BY CLEMENT DU PLESSIS
HE GREW up in Sea Point before being forcibly removed to Grassy Park and Silvertown; and he turned down a sprint duel with Paul Nash and the promise of Springbok colours in 1967. Cecil Blows was an exceptional athlete, but he was also a man of strong conviction.
BJ Vorster, a right-wing politician within the National Party, attempted to recruit non-white athletes, such as Blows, to show the world that South Africa was “normal” when, in fact, it was further from the truth – Blows and his fellow athletes had formed part of the disenfranchised in South Africa.
“In the 1960s Vorster tried to recruit coloured athletes to show to the world the country was normal. Of course, it wasn’t. How could it have been when one segregation act after the other had been passed,” recalls Blows.
Non-whites were not allowed to vote, and the Population Registration Act and the Group Areas Act followed in close succession in 1950 (the one act classifying the population as Whites, Coloureds, Indians and Blacks, and the other act forcing non-white South Africans from areas reserved for Whites).
For the majority of its citizens, South Africa worsened, the longer Vorster and the National Party of 1948 remained in power. Vorster became Prime Minister in 1966.
Eight times sprint champion
In 1967, sports administrator (and head of the white South African National Olympic Committee) Frank Braun “promised Blows full Springbok colours”, following reports (The Big Ear) of Blows potentially competing against white SA sprinter Paul Nash in the furlong. (Post, 16 April, 1967)
Nash was the sprinting star of the establishment in South Africa. However, the match-up between Blows and Nash never happened. A similar match-up in 1969 between speed merchant Kenny Roman and Nash also never materialised. Roman was from Harold Cressy High School and Hewat Training College.
Blows had an athletics career which spanned an incredible 20 years. He competed as a sprinter from 1954 to 1974 under the auspices of the South African Amateur Athletics Board and is often remembered as the eight times sprint champion of the late 1950s and 1960s. He did not take up the offer to compete under the white South African Amateur Athletics Union (SAAAU).
Blows, 75, grew up with his parents in Oliver Street, Sea Point, a white area, for 12 years before being forced to move to Grassy Park, a coloured area in Cape Town, in 1952. From there his family relocated again to a coloured township, Silvertown near Athlone, in 1954. He spent 20 years in Silvertown before moving to Hazendal, also in Athlone, Cape Town, where he still lives with his wife Irene today. They have two children.
Blows started teaching at Wittebome High School in Wynberg, Cape Town in 1962, where he still teaches more than fifty years later.
Blows attended Tramway Road Primary School in Sea Point, and later Trafalgar Junior and Trafalgar High in Cape Town. Trafalgar High School was the first school built in Cape Town for coloured students – the principal (head teacher) was none other than Harold Cressy. (A school further down the road from District Six, in Roeland Street, was later built in his honour).
The young athlete’s career started at Trafalgar Junior. Blows recalls doing the standing broad jump and the relay. “I remember doing the standing broad jump as one of my first events in athletics,” he says. He also remembers practicing on the corner of De Villiers and Sterling streets in District Six during those early years. “I practiced on a patch of land that was unfit for athletes due to its undulating surface.”
Blows also worked out in Trafalgar Hall and did track work at Green Point Track between 5pm and 7pm every Thursday during the athletics season.
Blows competed in many athletics events: the 100 yards, 220 yards, 440 yards, the long jump and the relay.
His relay team comprised of Gerald Marshall, John Williams, and the late Colin Barendilla. Gerald Marshall of Bridgetown, Cape Town, was his opponent at Hewat in the 100 yards and 220 yards.
Andrewena Cup Series
In 1958, a seventeen-year-old Blows competed against William Pick in the Andrewena Cup Series at Green Point Track. Pick was an athlete from Groot Brak in the Southern Cape, described by Blows as “a tall and well-built athlete who was fast”. (Pick was also a rugby player who played on the wing.)
The surname Pick resonates with those in the know in athletics. William Pick is the father of sprinter Wilton Pick who attended Spes Bona High School in Athlone. Wilton Pick and the late Tauriq Achmat of Alexander Sinton High were Western Province Senior School Sports Union team mates as sprinters in the late 1970s.
