I did not get up to watch Wayde run, but the minute I woke up, I reached for my phone. I woke my husband up with extreme excitement and joy. Wayde van Niekerk broke the world record!!! Our hearts were beating with the rest of South Africa. Nothing but pride for our boy Wayde van Niekerk. And then there was Akani Simbine, “ran alongside titans and held his own”, as DJ Fresh tweeted. Our hearts were touched by Luvo Manyonga story, about overcoming a drug addiction.
This morning #ColouredExcellence dominated social media. And I really enjoyed reading the piece by Carla Bernado on why Wayde’s gold is a win for coloured identity. Immediately the question is raised on whether it is appropriate to bring race into this? Can’t race be overlooked, and why can’t this be like the Springbok game of 1995, uniting us as South Africans? Why, for a matter of fact, is the race of any of these athletes important?
It is important because of the big role these athletes will play in the construction of identity of the young boys growing up in neighbourhoods similar to the ones they grew up in. Identity construction can never be divorced from environment and culture. And when I think about Wayde as coloured, orginally from a neighbourhood most coloured people in Cape Town know and can identify with, I get excited. Here is someone bridging the gap between what a young boy experiences in his daily reality and what he aspires to be.
I conducted research on identity construction. The participants were young primary school boys from a low socio-economic coloured community in the Western Cape. The aim of the study was to understand the construction of male identity in young primary school boys, who grew up in a context where few positive role models might be, and where society might play a bigger role in shaping their identities.
In the abstract I state the following:
“The findings showed that the type of masculinity these boys aspire to is admirable. However, they are caught within a context where there is a lack of physical space, an absence of facilities, a high unemployment rate and are surrounded by community dis-organisation. The boys are confronted with many male examples in their community who are not providing for their families, and they see substances such as alcohol and drugs being abused daily by adult members of their community. Despite a constant presence of a mother, there is a lack of meaningful relationships with their fathers. They cannot easily identify positive role models within their community and do not have the ability to search for such traits in others. The themes arising from the data presented a contrast between the experiences of the participants and the kind of men they seek to be. There are very few men in their community who could help them to achieve their ideals and who could provide them with guidance or support. In the absence of suitable male role models to emulate, these boys are likely to comply with a model of masculinity that demonstrates dominance and power through violence and abuse.”
I conclude my thesis with the awareness that I am of the same racial classification as that of the participants. I used to live close to the neighbourhood they are growing up in, now deprived of positive role models. I found myself reflecting on the role that people like myself can play in guiding boys, similar to the above participants, towards the construction of a healthy male identity.
So yes, Wayde being an admirable young man, with a good value system, makes him a positive role model for all boys. And yes, being coloured isn’t the only part of his identity that defines him. But him being coloured, makes it special for a community deprived of heroes. A community where many past heroes were left unsung. Breaking the spirit of those still to come. Deterring them from even trying. But Wayde’s success brings our role models a little bit closer to our doorsteps, and it makes us feel like we can reach out and touch that success ourselves. It gives us hope, that although our identity is shaped by our context, it is not cast in stone. It can change. It is determined by the choices we make.
Luvo too chose to change his identity and today can sift through that which defines him. He makes that very clear to the media when he states:
“that’s not me anymore.”
Stedman Graham tells us the following in his book, Identity: Your passport to success,
“…your identity can change, evolve and transform.”
I guess with this piece I want to create a consciousness among those who have been successfull in transforming their identity into something that adds value to this world, to acknowledge our role as a role model, especially for those young ones, who can associate in some way or the other with us. And sometimes we have to acknowledge that that association is due to similar skin colour and growing up in similar communities.
There are little coloured boys, who went to bed last night thinking: “If Wayde could do, I can do it.” And that’s what it’s all about. But Wayde could not do it without the support and guidance of his family and most importantly his coach, who shared all her skill and knowledge to get him to excellence. That’s where we come in. Our children can not make it on their own. We have a responsibility to share our recipes for success. Therefore we should never get to a point in our lives where we disassociate with where we come from.
Wa vinaa kô djy?
Djy sê djy bly nou oppie golfestate
Tussen daai fênsie hyse
Ek sien djy kap ‘n seven viby die All Pay line
Met daai kwai SUV van jou.
Djy’t seker ‘n app op jou phone
En genoeg geld om transactions te kan doen
Jinne my broer
Dit ga mos goed met djou
Onthou djy nog toe ons laaities was
Lekker stout gewies
Djou pa het sommi vir ôs almal pak gegie
Dwasdeur die bank
Die goeie ou dae, daai
En djyt goed uitgedraai, my broe
Ma vandag se dae kan djy mossie die laaities slaan nie
Even al doen hulle swak oppie skool
“Slow progress” sê die juffrou
Sy praat van FAS
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Ai my broer
Eks bly dit gaan goed met djou
Ekt ha gesê, mens kannie so syp as djy innie anner tyd issie
Nie wat, relax, sê sy . Is net ‘n bierjtie.
Dit voed sommi so bietjie die bybie
En kyk nou
Ek sê weer, my broe,
Eks bly dit ga so goed met djou
Sorry ek kan djou nie in nooi nie
Die wendy is ma klein
Ôs is al hoe lank oppie waiting list
Ma ôs is mos back yard dwellers, djy sien.
Ek doen mar sulke odd djobpies, nou en dan
Ma innie winter ga dit ma swaar
Mens vistaan dan as die manne ma mert en pouch
Djy moet mos kos oppie tafel sit, my broe
Dit was lekka om djou weer te sien
Djy moet sê as ek ka kô help met ietsie da oppie estate
Go well my friend, Lat dit goed ga met djou
Ek’s bly om te sien djy othou darrem nog waa vinaa djy kô