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

Japanese National Track and Field Championships Preview

The 101st edition of Japan's National Track and Field Championships takes place Friday through Sunday at Osaka's Yanmar Stadium Nagai. It's a strange time in some ways. Despite the overall upward trend spurred on by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the count of athletes who might make the London World Championships off their performances at Nationals is low. The marathon, walks, combined events and relays aside, based on current qualifying times only the men's 100 m, women's 5000 m and women's 10000 m could field full three-member squads, and not many events look set to join that list. The progress over the last few years in men's distance on the track seems to have stalled, with nobody qualified for London in the 5000 m and the only man qualified in the 10000 m already a scratch. Is it a just a hiccup or a sign of problems in the buildup to 2020?

Visit the JAAF's National Track and Field Championships website for entry and start lists, live results, photos an…

Ageo City Half Marathon Leads Weekend Action - Preview

by Brett Larner

Rainy weather lies ahead for a busy weekend of racing across the country.  Track is a part of the calender from April through December, and this weekend features several large time trial meets including the Shizuoka Long Distance Time Trials Meet and, closer to Tokyo, the Nittai University Time Trials Meet.  Men's 5000 m is the focus at Nittai with 37 separate heats in one day, the fastest heat led by 12 Japan-based Africans including Bedan Karoki (DeNA RC), Ronald Kwemoi (Team Komori Corp.) and Paul Kuira (Team Konica Minolta).

The main action this weekend, however, happens on the roads, and there's no question that the Ageo City Half Marathon is the main event.  Ageo, the race that university coaches use to thin their rosters ahead of deciding their lineups for January's Hakone Ekiden, is one of two Japanese half marathons vying for the title of world's greatest half, locked in a duel with March's National University Half Marathon to produce the d…

JAAF Announces Preliminary Team for London World Championships

A day after the end of the 2017 Japanese National Track and Field Championships, the JAAF announced its preliminary team for August's London World Championships. No men made the team in long distance, while no women were named in any event except long distance. Top-placing athletes at the National Championships have until July 23 to chase standards in hope of being added to the team, but excluding the marathon and race walk, the team as announced on June 26:

Women's Long Distance
Rina Nabeshima (Japan Post) - 5000 m
Ayuko Suzuki (Japan Post) - 5000 m / 10000 m
Mizuki Matsuda (Daihatsu) - 10000 m
Miyuki Uehara (Daiichi Seimei) - 10000 m

Men's Sprints
Abdul Hakim Sani Brown (Tokyo T&F Assoc.) - 100 m / 200 m
Shuhei Tada (Kwansei Gakuin Univ.) - 100 m
Aska Cambridge (Nike) - 100 m
Shota Iizuka (Mizuno) - 200 m
Takamasa Kitagawa (Juntendo Univ.) - 400 m

Additional Relay Members
Yoshihide Kiryu (Toyo Univ.) - 4x100 m
Kenji Fujimitsu (Zenrin) - 4x100 m
Kentaro Sato (Fujitsu) -…