A Photographic Essay: My BlackSportswoman Lens By Cheryl Roberts

18 Apr

In my writings, my sports activism, my media documentation, I center black and working class women in sport, particularly South African women. Should you ask me why I focus on and make visible black women in sport when women struggle against gender discrimination in sport, I will remind you that black women suffer more and are marginalised and ignored much more than white women in sport because of the black woman’s skin colour, her gender and sexuality and her class position. I love to see women in sport triumph, but it gives me the most happiness when I see black women achieving against all the discrimination and struggle they must endure. These are some of the fabulous South African black women in sport that I have photographed (over the past 6 months). The black sportswoman’s story is in their picture that show’s their existence, survival, strength and triumph.


Mandisa Williams: Springbok women’s rugby player


Noni Tenge: World women’s boxing champion


Zanele Situ: Paralympic champion and medallist


Masabata Klaas and Ayabonga Khaka: South African international cricketers


Veroeshka Grain: South African women’s rugby international player


Zethu Myeki: South African international amateur golfer


Dumisani Chauke: South African international netball coach


Quanita Bobbs: South African international hockey player


Thembi Kgatlana: South African football international


Mmatshepo Modipane: South African international player


Ilse Davids: south African international hockey player


Caster Semenya; Olympic and world 800m champion


Moseline Daniels: South African international cricketer

tamzin thomas

Tamzin Thomas: South African international athlete


Pumza Maweni: South African international netballer


South Africa’s women’s beach volleyball international players

Swimming For Blackness, Against Whiteness In White-Dominated South African Swimming By Cheryl Roberts

29 Mar

The composition of SA swim teams are so white, you’d be forgiven for assuming that blacks ‘just can’t swim competitively’ nor ‘win SA titles and achieve international qualifying times’.   No black swimmer has yet represented South Africa at an Olympic Games; not during SA’s horrendous whites-only representation era or  post-apartheid South Africa although some black swimmers have represented South Africa at senior international swim events such as the world championship and continental swim champs.

Get this! Blacks can and do swim competitively in South Africa; they’ve been doing this for many decades. Black swimmers existed as anti-apartheid people in sport; they were the swimmers who played sport and fought for freedom in SA. Not only were they provincial and anti-apartheid national champions, they also achieved swim times comparable to and sometimes faster than advantaged white swimmers, all of whom didn’t care about or support the anti-apartheid sports struggle.

8cheryl roberts  in the rain forest in ghana

Cheryl Roberts (writer of the blog)


Over the past two years I’ve watched and documented the SA national senior swim champs in Durban and some provincial and national junior swim events. These events are very white, indeed: from the officials, to the competing swimmers, the parents and coaches. Are there blacks participating in these swim events? Yes,there are black swimmers, especially in the junior events. And some black parents are at these events and a few black coaches.

And there’s some superb emerging black junior swimmers, those with the talent to become world class swimmers. But will the junior swim talent of 15 year old girl swimmer, Khwezi Duma from Durban be nurtured and turned into world class swim prowess? Black junior girl swimmer, Khwezi Duma has already been identified by Swimming South Africa as  a swimmer to be recognised and selected for international competition. She has represented SA in junior and senior swim competition and is a leading swimmer in her age group category, recording amongst the best times at SA junior events. However, the junior black swimmer knows she must overcome the mental hurdle and believe she can win and be SA champion.

Swimming in South Africa is very white. Whiteness, white privilege and white arrogance dominates at national swim events in SA, coupled with white athlete competitiveness. At the swim events, the swimmers of all colours look friendly with each other. They compete against each other, cheer on their team mates of whatever colour, talk to each other in the warm up pool and seemingly look like a rainbow swimming family.

But looking deeper and outside of this assumed swimming rainbownism is the prevalence of whiteness galore and strangulation by whiteness and its accompanying white arrogance and domination.

I look out for the black swimmers, especially the girl swimmers because I center black girls and women in sport in my sport narratives and activism. I want to document black girls swimming and I want to show them winning and getting commendable times in the pool. I scan the electronic board indicating the line ups in the heats and here and there I see a black name. I get camera ready to document the black girl swimmer’s participation in SA swimming.

