Archive | August, 2016

Why Hasn’t South Africa’s Black Woman Paralympian Champion, Zanele Situ Been Deservingly Celebrated? By Cheryl Roberts

23 Aug

Not much of South Africa’s people know that South Africa’s first black woman global sports champion is Zanele Situ, a disabled athlete that competes in the javelin and discus events. Despite winning the gold medal in the javelin event at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics, Situ never received the adulation and celebration she so authentically deserved.

Zanele Situ is a successful Paralympic champion and participant, a professional sportswoman, training daily and competing in events around South Africa and the world. But she does not earn a professional salary or endorsements to adequately sustain her full-time career.

Since her debut Sydney Paralympics in 2000, Situ has participated in four successive Paralympics. In September she will be at the Rio Paralympics, a record breaking fifth Paralympics for a black South African disabled sportswoman.

Wheelchair bound, Situ has been selected as Team South Africa’s flagbearer. She will be assisted with wheeling into the stadium on the opening night; she doesn’t have a motor wheelchair.

Zanele Situ is known and recognized in disabled sports structures and competitions and a little outside within able bodied sports forums. She has received national honours for her sports prowess. But she’s never been celebrated with the intensity, passion and honour which should have been bestowed upon, and that given to white disabled sports champions.

Her sports feats are not only admirable; they are remarkable. You have to admire her; her achievements demand that.

But South African corporates, media and sports fans haven’t given her all the respect her sports achievements claim.

It’s not difficult to see why Zanele Situ, 45 years old hasn’t been celebrated as she deserves to be, in a sports consumer and sports playing country like South Africa. Situ is a black woman. She is disabled. She hasn’t grown up in a wealthy and rich social environment. She’s not white and privileged. Why was serial Paralympic achiever white woman athlete Natalie du Toit celebrated and honoured and sponsored, yet amazing Paralympic black woman achiever, Zanele Situ has not been given this attention and earned the money her sports prowess deserved?

Black sportswomen in South Africa participate in sport in chains. They are mostly ignored for selection of national teams because they are not seen as ‘merit’ as white sportswomen are viewed. They struggle for sponsorship. They are not viewed as ‘pretty’ and ‘sexy’ by the white lens when it does decide to profile women in sport.

Although she’s an achieving black woman athlete, black disabled sportswoman Situ plays her sport in chains. Actually, her wheelchair is the least of her chains; its society’s non-celebration and payment to her for her athletics prowess, that chains her.

The Rio Paralympics will be her historic fifth Paralympics, yet no family member has ever been with or had the privilege of seeing Paralympic gold medallist Zanele

Situ perform at a Paralympics. Her family, living in Kokstad, where she was born and lived her childhood years, until she became wheelchair bound at age 12 years, doesn’t have money to travel internationally. And Situ doesn’t have the money to help pay them get there.

Don’t get this story twisted. I’m not saying that Zanele Situ lives in poverty and has no support. I’m saying that as a Paralympic champion that has won three Paralympic medals, Situ should have been a millionaire and had sponsors, just like Paralympians, Natalie du Toit and Oscar Pistorius.

Situ has over the years been assisted with her participation in sport, since she went to school in Umtata, after becoming disabled, where she enjoyed athletics and began competing in provincial and national competitions. Her talent was noticed and looked after, with not much financial help, but at least with what was being made available.

It was 16 years ago, in her late 20’s that she made it to her first Paralympics. She won the gold medal for the javelin event and bronze medal for the discus. She defended her gold medal at the 2004 Paralympics. Unluckily for her, she was just outside the medals at both the 2008 and 2012 Paralympics. This being Situ’s fifth Paralympics, she desperately wants to get a medal, for herself, family, Kokstad community, all those who have supported her in sport and believed in her. And she wants to win a medal for her 10 year old daughter Amazie.

Situ’s Paralympic preparation has been partially assisted by SASCOC with a nominal monthly grant to help her training programme. She’s based in Stellenbosch at a supportive disabled sports centre.

She’s the friendly, non-envious, soft-talking, non-jealous sportswoman. She believes in the higher power of God; says its ‘all in God’s hands’, when asked why she didn’t get sponsors after her Paralympic medals. Situ is happy with what she has, always grateful to those who have supported and encouraged her in sport.

As she celebrates and feels the pride of a South Africa revelling in Caster Semenya euphoria, she too is happy for a black sportswoman Olympic champion. 16 years ago she already achieved world champion status when she became the world’s champion disabled javelin thrower and then went on to become the first black woman to achieve a global sports medal. It was gold at the Paralympics and a Paralympic record. 16 years later, though still a world class Paralympian, Situ is not honoured and celebrated as she deservingly should be.

