Just before you head through the security check outside the Olympic Park, there is a sign that warns against bringing in any “explosive materials”, toxic substances” or “white weapons or itens (sic) that can be used as a weapon”.
I had never heard of a white weapon before.
I patted myself down to see if I perhaps had one on me by mistake. Perhaps they meant white capitalism, a weapon in the hands of the honky.
I reached into my pockets and pulled out three crumpled 5 Brazilian Real notes. Capitalism does not come easily to those of us with no capital. As a weapon, R$5 was not much cop. It would buy a Skol Pilsen in the media canteen and leave me with change of R$3. To Google I charged. A white weapon - armas brancas in Portuguese - is also a cold weapon.
“A cold weapon (or white arm) is a weapon that does not involve fire or explosions (such as the act of combustion) as a result from the use of gunpowder or other explosive materials. Ranged weapons that do not include gunpowder or explosive materials and melee weapons are cold weapons.”
So, a white weapon is a knife. Or a club. Or even a sword or a stick with three prickly pears attached. A white weapon is along the lines of a traditional weapon. Only to be carried and never to be used. Except in a traditional way.
At Chandigarh Airport, in the foothills of the Himalayas of India, item three on a sign above the departure gate gave pause for thought. “Note: Sikh passengers have been permitted to carry a kirpan (up to six-inch blade and three-inch handle) in domestic flights only.”
A kirpan is a dagger that must be carried by baptised Sikhs at all times. It is a symbol of non-violence, apparently. It’s a white weapon, but a peaceful one.
No other knives are allowed through security at Chandigarh Airport, but, then neither are carpet knives, box cutters, ice picks and straight razors. And you cannot carry baseball bats, hockey sticks, golf clubs, pool cues and ski poles as hand luggage.
Zanele Situ never checks in her javelins as hand luggage. When I first watched her compete, the late Duif du Toit and I were sitting in the press tribune at the Olympic Stadium in Sydney, planning the day ahead. The list of South African athletes was long. I saw a green top strapped to a chair on the field, a javelin in her hand. She threw it. The officials brought it back to her. She threw it again. They brought it back again. This looked like fun. I wanted Duif to see.
“Hey, Duif, what is that yellow line down there? The one in front of the javelin?”
“That’s the world record line,” he answered.
“Oh, because that South African has just thrown her javelin over it twice.”
Duif swore magnificently and ran down the stairs to the track to catch the rest of Situ’s record-breaking stint.
She was not the easiest interview. She does not like the attention and the fuss. When we spoke to her, she said she had not been prepared for the crowds, but liked it when she saw the javelin go over the yellow line. She told of suddenly feeling weak one day, and then not being able to walk, paralysed from the fourth vertebra down.
A TB infection is suspected to have been the cause. Situ told us how hard it was living in Umtata, of being picked up and heaved into taxis and how she was hoping for something a little better than her job as a seamstress. Sixteen years and four medals later, and she is the mistress of the white weapon.