COLOURED: Olympic world champion, Wayde van Niekerk

If you are living in South Africa, and you don’t know who Wayde van Niekerk is, you must be living under a rock.

Wayde van Niekerk thoroughly smashing the 400m world record set by Michael Johnson 17 years ago, and claiming gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics really means far more than what the eye can see.

While the debate continues to rage about whether there is such a thing as “coloureds” or not, one cannot deny the negative stereotypes that have been associated with this community.

And even if it is by default of a label left upon us by an oppressive regime, Wayde van Niekerk has crushed the stereotype that young “coloured” men are toothless delinquents and gangsters addicted to tik, looking for the next crime to commit.

Through his achievement he has given an entire generation of troubled youngsters something greater to aspire to. We need people like Wayde, who don’t only tell a disillusioned generation that they can do it, but also shows them that indeed, it can be done!

I hate it when people label each other, so it really made me very angry and sad when I saw our silver medal 2016 Olympian Luvo Manyonga being described by some media as the “Ex-drug addict, Luvo Manyonga...”

Mense, now this peeves me off! What we do in our lives, especially what we have done in our past, does not define us.

There is no doubt that all of us screw up at some point in time. We are human beings, we were not created to be perfect, but I do believe that we can strive to do better and be better than we were yesterday. But we are so prone to labelling someone by what they did in the past, as opposed to seeing them for who they are today.

How many times do we refer to people as “daai druggie” or “daai skelm” or “daai gemors” - without even bothering to think of that person as a human being?

As a country and as a society, we are damaged.

We dare not deny it.

In fact, our country's statistics on xenophobia, violence and abuse won’t allow us to deny it. So let us take one more step to reclaiming our identity and acknowledging the existence and true value of others.

The next time you want to label somebody - simply stop and say their name first. Just their name. For though he may be “coloured” and a world-record breaking, gold medal Olympian - he is firstly and always will be Wayde van Niekerk.

And though he may be “black”, an ex-drug addict and silver medal Olympian - he is firstly and always will be Luvo Manyonga. And that’s enough!

For the character and worth of neither man is defined by the colour of his skin!

If that were the case, Wayde van Niekerk would be in prison, Luvo Manyonga would be his cellmate, Chad Le Clos would be their warden and they would all be watching Oscar Pistorius win gold medals and flying the South African flag.

Yet here we are, in a time and a space where these three young men of different races have united a country through sport, like no South African leader, other than Madiba, could ever do.

Do we have problems as a country and a society?

Yes, we do. Is there hope for us? Yes, because we are South Africans!