If there’s one deserving and honourable moment she deserves for all the sports success she has brought South Africa, that would be having her 10 year old daughter, Amazie, also a sportsgirl, seeing her perform live at the Rio Paralympics.



South African Paralympian champion Zanele Situ with her sports girl daughter (photograph by Cheryl Roberts)

Stop The Neglect Of South Africa’s Black Women In Sport By Cheryl Roberts

22 Aug

With all of South Africa magnificently locked in dazzling Caster Semenya euphoria we can easily forget, hide away from and overlook the black sportswoman’s struggle, their inherited struggles and litany of battles to be funded, supported and acknowledged.
The one night of Olympic sparkle, when a black woman achieved the magical feat of becoming her country’s historic first black woman Olympic champion, easily puts temporary erasure on the struggling environment of SA’s black women athletes and coaches, in all sports.
Understanding this, we must not dismiss from the national discussion agenda on sport in SA, the struggle narrative of all black women in sport, including prolific junior talent, elite athletes and coaches.
It’s correct to note that, as a gender, SA’s sportswomen are given serial bad deals within their federations by sometimes having to personally pay for their costs to participate internationally and with the non-formation of national, professional leagues. Then they also overlooked by potential corporate funders and businesses, whom they support big time as consumers and often ignored by commercial media.
Given the historical oppression frame and continuing structural wealth inequalities in SA, it’s the black woman in sport that suffers most, confronting all the struggles associated with being black and woman, especially black working class. White sportswomen still manage to come through, get selected and perform remarkably.
The athletics prowess of talented black woman athlete Caster Semenya shines powerful light on black women achieving phenomenal feats in sport. There’s also the boxing feats of SA’s first black woman world boxing champion boxer, Noni Tenge, to be noted and that of SA’s first black woman Paralympian champion, Zanele Situ.
At the same time, we are reminded of the neglected, non-supported, under-resourced and barely funded black women in sport such as SA’s women’s football, rugby and softball teams and appearance of a few black women here and there in the national hockey, swimming and netball teams.
The emergence of SA’s first black woman Olympic champion has taken some time, but thankfully it has arrived. Just about every South African showed up for this global achievement by a black woman athlete. Yet, it’s the very same media and corporates, now supporting a black woman Olympic champion, that marginalise black women in sport by not giving the support they should be giving from their rich profits.
Furthermore, one black woman Olympic champion doesn’t mean that SA has plentiful elite black sportswomen, who are mostly world class or have high international rankings. Yes, we have much talent but it’s a struggle for them to become world class. We must ask why there are not more black sportswomen reflecting and displaying their sports talent on the world’s sports terrains?
While SA’s white sportswomen have, in the post-apartheid era, achieved Olympic titles, medals and finalist positions at the Olympics, the black sportswoman has been missing. The talented black sports girl and sportswoman exists but she participates in sport with much more chains than white sportswomen.
What are the constraints on black sportswomen and their emergence as national and continental champions and medalists and world class sportswomen?
Much of the development of black women in sport in SA must be contextualised within the racial/colour gender binary and class paradigm that black women occupy. Black women in sport are mostly working class, a small amount middle class and professional. The state of affairs in organised sport is that plentiful opportunities for black girls’ participation in sport at grassroots and community stages have been created and opened up. But it’s the ongoing and advanced development of the black girl and black women in sport that’s hardly supported, neglected much more.
Look at the player and athlete profiles. Where are the black women and black coaches in national teams of hockey, athletics, netball, triathlon, swimming, tennis, golf? And when black women dominate national representation in football and rugby and get to represent in cricket and boxing, they are not given adequate funding and support to succeed and achieve internationally.
What is this support that I’m talking about? It’s the assistance which all elite athletes require which allows them to concentrate on training and to be in their sport full-time and professionally without having work baggage being in the way and the hustle of finding ongoing funding to keep them going. It’s the support given to emerging elite athletes to compete regularly in international competition so they can measure their abilities, know their potential and improve performance. Most importantly, a black sportswoman’s talent must not be dismissed by white coaches who fail to recognise black talent through their ‘merit is white’ lens.
South Africa chanted in unison our support for our black woman champion Caster Semenya. We stood together as one nation in our Caster Semenya chorus. To the outside world this seemingly looks like we support our sportswomen, especially our black women in sport.
Breaking it down you see how elite black women are missing, how they struggle to participate in sport because their participation in organised sport is not backed up in their federations; no national leagues in softball, football and their sports, some sort of limited national league competition in netball, hockey.
And then it’s about the access to opportunities in many sports which concentrate on their player base coming out of better funded, suburban and private schools with the girls from township schools and working class communities being overlooked, because invariably the ‘merit is white’ lens says they ‘don’t have the technique’ for advanced development to get them selected to represent internationally.
In several Olympic sports like swimming, netball, hockey, golf, tennis, whiteness and white domination of player representation must be disrupted by volleys of challenges. We must do this if we want our black sportswomen to break through.
While we are together in celebrating the athletics feats of black woman Caster Semenya, we don’t have white people calling out the racial gender imbalances in SA sport; white people speak out for white sportswomen but never do we hear them call out the neglect of black women in sport. Whiteness never speaks out for those marginalised and under-funded and struggling but whiteness will speak for ‘merit in sport’ which for them is about white sports prowess and black sportswomen caged in perpetual development cages which never lets them out.
We’ve got to arrest this neglect of elite black sportswomen and black women coaches, implement a sustained national plan of support, encouragement and funding and create all the gaps and spaces for black women to occupy and break through. Failure to do something like this, will allow for more struggle and suffering and will see SA wasting black sportswomen talent, eventually withering and dying.IMG_3795

