Skip to main content

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 songo.info 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 songo.info 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, songo.info 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 songo.info 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 songo.info 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 songo.info 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, songo.info 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 www.songo.info


(c) 2015 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Comments

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

Most-Read This Week

Daniel and Kawauchi Win Saitama International Marathon

After missing a medal by 3 seconds at August's London World Championships, defending champ Flomena Cheyech Daniel (Kenya) made it two in a row as she won a tight battle against Shitaye Habtegebrel (Bahrain) to win the Saitama International Marathon in 2:28:39.

With the onus on Japanese women Reia Iwada (Dome) and Kaori Yoshida (Team RxL) to break 2:29:00 in order to qualify for Japan's new-format 2020 Olympic trials race, the pair of them did most of the heavy lifting for the first two-thirds of the race. Yoshida led the early kilometers before Iwade took over, and through strong head and tailwinds, over rolling hills and around sharp turns Iwade kept things moving just under target pace, shaking the pack down to just her, Daniel, Habtegebrel and relative unknown Bekelech Daba (Ethiopia) by 15 km.

Little changed up front until after the lead group hit the start of the hilliest 10 km on the course after 25 km. For the first time Iwade slipped to the rear of the pack, and on a …

Breaking Down the Best-Ever Japanese Marathon Times By Country

Japanese marathoners these days have the reputation of rarely racing abroad, and of rarely racing well when they do. Back in the day that wasn't true; Japanese marathoners have won all the World Marathon Majors-to-be except New York, and two of the three Japanese men to have run 2:06 and all three women to have run 2:19 did it outside Japan. Whatever the extent to which things did turn inward along the way, the last few years have seen an uptick in Japanese runners going farther afield and running better there than any others before them.

The lists above and below show the fastest times run by Japanese athletes in different countries to 2:20:00 for men and 2:45:00 for women. Japanese men have run sub-2:20 marathons in 37 countries around the world including Japan, with Japanese women having cleared 2:45 in 33 countries including at home. Breaking it down by IAAF label times, more Japanese men have run label standard times abroad, but women have typically performed at a higher label…

Kosimbei, Kwemoi and Shitara Lead Hachioji 10000 m Field

Nestled deep in the misty foothills of the western Tokyo mountains, Hosei University's late November Hachioji Long Distance meet has quietly turned into one of the world's premier track 10000 m, its A-heat never quite dipping under 27 minutes yet but still producing record-setting depth and the two fastest Japanese men's 10000 m in history.
This year's entry list is another monster, with 27:02.59 man Nicholas Kosimbei (Toyota) leading 17 men with recent times under 28 minutes, twelve of them Kenyan, three Japanese and two Ethiopian. Fresh off a 27:22.73 win at last weekend's Nittai University Time Trials, two-time steeplechase junior world champion Jonathan Ndiku (Hitachi Butsuryu) is slated to pace what is scheduled to be a sub-28 race, but with Kosimbei, sub-27:30 men John Maina (Fujitsu) and Rodgers Chumo Kwemoi (Aisan Kogyo) and five others under 27:45 including last year's winnerRonald Kwemoi (Komori Corp.) on the list the front end should go faster. 
Rig…