11 September 2012
Hundreds of South Africans turned out at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport on Tuesday morning to welcome home the country’s inspirational Paralympic team.
In true South African style, the supporters waved flags, blew vuvuzelas and sang the national anthem as the team members entered the international arrivals hall.
Placards displaying messages such as “Welcome back home Team SA”, and “Welcome back heroes” could be seen among the hundreds gathered at the airport.
Team South Africa excelled at the London Paralympics, picking up 29 medals – eight gold, 12 silver and nine bronze – to finish in 18th place on the medal standings at a Games that may have shifted forever the perception of Paralympic sport.
For their hard work and their efforts to popularise the country at the London Games, the team’s medalists received a cash injection from the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc).
Before the Games, Olympic medal winners were promised R400 000 for gold, R200 000 for silver and R80 000 for bronze, while Paralympic medal winners, because of the larger number of classifications and events compared to the Olympics, were promised R100 000, R75 000 and R40 000 respectively.
But Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula intervened, saying the Paralympians deserved the same incentives as the Olympians.
At the handing over of dummy cheques at OR Tambo International on Tuesday, swimmer Natalie du Toit was the top earner, receiving R1.4-million for her three gold and one silver medal, while swimmer Charl Bouwer took home R800 000 for his three medals.
Sprinter Oscar Pistorius, who took home R700 000, told the hundreds of people who were gathered at the airport: “I never expected this huge turn-out, and I’ve never seen this overwhelming support in my lifetime.”
Mbalula said South Africa was “very proud of this team, because if you don’t know perseverance, tenacity, exuberance and determination you know nothing, and this is what this team has displayed.
“We call them Olympians, we call them Paralympians, these are real people, and these are the people who have made our country very proud among nations,” Mbalula said.