My Sports Lens: Love For Freedom Through Sport By Cheryl Roberts

20 Aug


I’ve had this social justice consciousness since I was a teenage girl, experiencing life under harsh apartheid laws and confinement to racial neighbourhoods, schools and social spaces of leisure, recreation and entertainment.

cheryl roberts

I had just entered my teen years and reading about international women tennis stars like Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova inspired me to play sport, to play tennis.

Growing up in South Africa during the 70’s and 80’s meant you just could not run away or ignore your skin colour. South Africa had an institutionalized and formal policy called Apartheid which was implemented by the Nationalist government in power, from national level to local level of government and administration.


I wasn’t white; was classified ‘Coloured’ according to Apartheid legislation. This meant I was a second class citizen, was oppressed, was disenfranchised and would not have access to resources, privileges, amenities as that given to people classified white.


I open with this little explanation, so that we better understand where I’m coming from and why I pursue an equitable sports paradigm with a particular emphasis on redistribution of the sports wealth and opportunities and access to sport, for black people and working class communities.


South in 2015 is a non-racial, democratic, non-sexist country according to our post-apartheid constitution; one of the world’s best constitutions for honouring, acceptance and implementation of human rights. However, 20 years after our freedom was attained from oppression and apartheid, South Africa, as a country in transition, is still a society of the advantaged (the haves) and disadvantaged (the have-nots) of a minority privileged class, an emerging middle class and a majority working class.


Your social positioning reflects how you participate in life and society. If you have the means and money, you will enjoy a comfortable life. If you are a struggling worker, unemployed person, then life’s offers such as sport will remain a privilege. I am not only aware of society’s inequalities and wealth gaps; I also see it and experience it. I don’t like to see our society so divided, so affluent for a minority grouping and so undermining of the working class who mainly struggle and battle to survive.


I’ve had this social justice consciousness since I was a teenage girl, experiencing life under harsh apartheid laws and confinement to racial neighbourhoods, schools and social spaces of leisure, recreation and entertainment.


I had just entered my teen years and reading about international women tennis stars like Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova inspired me to play sport, to play tennis.



Apartheid Blocks Teenage Sports girl


In my neighbourhood, called Wentworth in Durban there were no public tennis courts in the community and none in our few schools. I started hitting a tennis ball on the road with neighbour friends; got a carpenter in the hood to make a tennis bat for me. I desperately wanted to play tennis. What could I do? On the way to another neighbourhood, to my grandmother’s house was a tennis park with many tennis courts. I decided I wanted to play tennis there. At home one day after school, I phoned the tennis park and asked if I could join the club. The person answering on the side said, I could become a member after paying a membership. For some reason I said I wasn’t white and that was it! She told me I couldn’t join the club because it was reserved for white membership only. I was a teenage girl; didn’t understand this rejection. All I wanted was to play tennis but didn’t have a tennis court to play on. I then found out about a tennis park reserved for ‘coloureds’. It meant my travelling there once a week to play tennis, taking two buses to get there. I would dress in all white tennis gear and go off with my racket, eagerly awaiting my hit on the tennis court.


My first tennis racket was bought second hand and had some gut strings broken. When I hit the ball on the broken parts, the ball would get stuck and couldn’t be hit. It was embarrassing for me the teenage sports girl. Fortunately, I didn’t grow up poor. My father was a welder, an artisan and worked to provide well for his family. My mother and two sisters were as supportive and encouraging of my playing sport. I was very excited when my father said he would work overtime so that I could get my own tennis racket.


