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UWC Exhibition On Sport History In South Africa

The Power of the Olympic Dream: UWC launches biggest sport exhibition in Africa

From the time when black South Africans could only dream about participating in the Olympics to a moment when Wayde van Niekerk smashed the 400m men’s world record a year ago, South Africa has had both a painful and a fascinating history of the Olympic Games.

“For a very long time the doors to the Olympic Games were shut to South African athletes. There are stories to be revealed of then and now, of exclusions and successful champions, and of black sportspeople grasping the opportunities presented by democracy to smash expectations - and records - at the Games in recent years.”

So said Western Cape MEC for Cultural Affairs and Sport Anroux Marais, speaking at the recent launch of The Power of the Dream: From Robben Island to Rio exhibition at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) - arguably the biggest sport digitalization exhibition in Africa

Produced by UWC’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Sport Science and Development (ICESSD), in conjunction with theWestern Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport and theUWC-Robben Island Museum Mayibuye Archives, the display showcases how black athletes were excluded from inter-racial contests by the Apartheid government, how others even went abroad in search of opportunities and how political activists continued to live the dream during their incarceration at Robben Island.

“The exhibition is the story of South Africa’s relation to the Olympic Games,” Marais said. “It is a story of alternate sport of South Africa expulsion from the world of sport, and finally of freedom and South Africa’s return to the Games.”

The exhibition, on show at the University’s Library , brilliantly portrays the country’s long journey in the Olympics with both words and pictures - and provides serious food for thought.

“People are shaped by stories, especially untold stories,” Marais concluded. “I trust that this exhibition finds endurance in our communities, as it captures where we come from to where we are, and what it is to achieve sport excellence”.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

The exhibition is the brainchild of Dr Lyndon Bouah, Chief Director in the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport in the Western Cape, and proud UWC alumnus.

It all started in 2009, when he was part of a sporting tour to Robben Island.

“We were shown everything regarding sport on the island and the tour guide let it slip that all the records were at UWC,” Dr Bouah recalled. “I was so interested because I wanted to know if chess was played at Robben Island.”

While looking at the records on campus, Bouah wondered if this rare treasure that he was seeing was known by the world in real terms.

“I decided to make it a project of mine to ensure that it is digitized,” he said. “There are so many stories that are yet to be told about this - and I’m very excited we were able to bring this together.”

The Power of the Dream exhibition is the product of collaboration between the University of the Western Cape Interdisciplinary Centre for Sport Science and Development, The Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport, Robben Island Museums and the Mayibuye Archives.

Professor Marion Keim, director of ICESSD, quoted the UWC motto - Respice, Prospice - which means you need to look backward in order to look forward.

“We all learn from the past,” she said. “If you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know where you are going.”

“The exhibition is a story of hope,” she said. “It is a legacy project which shows the importance of looking back on Robben Island not only as a place of suffering but also as a place where some sporting codes came from - like theMakana Football Association, where triumphs of human spirit and body and soul prevailed.”

“In the South African context it is very important to not fall into the romantic version of sport which cuts us out asking questions. It is important to look at the contradictions and complexities of sport in South Africa and sport in the Olympics,” added Professor Andre Odendaal, who helped to set up the Mayibuye Centre.

“We try to do that in this exhibition.”

Keim noted that the digitalization project does what is most needed in South Africa today: it shows us the way.

“The exhibition shows off our common heritage and shows that there is more that unites us than divides us - and that sport can bring out the best in us.”

The exhibition is a travel exhibition and will  be shown at libraries, in municipalities, universities and schools and sport events  in the Western Cape  and beyond.