I’m looking out for Khwezi Duma, one of SA’s top girl age group swimmers. I notice Khwezi not performing as is expected of her; she’s finishing out of the final position in the heats. I ask her mother, one of the few black parents around at the championship, what’s up with Khwezi’s performances and she tells me Khwezi is struggling, just coming out of a terrible bout of flu.

Khwezi doesn’t show the strain or the pressure; she gets out the pool after the race as if its all okay. But I know Khwezi wants to prove her mettle; the performance she knows she can deliver. Its on a later day of the championship that Khwezi shows up. Its in the girls u18 50m backstroke (Khwezi’s specialist race), that she surges through the water at Durban’s aquatics centre and turns in a good seeded position. Khwezi gets a personal best and is seeded no.2 for the final, a heat performance that says she she should medal in the SA junior final. But Khwezi doesn’t medal; she finished 4th, just outside the medals.

Talent is one aspect to have in swimming, but its not enough. You’ve got to have the mental toughness to win. It’s not that black swimmers have inferior complexes or no confidence to believe they can win. The black girl swimmers are out there on their own, paving their personal swim journeys, struggling to win for themselves, their club and coach, parents and to show that black girls can be swimming champions.

There hasn’t been a black woman champion in post-apartheid SA. It’s tough out there not having black women swim champs to show you it can and has been achieved in another era of South African sport.

Much of the talented black junior swimmers around South Africa go to the ‘best’ coaches who happen to be white males. Once a coach coaches Olympic and world champions and international swimmers, then emerging swimmers are lured to the coach, so they too can achieve.

Khwezi Duma has been with some of SA’s best white male coaches in Durban and Johannesburg. She is presently with Seagulls in Durban, with head coach Graham Hill and former coach of Chad le Clos.

Can these white male coaches also bring out the talent in the black girl swimmers and take them onto the Olympic and world championship podiums? Are the black girl swimmers being looked after and developed s like any other talented swimmer? Most importantly, do white male coaches believe a black girl swimmer can be world class?

South Africa’s black junior girl swimmers are not only swimming against the clock but aginst white domination of SA swimming. They’re out there to usher in that moment when black girls and women become SA swim champions. For now, its black swimmers against the clock and SA swimming’s whiteness.


Stop Violating Women’s Human And Sports Rights In African Football! By Cheryl Roberts

20 Mar


Sixty years after its historic founding in Adis Ababa in Ethiopia, the Confederation of African Football, experienced historic and necessary leadership change when the oligarchical, long serving CAF President was defeated in an election, ushering in a new leadership era for African football.

Now that the necessary officialdom change has occurred, will CAF propel forward a powerful women’s football programme for the continent?

With the ending of Issa Hayatou’s 29 year reign over Afric

8cheryl roberts  in the rain forest in ghana

Cheryl Roberts (writer of the blog)

an football, it’s gratifying to see oligarchical power and control being challenged in African sport but now its time for gender discrimination, male hegemony and domination to be challenged and burnt out of African football.

African countries have talented girl footballers but they are not being supported to achieve and know their potential world class football prowess. Africa’s women’s football teams play too little continental and international fixtures, the domestic leagues are weak and women’s football is not given the respect it must have.

Speaking on social media before his election, CAF President Ahmad Ahmad told the women footballers to believe in his leadership of African football. ‘Ladies, I won’t let you down. Please have a look at this extract of my program about women’s fb (football)’, Ahmed said on twitter.

Ahmad Ahmad’s election manifesto went on to say:‘I will look for better ways to show them my support and I am determined to constantly find ways to improve it. The CAF as a whole will inevitably think of the right method to design more attractive , and more spectacular  women’s football competitions. Most of all we want them to be anchored in the daily habits of our towns and villages’.

Women’s football in Africa is crying out for development, advancement and sincere recognition by CAF, Africa’s controlling body for football. In defense of furthering women’s footbvall in Africa, CAF has said its developing women’s football. However, CAF’s investment of resources and money into growing one of the most popular, most watched and fastest growing women’s sports in the world, is meagre and just too little. CAF shouldn’t dismiss challenges and protests when voices rage about CAF’s nominal and little support for women’s football in Africa.

Judging by his election manifesto comments, CAF President Ahmad Ahmad doesn’t reflect himself as one leader intent on challenging patriarchy, male hegemony and control within African football as a critically conscious sports leader should. Women’s football might be improved here and there but gender disparities might be supported and maintained.