My playing tennis didn’t last long. Soon I began table tennis, in a neighbour’s garage. About 20 players and myself would gather in the garage and have daily battles contesting hitting a small ball over a net on a table, in a confined space in a garage. If you won, you stayed on the table and kept playing. Most times I would be the only girl playing with and against the boys. Obviously, the boys dominated and I had to wait many rounds of play in between games and contestation. I had to get tougher and get stronger so I could challenge and win against the boys.


Without going into the details of my teenage sports life, I will say that I entered table tennis championships where I initially won some matches and lost in some tournaments. I practised daily because I wanted to improve my game. For me, my teenage life was about school, homework and sports practice, every day, including weekends.  I went on to become provincial sports champion and South African champion in singles and doubles events.


Alongside my development in sport, was my developing social justice consciousness, although I was a school girl and playing junior sport.


Playing Sport For Freedom


South Africa had an official government sport’s policy under apartheid. Whites played sport for whites only clubs and sports federations and only whites were eligible to represent South Africa internationally.


South Africa’s apartheid policies in society and sport were opposed within the country by the oppressed and disenfranchised people. These were the majority of people, who were not white, but racially categorised as African, Coloured and Indian. I was an oppressed teenage sports girl. I became aware of our society’s inequalities, of privileges accorded white people and atrocities committed against black people because of the colour of the skin.


Apartheid didn’t allow people to play sport together. The oppressed people in South Africa formed anti-apartheid sports structures and sports federations. After being rejected by the whites-only tennis club in my home city of Durban, I found a sports home in anti-apartheid, non-racial sport. Here we played sport with human dignity and no regard for skin colour. We had no racial categorization and no racial prejudice within our sport.


As junior players in sport, we became aware that we were not involved in sport just for sport. We became aware that we were oppressed by our government, that we didn’t have human rights, that we were discriminated against. Our sports federations protected us from the harshness of apartheid by providing sports development for oppressed children and youth players.

We played sport under the organization of the anti-apartheid sports structure, the South African Council on Sport (SACOS). This organisation was fierce and bold; it was also humane. Our sports leaders within SACOS were principled and rejected apartheid; demanding instead a non-racial, free South Africa that shared its resources amongst all South Africa’s people.

SACOS also took a bold decision not to play international sport because our South African sports teams were not representative of South Africa as a nation but of white, apartheid South Africa. The international world supported our boycott of international sport, but white South Africans opposed it vehemently.

Inequalities and discrimination were all around me. By the time I entered university, as a 17 year old, my social justice consciousness was high.

We played sport for freedom of South Africa first and for international sport second.  Our sports dreams were limited. The ceiling for our participation in sport was national sport where we would participate in South African championships. As oppressed people in South Africa, we chose this pathway through life; to play sport for freedom and to play in dignity and without racial prejudice and discrimination.

Since I was a teenage sports girl, I have spoken out against discrimination in sport and society. I always condemned apartheid; never supported apartheid’s horrendous policies. I knew I wanted to live in a society that belonged to all South Africans, not only a white minority grouping.


So my consciousness for a better; equitable, generous, humane society was very much part of my involvement in sport. I loved being involved in anti-apartheid sport; I wore my badge with great honour and respect. It wasn’t easy living with our choice to play anti-apartheid, non-racial sport. I was visited by the security police and suffered security police harassment and intimidation, arrested for protesting sports tours to South Africa, under investigation for ‘subversive’ activities opposing apartheid, stopped and searched at the airport for protest racial sport. But through it all, remained defiant, strong and bold, just like the leadership of anti-apartheid sport, who taught me to believe in a socially just society..


I was a university student, for several years; attending four universities: two in SA and one in the England. Throughout my university studies, I still chose anti-apartheid sport.

I attended whitedesignated universities in SA; to do this I had to apply for a permit to study at a white university. The sports union at the white universities were all affiliated to apartheid sport structures which supported the government’s apartheid policies. I did not play any sports at university in SA, not even at a recreational level. After attaining three degrees in SA, the first time I ever played university sport was at university in England. I represented the University of York in the English Universities table tennis championship where I reached the semifinals; then I got selected to represent English universities at the British universities championship.

Whilst at university in England, coming out of apartheid South Africa, deprived of so much scholarship and intellectual prowess on sport and society, my world exploded before my very eyes! I was blown away by all the books on sport and how it can transform societies.  It was exactly what we needed back home, in South Africa.


