South Africa welcomes back Olympic heroes

24 August 2016

Hundreds of South Africans from all walks of life, complete with flags and
vuvuzelas, greeted the South African Olympians returning home. Team South Africa
landed at OR Tambo Airport early on Tuesday, 23 August 2016 from their successful
Rio Games campaign where they won 10 medals, including two golds.

Despite a delay of the team’s flight from Sao Paulo, the patient crowd, decked
out in South African flags and even in traditional dress, kept the celebratory mood
going, with quintessential South African singing and dancing.

Introduced by Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula, the South African team received
an ecstatic welcome from fans as they walked into the arrivals hall. The loudest
cheers were for gold medal athlete Caster Semenya.

Fellow gold medal winner Wayde van Niekerk and silver medallist Sunette
Viljoen were unable join the rest of the team on their return. The other medal
winners, including rowers Lawrence Brittain and Shaun Keeling, the rugby sevens
team, swimmers Chad le Clos and Cameron van der Burgh, triathlete Henri
Schoeman and long jumper Luvo Manyonga came out to greet the crowds, signing
autographs and taking selfies with local fans.

Minister Mbalula

Mbalula thanked the entire team on behalf of the country, saying that everyone
should be proud of “this bunch of winners… even those who didn’t win medals, we
saw them fighting for our country and (they) will become heroes next time”.

The minister presented the medal winners with incentive rewards promised by
the sport ministry before the games began. Gold medal winners would receive R500
000, silver winners R250 000 and bronze winners R100 000.

Gold medallists Van Niekerk and Semenya, Mbalula said, would also receive
R100 000 bonus for their wins, Van Niekerk would get an additional R50 000 for his
world record. Silver medallists would get an extra R70 000 and bronze-winners R50
000.

Mbalula also reiterated that while the rewards may not be much compared to
what international stars receive, he vowed to do all he could to ensure that all
South African athletes from all sporting disciplines are compensated better in the
future and are able to focus on becoming world class athletes.

Mbalula also awarded medals of excellence to the athletes for building South
Africa’s sporting reputation on an international level.

Fans’ reactions

Xolani took an early Gautrain from Tshwane to get a front row view of the
sporting heroes. “Ten medals is such a huge victory for the team and South Africa,”
he said. “The two gold medals for running were especially cool, because it means
our athletes are now getting the international respect they deserve.”

Madri from the East Rand, proudly waving a South African flag, said she owed
it to the team to come out and welcome them back as thanks for all their hard
work, “especially Caster, she has been through so much to get where she is today,
finally winning the gold”.

Peter Davis from Johannesburg is also proud of the gold medal wins, but
pointed out that both the swimming team and athletes in some of the lesser known
sports deserved to get as much appreciation for their accolades. “Also the rugby
(sevens) team (who won the bronze medal), they fought hard for that medal. I
watched all their games, and it was a tough fight… they really earned it.”

On behalf of the team, Semenya thanked South Africans for their support
during the Games, adding that her win in particular was dedicated to her family for
their support in helping her achieve the ultimate prize of Olympic glory.

SouthAfrica.info reporter

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