Compared to what boys and men’s football achieves and receives from CAF and African football federations, girls and women’s football is not given the same favour and support as women in sport should receive.

Africa’s international women footballers have had enough and are speaking out against the women’s football discrimination, especially the late and no-show payments they receive for national duty.

Women’s football in Europe and North America is given much more support and recognition than the crumbs given out to African women’s football. Just how does CAF expect Africa’s women’s football teams to achieve internationally when so little is done to develop women’s football?

Yes, African women’s football does have structures in most African countries with structured leagues and national teams. Except for South Africa, most African teams don’t get much international play and go into international competition severely unprepared for the tough fixtures against countries such as USA, Germany, Australia, Canada, Norway, England.

Why are Africa’s women footballers expected to perform with impressive and credible results against fierce, strong international opponents when Africa’s women footballers haven’t been given  much support by their national football federations? Africa’s  women footballers are crying out for national professional leagues; leagues that will allow them to play the beautiful game they love as professionals and full-time players instead of playing as part-timers  and getting part-time results.

CAF complies with international football when it hosts Olympic and world cup qualifiers and the long running African Women’s Championship. But that’s all. No other competitions are contested to advance women in football. Africa’s u17 and u20 women’s football suffers terribly from lack of continental and international development with just the world cup qualifiers held for these two age groups. Why no more additional tournaments to give the girl footballers more international game time?

CAF must introduce more continental competitions for girls and women’s football; competitions such as continental club and knockout champions events. These events must be introduced for under 17, under 20 and senior women’s football. CAF has got to instruct national federations to be sincere and honest and create spaces and opportunities for women coaches. Money and payment for coaches course fees must be waived for women football coaches. And women coaches must be appointed to coach national girls and women’s football teams.

How must Africa’s girl footballers compete with the rest of the world in World Cups and Olympic events when they don’t get much international experience and play? It’s a human right for Africa’s sports federations and continental sports structures to advance, support and grow all genders and sexualities in sport. Its inhumane and a violation of human rights to favour boys and men in sport and discriminate against girls and women in sport.

Fatima Meer’s Love And Struggle Life Gives Insight About An Extraordinary Woman By Cheryl Roberts

7 Mar

Human rights campaigner, anti-apartheid activist, black woman writer/ independent publisher, one of South Africa’s first black women academics, Fatima Meer is not only South Africa’s national treasure,but she is forever respected with honour and saluted with admiration, respect and warrior status by all who knew and interacted with her throughout her life struggle of challenging oppression  and discrimination.

The much awaited and happily welcomed book  ‘Fatima Meer: Memories Of Love And Struggle’ has been published, seven years after the passing of extraordinary academic, writer, mother, wife, social justice and human rights activist and humble human, Fatima Meer, who lived in Durban and was an academic at the whites-only tertiary institution, University of Natal.

‘Fatima Meer: Memories Of Love And Struggle’ is an autobiography, finished and made print ready by her beloved daughter Shamim Meer, about one of South Africa’s humane, formidable, courageous, brave and fearless women who fearlessly challenged injustices in a country intent on oppressing people.

‘This book paints a picture of my mother’s life. It tells a coming- of-age story of a young girl and political activist in a significant time in our country’s history and makes an important contribution to the memory of our country’s collective past’, writes Shamim  Meer in the introduction to the book. Shamim Meer is one of South Africa’s pioneers of feminist media, having ben a founding member of the ‘Speak’ and ‘Agenda’ collectives in Durban.

Shamim Meer, eldest child of Fatima Meer’s three children personally undertook to bring the book into book stores nationwide and onto people’s private book shelves.

‘It was only four years after my mother’s passing that I could get back to the task of working on my mother’s autobiography.  It was an emotional time. Now, three years later it is done; published as a book,’ says Shamim Meer about her labour of love.

I was both fortunate and privileged to have had Fatima Meer as one of my academics at the University of Natal in the 1980’s. She was the only black academic I would encounter in both my undergraduate degrees at the then University of Natal. I knew very early on that she was no ordinary academic and was different from all other academics; that Fatima Meer, banned at the time by the apartheid regime that she challenged, represented an intersectional academic that was grounded in community, oppressed and women’s struggles in South Africa. Fatima Meer was writing and publishing when few black women got published in a white-dominated publishing industry. She founded Madiba Publishers to get relevant books and stories published and read. So its not only apt but also of critical importance for national memory, heritage and acknowledgement that the Fatima Meer narrative be told in written format and published.

