Archive | March, 2017

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