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Thugwane and Kawauchi Visit Local Children in South Africa's Kayamandi Township

text and photos by Brett Larner

A day after running in South Africa’s Sanlam Cape Town Marathon and 10 km road race, 1996 Atlanta Olympics marathon gold medalist Josiah Thugwane and Japan’s iconoclastic civil servant runner Yuki Kawauchi traveled to the Kayamandi township outside Stellenbosch to speak to local children taking part in the program.  A community with over 100 years of history, the 33,000 residents of Kayamandi live in extreme conditions of poverty in the hills overlooking the wealthy winery town of Stellenbosch.  Thugwane and Kawauchi were taken on a walking tour of the community to see with their own eyes the situation in which the program's children live and the challenges they face.

Created in 2008 by Songo Fipaza, a Kayamandi resident who became a national-level cross-country runner through the support of 1992 Barcelona Olympics silver medalist Elana Meyer when as a youth he sought her out in Stellenbosch after watching her immediate post-Apartheid silver medal battle with and legendary embrace of Ethiopia's Derartu Tulu in Barcelona, provides the community's children with a safe place for after school study, nutritious meals, the chance to improve themselves mind, body and soul, and, through sport, to conceive and achieve dreams beyond the reality into which they were born.  Running and general fitness are part of the program, but its main focus is on BMX and downhill cycling.  Some of the program's children have grown into success in duathlon and triathlon.

Appearing through the support of Meyer’s Endurocad long distance development program, Thugwane and Kawauchi spoke to the crowd of more than fifty children in the building.  Few realized who Thugwane was when he entered the room, but when Fipaza introduced him and said his name there was a wave of gasps as the children recognized it as that of a legend from a time before they were born.  The champion still lingering inside the soft-spoken Thugwane emerged as he delivered an impassioned speech on self-belief and the drive to overcome adversity that led him to become the first black South African Olympic gold medalist.

One of the program’s biggest success stories, Theophillus Ngubane, an articulate 20-year-old who represented South Africa in 2013 as its first black athlete ever to compete in the Downhill World Championships, asked Thugwane how it felt to compete at the Olympics and listened with rapt attention as Thugwane described his experience of rising from nothing to beat the world’s best.  Afterwards Ngubane spoke to Thugwane and Kawauchi about his ambition to become a cycle designer and start his own company to produce world-class racing bikes within his community if he can find a design program that will take him.

Kawauchi shared his story of coming from outside the circles of his country’s elite to become a four-time national representative and two-time medalist on the strength of his self-belief, telling them, “Not everyone is fortunate enough to have everything they need, but in both your studies and your sport, if you truly believe in yourself, keep asking yourself how you can make the most of the opportunities that you do have, and keep trying no matter what the obstacles, then you too can have the chance to achieve your dreams.”

Meyer closed the session with a brief address, telling the children, “I believe that every child in South Africa should have the chance to play sport and to learn through it.  Sport has been a great teacher in my life and many of the most valuable lessons and values I have learned through sport.”  Its people living in a reality that much of the world no longer remembers or believes evaporated with the advent of democracy 25 years ago but which still bears stark and substantial resemblance to a universally reviled era of history, provides a rare instance of true altruism, of a light shining into an almost forgotten darkness and giving the children who live there the awareness and belief to at least try to fly on their own.

For more information on the Kayamandi program visit

(c) 2015 Brett Larner
all rights reserved


Anonymous said…
Did not JRN co-sponsor Kawauchi for this marathon? Good on you!

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