Slave Route remembers Cape’s heritage

(This article was published in the Weekend Argus, a weekly newspaper in the Western Cape province, South Africa, on March 13 2016.)

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

When runners start sweating during the upcoming inner-city Slave Route Challenge, the names of forgotten slaves whose hands built the colonial Cape will become visible on a unique T-shirt designed for this annual race.

The race’s innovative T-shirts will bear the names of 8,000 slaves, as recorded on the Column of Memory at the Iziko Slave Lodge on Wale Street in central Cape Town.

IzikoSlaveLodge Column of Memory.jpg

Slaves from various parts of the world were detained at the lodge which is now a museum. Apart from this landmark, slave history remains invisible and unmarked in Cape Town.

Race organiser Farouk Meyer says this Slave Route intends to highlight the city’s slave history.

“This year, every person that registers to take part in the Slave Route will run on behalf of one of the names on the Column of Memory, allowing each runner to honour a specific person that was an important part of our country’s past,” says Meyer.

The first Slave Route was held in 2011, after Meyer had been running through District Six and had a “moment of clarity”.

“I stopped, looked back and around me and felt the silence,” says Meyer.

“I saw the Castle of Good Hope and I remembered the stories told to us about how Cape Town was built by those enslaved.

“I looked at the mosques and churches in District Six and I knew that if there was one event I would like to organise, it would be a run in honour of these individuals who played such an important role in the development of our country.”

Meyer designed a route passing various inner-city slave sites, including the Grand Parade, Castle of Good Hope, District Six, Company’s Garden, Bo-Kaap and others.

The race attracts up to 7,000 participants, says Meyer, a regular runner who works with the Itheko Sport Athletics Club based in Athlone.

Meyer says while there are a number of races in Cape Town, this one is an “event with a physical wellbeing aspect and a deeper meaning”.

“Much more awareness needs to be created about the history and heritage of those who were enslaved,” he says.

“This is a way to create awareness, but it also needs to be taken into schools.”

Slave Lodge curator Paul Tichmann says the race is a means for Capetonians, many who are descendants of slaves from the colonial era, to “engage with this history and reconnect with their roots”.

“The Slave Lodge is a site of memory and a place of reconciliation and hope,” says Tichmann.

Llewellyn Allen, brand manager at Metropolitan which sponsors the race, says they got involved to “get Capetonians to start seeing the bonds not the divides”.

“We hope to give people an opportunity to honour and remember someone who is part of the fabric of our country,” says Allen.

“Someone who does not have a statue or road name to commemorate them and is sometimes forgotten.”

The Slave Route Challenge is planned for May 8 and starts in Darling Street in central Cape Town.

It comprises a half marathon, 10km run, 5km run or walk as well as a 10km walk.

Organisers will have seven refreshment stations on the route and koeksisters, a local sweet treat, will be served in Bo-Kaap’s Wale Street, also called Koesister Hill by its residents.

Entry forms are available at Sportsmans Warehouse stores or online at http://www.iamrunningfor.co.za.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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