BY CLEMENT DU PLESSIS
This is the first chapter of a two-part series about former star athlete Ronald Williams of South Peninsula Amateur Athletics Club (and Crestway High School).
THE 1980’s was just one of many torrid periods in the turbulent history of South Africa.
There was the ongoing shenanigans of an oppressive regime, student uprisings, bogus parliaments and even emigration on a wide scale by people from all races seeking a better life elsewhere.
But for Ronald Williams there was to be no emigration – this was HIS country.
Williams immersed himself in student politics at Crestway High School, Cape Town, in the 1980’s where he – an 800m champion and record holder and Claudine Fisher (Claassen), a champion and record-holder in the high jump – were the top athletes.
They were also the athletes who were looked up to in the Retreat/Steenberg area. Prior to their success, the school had produced the finest middle distance runner in Valda Booysen (Ford) under the auspices of the South African Amateur Athletics Board (SAAAB).
The area at the time was a hotbed of political uprisings, with the name Joe Marks being attached to the naming of a road there in recognition of his contribution to the Struggle.
“We strategised in secret meetings how to take action against the armed forces of the old regime who forced gutter education and political oppression on us,” he recalls.
Williams played his part by taking the lead and galvanising the political protests of several schools in the area which included Heathfield, Crestway, Steenberg, Sibelius and Lavender Hill.
“l wanted to be the best in everything but the limitations placed on me by politics and no resources in athletics, made me take a stand against the apartheid government.”
Students from schools and tertiary institutions had taken up the political cudgels in the 1980’s in the broader mass democratic movement which overshadowed the workings of the South African Council on Sport (Sacos), the anti-apartheid sports movement in South Africa, on the burning streets in the townships of Cape Town.
“There were times I had to hide at my late friend Keith Robyns’ house when the riot police were hunting us like dogs. It was tough being an athlete in a political environment, juggling schoolwork, training and being involved student protests,” says Williams.
“I remember the day the riot police opened fire on me with rubber bullets. I ran so fast that I flattened a zinc fence. I knew that if I were to be caught that I would disappear into thin air. I stayed in Athlone for a while just to get the riot police off my back.”
To exacerbate his already challenging role and situation, Williams was physically abused by his stepfather.
“l got beaten by my stepfather when my siblings did something wrong, I got thrown against the wardrobes. I never allowed his physical abuse to dim my vision in becoming the best in everything I do. My mother didn’t agree with my stepfather’s behaviour but she was too afraid – scared – to stop him,” he says.
In spite of his horrific upbringing, Williams “still respects” his stepfather.
“We have a relationship today. I love my mom to bits. Forgiveness brings healing to oneself,” he says.
Williams is not one who dwells on the past.
As a young adult, he was able to turn his life around as a prison warder and businessman.
“l have six kids and could not raise them on my salary. I started a transport business to supplement my salary and pay for their studies. I also own a private company (PTY Limited) that deals with government entities,” says Williams.
Albertino Healing Centre
Williams’ personal experiences also led to the Albertino Healing Centre which he started after a 15-year-old boy was on drugs.
“The 15-year-old boy was on drugs and belonged to a gang. He is now 16 years old and drug-free. He is helping others to get their life in order,” says Williams.
Williams says, “We can conquer this world one soul at a time where prisoners upon release are rehabilitated and integrated back into society.”
Williams is an evangelist, and this seems to be the driving force behind his many successes over the years.
“Albertino”s mom cried out to me while I was busy evangelising the Word. I do ministry work through ‘open airs’ in gangster areas with an evangelical team, and that is where the idea came about to have an out-patient healing centre,” he says.
He intends flying out an American evangelist on an invitation to his worshippers this year.
“Dan Mohler, an American pastor, is a very good teacher,” explains Williams.
This briefly is the life of Ronald Williams who shot himself into the athletics spotlight with a sensational boys’ open 800m record in 1988.
- To be continued next week.