event.
Former Toy Run convenor Rodney Ford – who still distributes the toys over two back-breaking weeks after the Toy Run each year – has a list of more than 400 grass-roots groups that take care of orphaned, destitute and homeless children, as well as children whose parents are too busy scratching out a living and putting food on the table to worry about non-essentials such as Christmas.
And every year he has the heart-breaking task turning some of them away because there are never enough toys.
Many of the riders, mindful of the fact that the Toy Run is really about the children, simply dropped their toys in one of the two five-ton trucks that were standing ready to collect them, bought a badge, chatted with friends and went home.
The majority, however, no matter how many wheels they’d arrived on, paid their R50 to attend the after-party at the racecourse, a new venue chosen by first-time organisers Colourworks because it has the proven infrastructure to handle an event of this size, more than enough secure off-street parking for more than 7000 motorcycles – and, most important of all, lots of shade.
There they were treated to biker rock from no less than five bands – a standout was Tuxedo’s rousing rendition of Mustang Sally – and stand-up comedy from Toy Run stalwart Kurt Schoonraad and his funny friends, every kind of fast food and drink you can think of and a few that you won’t, displays of the latest machines from a number of dealers and superb handbuilt creations by leading exponents of the fast-growing custom culture, and an astonishing variety of biker bling on dozens of stalls.
But, as the Toy Run is really about the children, so the after-party was really all about the bikers, enjoying the music and the company and continuing a tradition that goes back more than three decades.
We spoke to one young father who attended an early Toy Run on the back of his grandfather’s bike. That makes his children - one of whom was already sporting a leather cut-off with an impressive collection of badges – fourth-generation Toy Runners.
There were only (only!?) about 3000 bikes on the mass ride for the Durban Toy Run, from the Pavilion in Westville to Lords and Legends Sports Grounds in Amanzimtoti – but when they got there they found about the same number waiting for them, all loaded down with toys.
The 2016 Toy Run collected an estimated 16 000 toys, and convenor Jo Boes was able to say with justifiable pride that all the charities and institutions that had asked could in fact be helped – which had not been the case in 2015.
At the riders were entertained with live music, interspersed with a president’s charity auction - which raised in excess of R15 000 - and an auction of prizes donated by various sponsors, which realised a further R8000.
But, Boes emphasised, the important thing to his team was that nobody who asked for toys was turned away.
An estimated 2500 riders turned out for the 25th annual Port Elizabeth Toy Run (the Windy City is home to South Africa’s fourth oldest Toy Run) to the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium, and more than 1300 of them attended the after-party, held under a 1000 square metre marquee.
They were entertained by two live bands, with Lance du Plessis in attendance as MC, and no less than five beauty queens - Mrs Port Elizabeth Diane Johns, Mrs Nelson Mandela Bay Anthea Norris and her first princess Aridean Gelderblom, Miss Teen Eastern Cape Rochelle Momberg and Miss Teen Junior Port Elizabeth Kristen Bouwer – took in turns to draw the raffle and lucky draw prizes, toped by a 125cc scooter.
About 4000 children will benefit from the toys and presents raised by the 2016 Toy Run, including the run’s six nominated charities – Cot’s World Primary, the Dora Nginza Pediatric Burn Unit, Infumdo Educare, Mercy Sisters, Republiek Primary School and the Sinethemba Care Centre.
On the day before the Toy Run, however, 350 children from institutions and poorly funded schools were treated to a Christmas party, with Father Christmas in attendance, as well as jumping castles and scooter rides, face-painting and games.
Each child received a present, sponsored by the bikers, local businesses and the public at large, a party pack from Auto Motorcycles, a boerewors roll from World Champ Café, pies and cool drinks from Cassie’s and a backpack filled with goodies from Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Hamilton Sports Club hosted East London’s biggest Toy Run to date, with a estimated 300 riders taking part in the parade from the Settlers Monument on the beach front to the club’s grounds, where the children were waiting.
To the delight of the children, Father Christmas arrived on a fire engine, with a group of his elves riding on top.
Six groups of children – about 300 in all – each received a gift-wrapped present with their name on it (a logistical feat that beggars the imagination), as well as a hot dog, even though their previous hot-dog supplier had lost its sponsor.
Local clubs and individual riders held a quick discussion at a CMA meeting and within 30 minutes, 400 wiener sausages and the rolls to go with them were organised.
Then the children enjoyed and afternoon of jumping castles, face painting, stick-on tattoos (this was a biker event, after all) and a nail bar for teenage girls, while the riders relaxed to the sounds of a DJ.
First-time convenor Chantelle Walker told the story of a young man called Sima from NU9 in Mdantsane, who hounded her for weeks before the Toy Run to include a group of 40 disadvantaged children that he had identified in his neighbourhood. Finally Walker agreed, on condition that Sima give her all the names of the kids, their gender and age, as well as organising transport from Mdantsane to Hamiltons and back – which he did.
It was only on the day that Walker discovered that Sima himself was only 13 years old – and that he had not put himself on the list. He might not be a biker himself (yet!), Walker said, but this young man exemplified the spirit of the Toy Run.
ALL OVER THIS LAND
There were smaller Toy Runs on the day, in more than a dozen cities and towns, from Mossel Bay to Bela-Bela and back the long way. From small beginnings in 1983 in Johannesburg and Cape Town, the annual Toy Run has become a unifying force for riders throughout Southern Africa, raising the image of bikers in their respective communities and, in many cases, raising awareness of children in need of so much more than toys at Christmas.
And, as any rider in any Toy Run will tell you – it’s all about the children.