I began writing about sport at a time, in the 1980’s in SA, when there were no women journalists in sports media. I was a university student, not studying sport or journalism or media. I just desperately wanted to write about sport, particularly about how we played anti-apartheid sport. How we played with limited resources and no money in disadvantaged communities; yet we persevered and required admirable standards of play.


My earlier consciousness in sport was primarily around society’s discrimination of people, about apartheid’s racism, brutalities and prejudice. It was at the advent of our democratic South Africa birthing that my consciousness took on much more about society, particularly gender imbalances in sport.


And so, I started to write much more about women in sport. From the outset, my writing and publishing was focused on black women in sport because we discriminated against and we suffer because of our skin colour.


I began saying: ‘SA girls and women want to play sport. They are bold, beautiful, talented and penniless. Why do their sport talents go unnoticed in a country which prides itself on gender equality?’


Today, whilst I admire all women performances in sport, I really commend the international success of our black women athletes. For them it is just a little more difficult to achieve their international status, given the disadvantaged socio-economics they still face.



A Change Agent For Sport: Advocacy And Protest Through Writing And Publishing What Must Be Written


One of my happiest moments in my life was when I had my first sports article published in a newspaper. It was a story about an oppressed woman hockey player in Durban, who was one of South Africa’s best women hockey players. I couldn’t stop reading the article, glancing at it in the newspaper. I then went on to write much more ad have many published articles. Then it was onto opinion articles, giving my opinions about the state of the social positioning of sport in our apartheid, unequal society. I not only liked what I wrote: I also believed in what I wrote. I took a principled decision through my writings, to never support apartheid, never support an unequal society and racial prejudice.


I published my first book, rather daringly and spontaneously. I never thought about money and funding. It was my master’s thesis which was about the anti-apartheid sports struggle. I just knew this information which I had researched had to be read.

After that, my confidence catapulted, my believe in a free society was immense and more books followed. I distributed them freely, gave them out and people welcomed them with appreciation. Then came the start of print publications about sport in South Africa and sportswomen in SA. Today, about 25 years later, after the publication of my first print publication, I am still writing and publishing.


I have much freedom in writing. I write what must be written. My publications and books, from the outset, have never supported white privilege and white supremacy. I project and feature mostly black people in sport; their success and struggle stories. The women in sport are especially looked after and given much coverage and publicity with the publication and writing of ‘South African SportsWoman’.


I don’t write to be favourited or complimented or liked; I write and publish that what must be written. I write about our fabulous South African people in sport and also about injustices, inequalities and gender discrimination. I’m not afraid to call out racism, racial privilege, wrongs and limitations of SA’s sports network. I do this out of concern for a better and progressive society.



Sports Life Of Calling Out Society’s Inequalities 


I’ve been involved in sport from grassroots to international level. I have played club, regional, school and national sport; have coached, been a sports administrator and official, delegate to meetings and events. All the time, from my teenage sports girl years, I have been a volunteer in sport; never worked in formal employment in sport in sport and never been paid a salary. My seminar and conference talks, my research, my coaching, my administration time, has all been done, because I wanted to be involved and agreed to participate. The only payment was my happiness and the joyful moments created for those I was able to interact with and share information with.

For now I concentrate on my writing and publishing, which I independently own and manage; writing and providing platforms for women in sport, racial inequalities and the previously disadvantage athletes, as well as challenging the male, status quo entrenched sport media.

Caster Semenya Runs With Every Black Woman’s Struggle And Triumph By Cheryl Roberts

