As there was no sports available for me to participate in at the convent, my mother organised a swimming coach for me. Her name was Mrs Dowse. Her house was just around the corner from the convent and she had a half Olympic length swimming pool in her garden which she used as a training pool. She did not believe that swimming was just a summer recreation, she believed that those that were serious about swimming, meaning those that were capable of swimming competitively and the only type she was interested in training, trained the whole year through. Winter and summer, end of discussion.
Which meant that every morning before school and an hour after, I was to be found swimming up and down the pool, even when taps froze due to the Highveld’s freezing winters. To be fair, I loved swimming and my dream was to represent South Africa at the Olympic Games, so I am not complaining of the freezing water.
Mrs Dowse had a unique way of training, we would swim by the stopwatch and if at any time we fell behind the second hand she hit the water just above our backs with a long piece of bamboo, it stung but never really injured anyone, and it was amazing how we managed to make up lost time. Mrs Dowse moulded me into an Olympic swimmer, and by the time I was fourteen I was the fastest breaststroke swimmer in South Africa, not officially, as I was disqualified in all the meets that I was entered into. The reason being that Swimming South Africa still enforced the law that when swimming breaststroke the head was not allowed to dip under the water and nor where the feet allowed to break water, laws that did not apply to the Olympics.
I used what was to become known as a frog kick, which was impossible to use without disturbing the water with my legs. So even though I broke record after record in training I never won an official race. As it turned out I was never given the chance to even go to the Olympic Games as the sporting boycott of South Africa effectively put a stop to any such ambition. Many young athletes were to have their hopes and dreams dashed by that decision.
It had always been my belief that the Olympic Games were there to foster understanding of different cultures and to expose the youth of the world to a diversity that they may or may not experience in their home countries. What an opportunity for the white youth of South Africa to rub shoulders with blacks and discover that they were just youths like themselves with the same wants and ambitions. Surely that would have been the perfect foil of the ‘Swart Gevaar’ we were indoctrinated with in South Africa.
I remember the ANC’s slogan of ‘No normal sport in an abnormal society’ very well; I also remember that South Africa was the only country expelled from the games. There were many countries that had far worse Human right issues, but South Africa was singled out. Another thing that puzzles me is the rule of the Olympic Games that forbids government intervention in the selection of athletes, that the present day ANC government breaks with tedious regularity and not a whisper is uttered by the Olympic committee. One rule, for South Africa under Apartheid another under ANC rule.
The rest of the world should be very proud of what they have achieved. In South Africa today merit has no value; the coinage of the day is Racial Representation and patronage. At the 2008 Olympics when the South African men’s hockey team had qualified to represent their country they were denied the chance by the government of the day as they did not have sufficient Blacks in the team, in other words they were not representative enough.
I could name a few more examples in all forms of sport in the country, but what would be the use, all that will happen is that I will be branded a racist and told that I should pack my bags and return to Europe where I belong. I have always believed that the best way to remove all forms of prejudice was and is through sport, but then again who am I to go against world opinion. Whether I am a racist or not, this tale will reveal once and for all, as it is impossible to fool all of the people who take the time to read this little story of an insignificant life in the greater scheme of things.
Lots of Hugs and more,