Project in place to recognise SA cycling’s past heroes during the apartheid years

Cycling South Africa has embarked on a project to recognise the historical role other cycling organisations like the South African Cycling Association (SACA) and the South African Cycling Board (SACB) played in the South African and international cycling context during the apartheid era.

Cycling SA President, William Newman, has initiated the project to recognise and honour people from the black cycling fraternity during the time of apartheid, and the project has been met with great interest from the cycling communities.

“Cycling in South Africa is steeped in history and we have to recognise all those who contributed meaningfully to the development of the sport during the dark days of apartheid. Cycling was a vibrant sport practised across the different race groups, with the SACB under the auspices of the macro body, the South African Council on Sport (SACOS) championing the cause of non-racial cycling. The SACOS-aligned cyclists and administrators stayed true to the principle of “No normal sport in an abnormal society”. The SACOS movement was relentless in their pursuit of a democratic South Africa using the only tool they had, their sport. The day that our late leader Nelson Mandela was released from prison signalled the dawn of a new democracy and paved the way for the SACOS fraternity to begin the sporting journey in a free and open manner.

“This project to recognise the past is long overdue and I look forward to us recognising all our heroes.”

Charles Beukes, who established and led the South African Cycling Board during the apartheid years, said: “People that for various reasons withdrew themselves from the sport that they once treasured and practised with great commitment have welcomed this initiative from Mr Newman and are keen to become involved again if and where needed.”

Beukes added that the project has also brought back fond memories about great rivalries on the tracks of Esselenpark, Dal Josafat, Gelvandale, Vygieskraal and De Beers.

“Cycling on the black side was well publicised but unfortunately it was covered in the supplements (for black people) of publications like Die Burger, Rapport and Sunday Times, and then also in the regional newspapers and this meant that whites who did not read these supplements did not realise how big cycling really was,” continued Beukes.

Cycling SA’s Youth, Transformation & Development Commission Director, Yster Xatasi, has been in contact with the former Bantu cycling body’s ex-Chairman, Victor Tembani. Tembani was committed to formalising the black cycling clubs in the Eastern Province (as it was known) and embarked on a very long cycling trip from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg in 1975 to meet with Basil Cohen, who was very instrumental in organising cycling on the mines.

“Although we met, this was unsuccessful because of apartheid,” said Tembani in a clipping from his memoirs. “Today I am omitted from the development programmes by the EP Cycling Association and the SACF, regardless of my experience and contribution to cycling.”

Tembani’s cycling path began in 1967 and he joined Mercury Cycling Club in 1969 – the first non-white cycling club with the other one being Lightning Cycling Club. He then went on to form a club in Walmer in 1970, and three years later had teams in Newbrighton, Zwide, Zakhele and Soweto.

Xatasi has connected with Tembani in the hope that he can offer his valuable input to the new project at Cycling SA.

To encourage interaction going forward, Beukes has also created a Facebook Page on cycling memoirs where many of the newspaper stories and pictures from cycling’s heyday are reflected. “This has helped to get people interested in what we are doing and to come forward and provide information on the cycling greats of those days. People like the legendary 7 pursuitists – Worcester’s Koos Filanie and Paarl's Boet, Koos and Jackson Jantjies. People like WP's sprint sensations Hilmi Conrad and Sammy Davids, the Boland track greats like Magmudh Valley, Steven Benjamin and Chessie Pieterse; Ernest Hartell and Kevin Hoskins from KwaZulu-Natal; the Griqualand greats Dennis and John van Wyk and Mervyn Rhoda; and Ace Paarl sprint cyclist Naaim de Vos,” he said.

The Tour de Boland originated under Boland Cycling and Mr Newman was one of the participants in the first historic Schus Datsun Tour de Boland, which was managed by Mr Beukes and his Boland Executive in 1978.

“The nice part about this whole project is that for the first time now, there is a dedicated effort to document the history of South African Cycling amongst all South Africans and this due to this reconciliatory initiative from Mr Newman and his fellow administrators,” said Beukes.