17 Aug

Champion athlete Caster Semenya’s devastating runs on the athletics track this year and around the world which has her as the world’s leading athlete in the women’s 800m going into the Rio Olympics event carries significance and power for every black woman living in a South Africa of patriarchy, hetero-domination, sexual prejudice and black body haters.
The black body and athletics prowess of a rural black woman has catapulted South Africa’s black sportswomen into global glare. The gaze from colonial and white supremacist media representation, European and right wing thought, conservative religious teachings, is upon this phenomenal black woman athlete, with a hate intent on breaking this black sports champion body.
For those criticising and attacking her body, it’s not a gaze of praise and respect. It’s intention is to ridicule and criticize, yet again a black woman.
Black women around the world know this pain and this struggle. But black women have also found their strength and power to challenge, throw out and discard these attacks on black women’s bodies. And we do this showing up with achievements like #BlackSportswomanProwess, as exemplified by Caster Semenya.
The hate thrown at Caster Semenya’s black body has been experienced by women in South Africa, from centuries ago up until this juncture. We’ve already written about the athlete Caster Semenya not being representative of whiteness and its white privilege, heterosexism, feminity, how she lives in a patriarchal, heterosexual-dominated society.
Caster Semenya’s athletics prowess throws out the hate and condemnation of black women’s bodies. Black women have participated in organised sport in South Africa for over a century where they found and had pleasurable moments as they enjoyed leisure and sport.
Anti-apartheid and human rights activist, Albertina Sisulu, told me in an interview in the 1980’s that she loved sport and was a high jump champion at school in the Transkei. This participation by black women in sport has never been supported by corporate sponsors and it’s been largely ignored by media, until the last decade when black women in sport have begun to be celebrated and acknowledged in the media.
I write about this because the participation of black women in sport, especially in the apartheid era has been characterised by struggle; these struggles occurring as black women in society and as black women in sports structures.
We have supported and celebrated white sportswomen’s feats and achievements but we have longed for our black sports warrior. She arrived a few years ago, straight out of her rural village, through the junior athletics ranks and ran her way to world champion status.
For all the black women’s bodies that are ‘shamed’ and ‘attacked’ by those representing patriarchy, whiteness and fake white superiority, the haters who hate no black women’s bodies and beings, our black woman athlete Caster Semenya runs with all those chains and still she triumphs with amazing feats.
Even within organised sport in South Africa, Caster Semenya has had to fight back with her athletics prowess. SA’s sports structures and controlling officials are men who are not feminists and have no record of speaking out against attacks on black women’s bodies. They are largely conservative and operate sport within the framework of patriarchy and male control of the sports network. These male officials from the Minister of Sport and his department of sport to the president of SASCOC and his officials, are seemingly quite satisfied to have SA’s sportswomen struggling to participate in elite sport. If they were concerned and had a gender equal policy in sport, the 2016 Olympics Team South Africa would never have been male-dominated.
Caster Semenya makes us ask where are the elite black women in sport and why are they not performing world class achievements. Caster Semenya not only shows us the talent of black women in sport, she also reminds us that we are not supporting black girls in sport to become elite participants in world sport.
And then she does much more. She places black, queer, woman beings out there and says ‘here we are’. To be black, queer, non-feminine is a black woman’s right. This right is still a struggle for black, non-heterosexual, non-feminine queer women. In SA’s conservative sports forums, where the emphasis is on winning and male sports prowess without inter-relationships across society, this is a battle for black women. But Caster Semenya knocks down these barriers and tells black girls and women they can compete in sport and achieve.


South Africa’s world class athlete Caster Semenya (photograph by: Cheryl Roberts)

How Wayde Van Niekerk’s Talent Brought Together Two Sportswomen From South Africa’s Divided Sports Past By Cheryl Roberts

16 Aug

IMG_7526When divided pasts create moments of togetherness, the resultant relationships and subsequent impacts can be devastatingly beautiful and fascinating. In a South African society, whose people were once divided by vicious apartheid legislation and kept apart, the democratic era has seen people forging new relationships across colour and neighbourhood lines.

Two women, divided and kept apart by apartheid met up through athletics in democratic South Africa and came together to mould and guide a precocious teenage boy talent into a world and Olympic champion and world record holder.

One is Odessa Swarts, the mother of the boy, Wayde van Niekerk now a grown up man and the other is Anna Botha, the coach of this Olympic champion talent.

Both Swarts and Botha were separated as citizens because of skin colour during apartheid; one was oppressed, the other was privileged by apartheid, in both occupied Namibia and apartheid South Africa.

Both were athletes, with Botha being much older than Swarts. The two athletes participated in different athletics structures. Botha grew up in the apartheid supporting athletics structure while Swarts grew up in anti-apartheid, non-racial sport and athletics. The establishment, apartheid supporting athletics body of Botha’s wanted to have apartheid sport representing apartheid South Africa while the anti-apartheid athletics body that Swarts belonged to was against apartheid in sport and society and also supported the international isolation of apartheid South Africa. The two athletics structures were antagonistic and at war with ach other over apartheid.

The two women athletes never met or knew each other during the struggle years against apartheid. Botha has no known history of calling out apartheid and its wrongs while Swarts, participated in and supported anti-apartheid sport.

Apartheid hindered both their athletics lives because oppressed sports people didn’t want apartheid sport internationally recognised and those playing apartheid sport desperately wanted to play international sport. But apartheid isolated sports people, black and white, oppressed and oppressor.

The unified sports era brought together non-racial sports structures and establishment sport; together they were mandated to develop sport for all South Africans and represent a democratic South Africa.

Their love for athletics and the talent of a precocious teenage boy entering university would bring the two women together; women from different trenches of life.