It was a loaded life, that of Fatima Meer’s. It was a life about love, family, education, activism, struggles, revolution, university and courage. She would begin her autobiography alongside that of working on husband Ismail Meer’s autobiography, after the human rights lawyer had passed away.

‘While finalising my father’s autobiography my mother began to reflect on own her life, beginning with her earliest memories as a young child in Durban’s Grey Street, recollecting her early activism of collecting donations for flood victims and giving her first political speech as a 17 year old old teenage girl,’ says Shamim Meer.

The manuscript was handed over to the publishers and one of the happiest moments for Shamim Meer was seeing the book and holding it in her hands. The writings and editing shared in time because of a mother and her daughter’s love and respect had finally materialised in a book which those of us who know the worth of brave and humble Fatima Meer, have so keenly awaited and will undoubtedly appreciate.

fatima meer

South Africa Needs A Minister Of Women in Sport By Cheryl Roberts

27 Feb

It’s been written and spoken about, challenged and condemned. That’s the gender inequalities and discrimination in sport in South Africa. But what is being done to remove the inequalities and discrimination and to cancel the raw deal given to girls and women in sport in South Africa?

Yes, opportunities have been opened and created for girls and women to participate in sport, from grassroots platforms to elite levels. But this is not only too little; we also have the battles faced by teenage sports girls and young sportswomen to break into sports’ professional ranks.

So here’s the recommendation. South Africa has a bloated cabinet with sport ridiculously having two ministers. Since inception of the post-apartheid parliament in 1994 South Africa has only had men ministers of sport. Some years ago, two ministerial posts were announced to oversee and manage sport in South Africa. This costs a lot of money and expenditure! We must get some genuine benefit out of these ministers.

One of these posts needs to be for women in sport. Like education in SA has two ministers of education, one for basic and the other for higher education, sports needs a minister of women and sport. The responsibility of this cabinet minister will be to ensure 1) gender inequalities and discrimination are eliminated from the sports paradigm, 2) that class and money doesn’t impact negatively on girls participation in sport, 3) understand that race, sexual identity and colour discourses are very much part of the sports narratives and should not preclude, inhibit and exclude girls and women in sport and 4) white sportswoman supremacy and privilege in sport must be dismantled.

What we honestly and really need is for a cabinet minister to be conscious and woke, to have an intersectional thinking, to understand the gender paradigms in sport and to ensure that girls and women are protected, encouraged, supported and advanced in South African sport.

One black woman Olympic and world champion is not enough. A few world champions in some sports means we have the talent, we can do much better. Having numerous girls in sport events doesn’t altogether say the grassroots is a strong foundation. South Africa’s media coverage of women in sport has increased and sportswomen are getting more attention in some sports. But this is not what we are settling for! We detest responses here and there, some new competitions sometimes and a few more handouts here and there when it comes to sportswomen.

Patriarchy, male domination and control is rife and excels in South African sport. We want these ills and negatives dismantled and removed. We want a sports system that considers, notes and favours ALL genders in sport; not only male advancement and control.

South Africa’s controlling structures for sport in South Africa, that is Sport and Recreation South Africa (SRSA) and South African Sport Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) are not only heavily invested in the ‘sportsmen agenda’ but are heavily infested with thinking that advances men in sport and gives some meager handouts to women in sport.

But just how serious is SRSA and SASCOC about eliminating gender inequalities in sport and placing sportswomen as a priority gender? Action from within SRSA and SASCOC still doesn’t show much meaningful attempt to ensure, over a five and ten year programme of action and response, that women are going to be given critical attention and gender priority, that sportswomen will be adequately funded so they have the best opportunities to become world class and meet SASCOC’s stringent qualifying standards for Olympic events.

A minister/deputy minister of women in sport in South Africa will focus only on one gender and that is those who are not men. There will be a reasonable budget to fund this administration and all action and responsibility emanating from the office. The mindset of the minister of women in sport will be ONLY about girls and women in sport. Then again, this must not be an events-only response like getting girls and women to participate in sports activities and adding numbers for display purposes and showing this off as development. Structures looking after girls in sport must be consolidated and supported. Professional sportswomen leagues are urgently needed so SA’s sportswomen can compete as professionals and not part-timers in sport.

