Why Wayde's gold is a win for coloured identity

Wayde van Niekerk reacts after setting a new world record and winning the gold medal. Photo: Kai Pfaffenbach

Wayde van Niekerk reacts after setting a new world record and winning the gold medal. Photo: Kai Pfaffenbach

Published Aug 15, 2016


The term “Coloured” began trending on Twitter after Wayde van Niekerk won Olympic gold and set a new world record, and that’s okay, says Carla Bernardo.

Cape Town - So, while the rest of the world began celebrating Wayde Van Niekerk as an incredible athlete who - at the tender age of 24 - smashed a 17-year-old record, somewhere along the line, we South Africans began debating about who, as a race group, gets ownership of Team SA’s only gold medalist in Rio.

The term “coloured” began trending on Monday morning and my immediate reaction was: “But why? Let this boy bask in his well-deserved glory, at least for a day.”

But almost as soon as I thought that, I realised what Wayde’s win could do for the coloured narrative in South Africa.

Now see, I have recently started proudly identifying myself as coloured. This was something I fought for many, many years. I was taught to resist society’s attempts to box me, to resist feeling defeated when asked “What are you?” every day for as long as I can remember. If I was to identify myself racially, it should be black, as was always the case with my family during apartheid.

But then, particularly over the last two years, I began self-identifying as coloured for a number of reasons. You begin feeling marginalised, excluded from the South African narrative, called upon only when the Democratic Alliance and ANC needs your coloured vote in the Cape. You’re not white enough or black enough. You’re not quite sure of your history but you know that somewhere along the line there was rape and violence and having been conquered.

You know that your parents and their peers had a part to play in the liberation struggle and proudly identified as black, but where are the Western Cape heroes in the history books? Where are the athletes who sacrificed fame and fortune because, you know, no normal sports in an abnormal society?

And then, something beautiful happened.

People started talking about Ashley Kriel, the Cape Flats’ very own Che. Those coloured MK vets who sacrificed alongside their black brothers were being acknowledged. The Khoisan Revolution reignited discussion about First People in the Northern Cape. The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation allowed for young, coloured South Africans to share their lived experiences. And, Wayde Van Niekerk - a boy from Cape Town whose mother was more than likely one of the SACOS-aligned athletes forced to run on a cinder track despite times greater than her white counterpart - was smashing records all over the world, putting South Africa back on the map after what was a relatively messy and shameful period in our sporting history (Oscar, Fifa, you know).

And you know what? He looked like us, us on the Cape Flats. Us with family members who, at the age of three know how to roll off the couch to dodge a stray bullet. Us who have been made to feel that if we say we’re marginalised, we’re somehow taking up space in the national narrative or taking away from someone else’s pain. Us, the community South African advertisers can still make fun of with our passion gaps and homogenous accents (not).

So yes, you too may - as I initially and briefly did - think this Twitter-led discussion on “coloured” is misplaced and petty. But we need this. We need this as a community and we need this as a nation, a nation still trying to get past the divisions and woundedness. A nation that, to a large extent, bandaged the wound before it was truly healed.

So, allow us this. Allow us to talk about coloured excellence. About our boy, our Kraaifontein boy. Because doing so is not denying that he is yours too, yours as a proud South African.

#WaydevanNiekerk has done wonders for the South African psyche today. And Wayde Van Niekerk will continue to do wonders for that little coloured boy and girl who too are struggling, who too were set up for failure by the apartheid system, taught to hate who they are and the skin they’re in.

Wayde Van Niekerk has, in 43.03 seconds, shown us that with that accent, that history, that brown skin, we too can do our nation proud.

Thank you Wayde.

* Carla Bernardo is Independent Media’s social media manager.


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