It was in Bloemfontein at the University of Free State, a few years after Wayde van Niekerk’s family moved to Bloemfontein that the anti-apartheid and apartheid women athletes would meet. The coming together was first year university student Wayde van Niekerk and the discussion and agreement was how best to protect him as an athlete and unleash his athletics prowess.

As athletics coach at Free State university, Anna Botha became van Niekerk’s coach, guiding his athletics with a change from the 200m to the 400m, to SA champion, African champion, Commonwealth Games medalist, world champion and now Olympic champion and world record holder.

Together, the two women with their pivotal roles of mother and coach from different athletics pasts, one inhumane and unjust and the other privileged and white-favoured, would show up and place women prominently within SA sport at the time of the Rio Olympics when SA’s most successful Olympic medal haul had been attained only by sports men.

They have succeeded in the creation of a world champion, Olympic champion, world record holder. And this Olympic champion gave them both the chance to represent a democratic South Africa, internationally accepted around the world. Apartheid is now in the past and the new dawn ushered in has allowed the older generation of oppressed and apartheid’s privileged to bask in glory attained by those who benefited from democracy in a country with a devastatingly inhumane past.

Olympic Champion Wayde Van Niekerk Goes From The ‘Olympics Of The Oppressed’ To The World Olympics By Cheryl Roberts

15 Aug

The phenomenal sports feats of the son of an anti-apartheid sportswoman mother oppressed by apartheid South Africa, Olympic champion and 400m world record holder, Wayde van Niekerk are giving respect to a South Africa in the democratic era but also ensuring acknowledgement of the powerful and intense contribution of anti-apartheid sport activism to the elimination of apartheid in South Africa.

Sacrifices made by the anti-apartheid sports movement and sports structures are today being rewarded as the sports prowess of children of oppressed black South Africans is surfacing and achieving on the global sports terrain.

So much phenomenal and awesome life stories are coming out of the Rio Olympics. Out of South Africa’s journey from the horrendous apartheid era to life in democratic South Africa comes the real life story of processing sports lives from an ‘Olympics Of  The Oppressed’ to an “Olympics For All’.

An oppressed woman during the horrendous apartheid era used her sports talent to contribute to freedom from apartheid. Over 20 years later, in a democratic country, she watches her son perform amazing feats on the international athletics track.

The woman is Odessa Swarts, a champion sprint athlete during the 70’s and 80’s who participated in anti-apartheid, non-racial sport under the organisation that was South African Council on Sport (SACOS). The son is 2015 world 400m champion, 2016 Rio Olympics champion and current 400m world record holder, Wayde van Niekerk.

Oppressed and black women in apartheid South Africa struggled against apartheid legislation and with living in under-resourced communities. Recreational and sports facilities were neglected but oppressed women found their way through school and community sports into organised sports structures where they participated. Volunteer sports officials and leaders from oppressed communities organised anti-apartheid, non-racial sport, giving all sports people dignity and humanity without reference to their skin colour.

The struggle for freedom was long, hard and challenging. International isolation of apartheid sport was advocated around the world. Elimination of apartheid from South African society was fought for in the work place, in education, in living spaces, in love and sport.

The much neglected and often forgotten pivotal and dynamic contribution of anti-apartheid sports activism and organisation to the creation of democracy in South Africa refuses to be buried. Moments appear when we connect the dots, how oppressed sports people struggled to participate in sport, yet they still achieved remarkable feats. The anti-apartheid sports people sacrificed their sports talent, refusing to support international recognition of apartheid South Africa. Instead, they sacrificed and advocated against apartheid though sport.

Champion anti-apartheid athlete Odessa Swarts participated in the SACOS Sports Festivals held in Cape Town in the 1980’s. Bringing together thousands of anti-apartheid athletes in several sports codes and supporters, these non-corporate funded sports festivals, became popularly known as the ‘Olympics Of the Oppressed.’

They were the highest ceiling of participation for oppressed sports people under SACOS. Then came initiatives towards sports unification of both anti-apartheid, non-racial sport and establishment sport. And a new era was ushered in for South African sport to be internationally recognised.

Much talent has come through the sports pyramid; an overwhelming amount of talented youth has also been lost through the system.

Somehow, the junior talent of Wayde van Niekerk was looked after and guided. Coming through school sports in Kraaifontein in Cape Town into junior structures of provincial athletics to international representation, Wayde van Niekerk has been emerging. Today, he is Olympic champion, world champion and world record holder in the men’s 400m. He would have often been told about his mother’s feats in athletics, how she would run for his freedom to legitimately represent a democratic SA. His father, too was an athlete. Wayde van Niekerk knows he is privileged to be participating in an apartheid-free country while his parents had to sacrifice their athletics talent. He’s taken very chance given to him and paid it back to South African society.