Blows was a member of the Trafalgar Amateur Athletics Club, with the club chairperson being Mr WE Smith, better known as Mr Lightening Smith, and the secretary Mr Stanley C Holt. (Lightening Smith earned his name from his wrestling days. Wrestling, it seems, gleaning from the Sun 1955, was a popular sport. Contests were held in the Woodstock Town Hall.)
Athletes belonging to clubs competed in the Andrewena Cup (sometimes called the Andrewena Series).
The Sun newspaper reports that the Andrewena Cup series was already active in 1935.
NR Stoffberg’s Achilles Athletics club won the Andrewena Cup from 1944 to 1955 (except for the years of 1945-1946 and 1946-1947). At the time, Stoffberg, and a Mr P Forbes, were the oldest members of the club.
The Sun, April 8, 1955, writes: “It must surely be a record string of victories for a club in Western Province unless it was surpassed by a club prior to 1944 when the game was resuscitated.”
Hewat and Wesley Training Colleges
After high school, Blows studied teaching for two years at Hewat Training College (while it was still in Roeland Street, Cape Town) before completing his teaching diploma at Wesley Training College in Salt River in 1961.
While at Wesley Training College, Blows’s Physical Education instructor was CA Victor.
Victor was a well-known and respected Phys Ed instructor who later joined Hewat Training College after it moved from Roeland Street to the suburb of Crawford in Athlone. Victor was to become an inspector synonymous with grey safari suit and brown satchel in summer and blazer and grey flannels in winter. He was a much-talked about Phys Ed instructor and inspector well into the 1980s.
In 1960, Blows and Edward ‘Judge’ Jefferys competed in the 100 yards on the same day at different venues in Paarl. Blows remembers Jefferys as being 0,01 seconds faster.
If you are curious about the times clocked by Blows, here are some, gleaned from the Golden City Post (1965), even though they are not his fastest: in the 100 yards (9,8 seconds), in the 220 yards (21,3 seconds) and 440 yards (50,2 seconds) at Green Point Track.
In an Andrewena Cup athletics meeting at Green Point Track, Blows leapt 22 feet 11 inches in the long jump, teammate Barendilla being his main competitor.
In a race on the Bellville Track in 1968, at the age of 28, Blows beat the much-talked about Kenny Roman in the 100m in a time of 10,8 seconds. It was not the only time he beat Roman, of course. There were many duels between them in the late 1960s. In 1966 at the Green Point Track, Roman put one over Blows in the 100m with a time of 10,6 seconds. Blows was second and Malcolm Neuman third.
In 1969, in the colours of Hewat Training College, Kenny Roman set the 100m record time of 10,4 seconds at Green Point Track. Nazeem Smith, also of Hewat, improved the mark to 10,2 seconds at the same venue in 1986. All three sprinters were, of course, students at Hewat Training College.
Blows remembers the Swart brothers, Eddie and Basil as sprinters, who were a few years ahead of him at Trafalgar High.
“Basil and Eddie were ahead of me at school and were top sprinters at Trafalgar High. They did not compete in athletics after school for the clubs. Instead, they played rugby for Progress and hockey for Queens Park Rangers.” The other two brothers, Ivan and Valmond (Monty) Swart, also played rugby for Progress.
Basil Swart was the deputy principal at Alexander Sinton High during the Sinton’s golden period of athletics. (He was not the coach of the Sinton athletics team – this job fell to Physical Education teacher Dennis Mackay.)
Blows was also involved in hockey. He joined the Mocambo hockey club in 1962.
“It took us eight years to get the other provinces involved in an inter-provincial tournament,” says Blows.
At the forefront of the formation of the South African Hockey Board in 1970 was the late Kenny March, Frank van der Horst, Robert Proctor, Kenneth Petersen and Blows.
March was from Port Elizabeth and attached to the Cavaliers hockey club; Proctor was from Belmont hockey club and also known as a former footballer of the Ramblers Football Club (a club that existed prior to Cape Town Spurs and Glenville, Santos and Battswood), Petersen from Athlone High hockey club, van der Horst from Queens Park Rangers, and Blows, of course, from Mocambo.
Blows also remembers the names of some of the old athletics clubs at the time: Aerials, Croftons, Athlone, Bellville South, South Peninsula, Elsie’s River and Achilles of Cape Town.
(Cecil Blows was interviewed by Clement du Plessis, October 2015)