It’s imperative that this minister of women in sport has the critical thinking so vital for this responsibility. We don’t want a man who supports perpetuation of male hegemony and benefits from patriarchy and talks about giving sportswomen flowers as prizes in sport. We demand a human who understands intersectionality – that sportswomen struggles are linked with all struggles in society – knows the critical and imperative accountability of dismantling, tampering with and closing down male-domination of the South African sports network.



8cheryl roberts  in the rain forest in ghana

Cheryl Roberts (writer of the blog)

South Africa’s White Sportsmen Are Talented But Also Guilty Of Consolidating Whiteness By Cheryl Roberts

20 Feb

White people in South Africa – most white people – have never wanted to connect sport and society in South Africa, preferring to have an opinion that sports and society were separated. This is how they argued and defended their white privilege and apartheid favouritism during the apartheid era.

When defending themselves and apartheid sport, whites said that South Africa should be allowed to play international sport with the rest of the world, that they didn’t do any wrong by playing sport in apartheid South Africa. And they never called out the social, economic and racial injustices in South Africa. They never did. They claimed they had to obey the laws of the government and the country.

White sports people played sport with those who supported and enacted apartheid’s horrendous laws, never denouncing apartheid as cruel and inhumane.

For white sportsmen like Gary Player, Joost van der Westhuizen and Ernie Els, their profiles as world class sportsmen were built on foundations of them being white and privileged and favoured in South Africa, a country that fiercely looked after the white group and viciously humiliated the majority blacks with oppression and exploitation.

At least three of South Africa’s world class white sportsmen Gary Player, Joost van der Westhuizen and Ernie Els, represent white male superiority in sport. Playing golf in the 1950’s and 1960’s with Papwa Sewgolum, one of South Africa’s greatest black golfers, Player never could make himself believe in black golf talent. When Papwa Sewgolum beat him in the Natal Open golf tournament in the late 50’s, Player very quickly chose to check Sewgolum’s score card, thinking he ‘might have cheated to win’. Player didn’t stop white golf officials from handing Sewgolum his championship trophy through the window, on a rainy day in Durban, because only whites were allowed into the club house.

Talented Springbok rugby player Joost van der Westhuizen played his international rugby in white-dominated Springbok teams and got to show his rugby prowess in post-apartheid sports competition. Joost never ever spoke out and questioned the white domination of players in the men’s Springbok team. For white players like van der Westhuizen, the Springbok men’s team belonged to and was owned by white players. That was white people’s ownership and heritage. Actually, when critical questions were raised by society about lack of black Springbok players, Joost van der Westhuizen was one of those white players who believed ‘black players had to prove themselves’.

Champion golfer Ernie Els got to represent a free and democratic South Africa on the on the international golf courses but Els never spoke out against apartheid’s legacy of structural economic and racial inequalities.

All three white sportsmen never publicly supported the African national Congress (ANC), the country’s liberation organisation and political winner in national elections but they would did endorse Nelson Mandela.

Springbok great Joost van der Westhuizen has passed away, never having called for an end to white Springbok teams and for black players to be represented in Springbok rugby team. Then there’s the other two of Gary Player and Ernie Els; still living and putting their views out there.

The world of humanity and freedom and justice has attacked and called out USA President Donald trump for his sexism, racism, religious prejudice, misogyny. But not SA’s two great white golfers Gary Player and Ernie Els.

8cheryl roberts  in the rain forest in ghana

Cheryl Roberts (writer of the blog)

They both go along and play golf with Donald Trump, refuse to call out the man for his prejudices, racism, misogyny and say ‘it all seems okay with him while glowing in admiration for him.

Undoubtedly, white sportsmen like Player, van der Westhuizen and Els have performed admirably and claimed exceptional feats on the sports stage. But their protection of whiteness in sport, their blinkered view of the correlation between sports and society, their relationships with people who are known to be racists, misogynists and perpetrators of white domination in sport will forever place them in that gallery of sportspeople who had no critical consciousness, had no heart to talk out against racial and colour injustices in sport and society. Sportsmen such as these white men South Africans will always be known as defending all that existed to preserve whiteness and white hegemony.