There’s no doubt that one of the most inspirational stories from the Rio Olympics is a South African story from its ugly apartheid past to a hopeful democratic era, from participation in sport for freedom in events like ‘Olympics Of The Oppressed’ to awesome accomplishments at the Olympics.IMG_7285

Phenomenal Black Women Represent South Africa At Rio Olympics By Cheryl Roberts

14 Aug

South Africa has embarrassed their sportswomen with meagre financial support and non-establishment of professional leagues to allow the women in sport to play sport full-time and professionally but still the country’s black sportswomen manage to break the barriers which stand in their way of advancement.
No Black South African elite sportswoman’s story is without triumph against adversity. For those women who do manage to participate internationally and achieve, the constraints have been tough and hard to carry and break. But the black woman in sport still triumphs against the odds.
At the Rio Olympics, the world’s global showpiece of the best sports people in the world together with those who have triumphed over adversity and struggled to reach Olympic participation are SA’s sportswomen who have travelled journeys against adversity.
Two phenomenal women at the Rio Olympics are Odessa Swarts and Caster Semenya; Swarts is mother of world 400m champions, Wayde van Niekerk and Semenya is Olympic participant in the 800m.
A talented sprint athlete during the apartheid era, Odessa Swarts never had the opportunity to participate in an Olympic Games because of apartheid. She was the anti-apartheid, non-racial sprint champion who played sport while also advocating for the elimination of apartheid through sport. Today, this talented athlete mother is able to support her son Wayde on the international sports terrain because South Africa participates in sport as a democratic country, acceptable to international sport.
Running for herself, her village and community, her Limpopo province and her country South Africa, Caster Semenya represents black women in democratic South Africa; she’s out there for black, queer, trans, gay, rural, working class, abused athletes, disadvantaged and black sportswomen, showing the athletics prowess of a black sportswoman.
South Africa’s black women were oppressed and exploited by the apartheid regime’s laws. Yet, black women not only managed to get themselves into sports spaces and into organised sport but they also achieved champion status. Much talent abounded in black women’s sport but this talent had a ceiling because of apartheid, with inter-provincial and national competitions being the highest forms of participation in sport.
With the advent of democratic SA, a new era was ushered in; that of creating opportunities for black women to participate in sport. SA sport is conservative and male-controlled. Women did emerge with talent in post-apartheid SA. We saw mostly white sportswomen’s talent being supported with black sportswomen struggling to get support beyond provincial sport.
And then came the sensational talent of young Caster Semenya. Conservative, heterosexual, male-controlled society didn’t know how to respond to the talent and being that was Caster Semenya. When conservative, white and colonial supremacist forces attacked Semenya’s body, SA sport officials weren’t conscientised with formidable responses to protect the sensational talent of athlete Caster Semenya.
Now grown into an amazing, world class woman athlete, Caster Semenya, has first and foremost protected herself because the only person who can do this is Caster herself. She has been clean in doping tests, she has trained exhaustively and she has kicked it on the track. Now she is a top five 800m woman athlete in the world.
While prying, curious, conservative, heterosexual, whiteness and colonial mentalities are surfacing to break down Caster Semenya, the athlete is participating in world athletics on her terms. She is breaking no rules of international sport and is totally compliant. Caster Semenya represents the black and African woman who encounters racism, sexual prejudice, and gender policing of her body.
But just as anti-apartheid sportswomen faced the harshness of apartheid yet found spaces to escape from this harshness, today’s black sportswoman in SA is also occupying spaces to put black women out there. For Odessa Swarts and Caster Semenya and all other black sportswomen that space is the sports terrain.
The sacrifices of anti-apartheid athletes like Odessa Swarts to play sport to get freedom from apartheid have not been forgotten. In this democratic era, the remarkable is happening whereby anti-apartheid sports people see their children not only participating in international sport, but also achieving fabulously.
Apartheid told the world that black women didn’t play sport and couldn’t play sport. Out of our chains, democratic SA has unleashed the talent of Caster Semenya and the world didn’t expect such a talent. Now that this black sportswoman prowess is out there, the questions and criticism are being made up, with all emphasis on ridiculing a black woman’s body and of course her talent.
Swarts and Semenya represent all black women’s strength and personal power. It’s hard to break them down! With most of SA cheering on a mother’s son in the 400m at the Rio Olympics and an awesome black woman athlete in the 800m, those doing the criticising of Caster Semenya are not going to win against the fierce, bold and very strong Caster Semenya. And we are not going to allow any black woman’s body or being to be attacked by racist legislation and gender policing. IMG_8310