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

Kawauchi Breaks Nobeyama Ultra Course Record

2018 Boston Marathon winner Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov’t) won the longest race of his career to date Sunday in Nagano, taking over six minutes off the Yatsugatake Nobeyama Kogen 71 km Ultramarathon in 4:41:55.

A training run for next month’s Stockholm Marathon, Kawauchi set off solo at a steady pace around 3:45/km. Climbing from 1355 m to 1908 m as he approached 20 km he naturally slowed, but with over 1000 m of descent over the next 30 km he was soon back on track. Hitting the marathon split around 2:39, he was so far ahead of the 2nd placer that the announcer initially forget Kawauchi had already gone by and announced the next runner as the leader.

At 58 km Kawauchi was on track to clear 4:30:00, but hitting the uphills in the final 10 km and feeling the effects of the unfamiliar distance he slowed to almost 5:00/km. But with so much leeway to work with there was never any danger of the 4:48:13 course record slipping out of reach. Kawauchi stopped the clock in 4:41:55, please…

How it Happened

Ancient History I went to Wesleyan University, where the legend of four-time Boston Marathon champ and Wes alum Bill Rodgers hung heavy over the cross-country team. Inspired by Koichi Morishita and Young-Cho Hwang’s duel at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics I ran my first marathon in 1993, qualifying for Boston ’94 where Bill was kind enough to sign a star-struck 20-year-old me’s bib number at the expo.

Three years later I moved to Japan for grad school, and through a long string of coincidences I came across a teenaged kid named Yuki Kawauchi down at my neighborhood track. I never imagined he’d become what he is, but right from the start there was just something different about him. After his 2:08:37 breakthrough at the 2011 Tokyo Marathon he called me up and asked me to help him get into races abroad. He’d finished 3rd on the brutal downhill Sixth Stage at the Hakone Ekiden, and given how he’d run the hills in the last 6 km at Tokyo ’11 I thought he’d do well at Boston or New York. “If M…

The Kawauchi Counter

Yuki Kawauchi's 2018 race results: Jan. 1: Marshfield New Year's Day Marathon, U.S.A.: 2:18:59 - 1st - CR
Jan. 14: Okukuma Road Race Half Marathon, Kumamoto - 1:03:28 - 7th
Jan. 21: Yashio Isshu Ekiden, Saitama: 1:01:03 - 1st - ran entire 20.0 km ekiden solo and beat all 103 teams of 6 runners each
Jan. 28: Okumusashi Ekiden First Stage (9.9 km), Saitama - 29:41 - 6th
Feb. 4: Saitama Ekiden Third Stage (12.1 km), Saitama - 36:54 - 4th
Feb. 11: Izumo Kunibiki Half Marathon, Shimane - cancelled due to heavy snow
Feb. 18: Kitakyushu Marathon, Fukuoka - 2:11:46 - 1st - CR
Feb. 25: Fukaya City Half Marathon, Saitama - 1:04:26 - 1st
Mar. 4: Kanaguri Hai Tamana Half Marathon, Kumamoto - 1:04:49 - 12th
Mar. 11: Yoshinogawa Riverside Half Marathon, Tokushima - 1:05:50 - 1st - CR
Mar. 18: Wan Jin Shi Marathon, Taiwan - 2:14:12 - 1st
Mar. 24: Heisei Kokusai University Time Trials, Saitama
              5000 m Heat 4: 14:53.95 - 1st
              5000 m Heat 6: 14:36.58 - 2nd
           …