SAFA Must Prioritise Advancing Women’s Football By Cheryl Roberts

14 Feb

If you raise critical questions about the state of women’s football in South Africa, the custodian of organised girls and women’s football in SA, the South African football Association will very quickly reply something about how they are ‘doing a lot’ for women’s football.

SAFA have, over the past two years, given more attention and budget to women’s football with the utilisation of experienced foreign women coaches, much more international matches for the senior national women’s team and doing on-time-payments to Banyana Banyana.

But, it’s the national women’s team, that has disappointed and hasn’t returned expected dividends from the investments.

Banyana didn’t qualify for the 2015 Women’s World Cup, they finished 4th at AWC in Namibia in 2014, they qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics, a feat they had before accomplished under a male coach. They couldn’t score goals at the Olympics, despite having good international match preparation leading up to the Olympics, yet they scored at the 2012 London Olympics with a male coach at the helm.

They come back from the Olympics having played much more international matches and been in national camp much more than any other African women’s football playing country, yet Banyana displayed one of their worst performances at the 2016 AWC in Cameroon. At this prestige continental women’s football event, with a South African woman as interim head coach, Banyana Banyana finished in an embarassing 4th position; a tournament they were expected to win, given all the training and international matches they had done.

And then you get some SAFA officials falsely believing Banyana Banyana being the ‘best team’ at 2016 AWC; this despite a disgusting 4th position result. How can you be ‘the best team’ when you didn’t win or qualify for the finals? If you were the best team how come Banyana players were not signed up for the lucrative women’s football leagues outside of Africa?

That’s not all. Afer all their training and international matches, Banyana dropped to position 51 on FIFA’s women’s world rankings.

When will the national women’s football league be established so women footballers can play the sport full-time and get paid salaries instead of playing international football as part-timers? When will SAFA appoint coaches who can coach Banyana Banyana into a winning team on the African continent and take Banyana into the world’s top 20?

In my opinion, SAFA should rather shift focus on establishing the national women’s professional league, using the money spent on Banyana to develop much more depth of players. After a season of professional women’s football, talent identification should be done and a Banyana Banyana team/squad selected.

Forget about the present Banyana team; most are ageing and not delivering the international feats expected of them. Why concentrate on veteran players when they are nowhere near being world class and when the youth players have more chances of  being developed into world class footballers? Develop a young and emerging team instead of hoping for victories from a team taking up most of the national women’s football budget and not having the skills or football prowess to deliver. SAFA says look at Banyana’s reasults, they are losing by a few goals to the world’s best football countries. Is Banyana playing only to display how closely they lose so as to claim their improvement? No, it shouldn’t be like that! Look at Banyana’s performances in AWC events. The Banyana captain fortunately only now got an outside-of-Africa club signing. If she was of world class pedigree why didn’t she get one before, years ago? West Africa’s young women footballers are being signed up outside of Africa. Why about Banyana Banyana players?

And what about the u20 women’s and u17 girls teams? Why are they not in regular competition? Over the past two years, both women’s football youth teams didn’t qualify for their respective age group world cups. European countries are playing u17 internationals whilst South Africa’s youth women’s football teams are not engaged in international competition. Southern African football can’t even organise a nations cup tournament for u17 and u20 women’s football; yet Southern African women’s football is expected to advance in Africa.

Is SAFA’s  R6 million a year high performance training project in Pretoria really delivering the results? How do players get selected to be based at the high performance centre? Is it provincial recommendation or someone just contacts someone at SAFA and says ‘I have a teenage girl for the high performance centre’.

And then there’s the selection of national players, around which much discontent and anger exists amongst women footballers around South Africa. Club favouritsm in national selection of all women’s football teams must be eliminated! The best players must be chosen to play international football! As an example a team that has the most Banyana players at the national play-offs in December 2016 couldn’t win the SA title!

These critical questions are being raised and asked because we are being fed propaganda about the state of women’s football in SA under SAFA. An intelligent person with a sharp mind must be scouted and appointed to take women’s football forward in SA; someone with ideas that will advance elite women’s football. Is there a woman coach in SA that can make Banyana a winning team?  SAFA mustn’t hide these questions; they must answer them brutally, truthfully and honestly.

8cheryl roberts  in the rain forest in ghana

Cheryl Roberts (writer of the blog)