Anti-Apartheid Sacrifices For Playing Sport For Freedom Are Paying Out By Cheryl Roberts

6 Nov

cheslin kolbe

Look at this South African sports narrative: Two young sportsmen, both from anti-apartheid sports communities and families, who played their grassroots sport in the same hood have gone on to not only win Olympic medals but become world sports champions. That’s athlete Wayde van Niekerk and rugby player Cheslin Kolbe.
Both Wayde and Cheslin, related as family, in their growing up years stayed in Kraaifontein, in the Northern areas of Cape Town where their parents also resided in the apartheid era. Both went to government primary schools. Both participated in and excelled at athletics. Wayde took his athletics all the way to become Olympic and world champion. Cheslin got to play more rugby at high school and went all the way to winning an Olympic bronze medal and world cup gold medal in rugby.
Both Cheslin and Wayde’s parents also played sport. They played with little resources and facilities available in their disadvantaged schools and hoods. They not only participated in sport; they were also sports champions in rugby (Cheslin’s father) and athletics (Wayde’s mother) and got selected into national teams representing oppressed sports people who played non-racial sport, under the leadership and administration of the South African Cuncil on Sport (SACOS). This was also anti-apartheid sport whereby the choice was made not to support apartheid in sport, nor to play with apartheid supporting sports structures. Playing anti-apartheid, non-racial sport meant waiting for apartheid to be abolished and for a democratc South Africa to be birthed. It meant sacrificing international sport participation until SA had apartheid no more and all South Africans could vote in a democratic election.
This is a real life story coming out of South Africa: The narrative of people who were oppressed in apartheid South Africa because they were not white, went to disadvantaged schools but had passion to play sport. Although not much sports facilities and resources were available in marginalised, neglected, deprived communities in the horrendous apartheid era, sports clubs and sports federations rose up within communities and gave opportunities to the children, youth and women and men to participate in sport.


While apartheid sport organised their sport on ‘whites-only’ terms, disadvantaged communities and oppressed people (all those who were not white), organised their sports constitutions on ‘non-racial’ terms, with no discrimination on race.
But it wasn’t just about playing non-racial sport. It was about playing anti-apartheid sport; not supporting apartheid but fighting apartheid. It was about playing sport for freedom from apartheid, freedom to live in a democratic and non-discriminatory society.
Playing non-racial, anti-apartheid sport also meant we didn’t play international sport because we did not want international sport with apartheid sport. Playing non-racial sport meant you played on sandy grounds, very little sports resources and facilities, no government sports funding, ignored for corporate sponsorship. Yet, despite the litany of obstacles and struggles, sports talent surfaced from disadvantaged, oppressed sports people.

wade and mother odessa

Odessa congratulates her son Wade after he won the 2015 SA 400m

Those were principled decisions not to play with apartheid sport. The anti-apartheid sports struggle wasn’t easy, but a litany of challenges. Much sports talent surfaced from the oppressed black communities. Much of it got sacrificed for freedom from apartheid, the horrendous system that kept majority blacks in chains and gave privileges to minority whites. Oppressed athletes could have been participating in world and continental sports events, becoming world class and champions. But they sacrificed their sports talent at the altar of playing no sport with apartheid South Africa, and that meant international sport, too.
25 years ago, came the advent of the post-apartheid era and the ushering in of democratic South Africa. A country littered with inequalities and subsequent challenges had to proceed to provide for the people, and not just a white minority, as successive apartheid governments had done.

2cheslin kolbe
Given the opportunities that became available to them in post-apartheid South Africa, young blacks have not only demonstrated their sports talent but catapulted their talent onto global sports stages with amazing achievements.
Today, in a remarkable way we have two world champions, who first played their grassroots sport in the same hood, emerged from anti-apartheid sports playing communities and families, have parents who played anti-apartheid sport and were sports champions. The world sports champions are Wayde van Niekerk and Cheslin Kolbe whose parents sacrificed their sport, played non-racial, anti-apartheid sport and sports for freedom so their children and South Africa’s children , irrespecitive of colour, sexuality, class, gender could play sport in a free South Africa and reprsent a democratic South Africa.

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