THE year 1975 was a stand-out year for Norma Joseph as she won three South African junior ladies titles in Durban and set two senior ladies sprint records in Cape Town.
It was in February of that year that Joseph set new SAAAB sprint records in the Senior Ladies 100m (12.5 seconds) and 200m (26.0 seconds) at the tartan track of the Green Point Stadium.
She won the junior ladies 100m, 200m and long jump in Durban.
Joseph, the Alexander Sinton High School sprinter, competed against her school mates Frances Williams and Audrey Louw, as well as Shariefa Bardien of Livingstone High and Sharon Alexander of Oaklands High School. It made for absorbing sprint and long jump contests at the Green Point Track, Athlone Stadium, the Daljosphat Stadium in Paarl and the Bellville South cinder track during the early to mid 1970’s.
Bardien was an exceptional athlete in the under 14 and 15 age groups with Louw, who continued to excel in later years. The two competed at the 1971 and 1972 Champion of Champions Meeting at Green Point Track. Their names featured in the Western Province Senior Schools Sports Union’s 75m and 100m record books.
In those days the girls under 14 and 15 ran the 75m and 100m, with the girls under 17 running the 100m and 150m races. The girls open ran the 100m and 200m.
The distances of races, together with field events such as triple jump were added to the programme in later years.
Louw, a year older than Joseph and Alexander, was a class act in the sprints and long jump throughout her school career and briefly as a student teacher at Hewat Training College, before an injury brought her blossoming career to a premature end.
The three sprinters, however, (Louw, Alexander and Joseph), did compete against each other in the under 17 age group at school level in 1972 at the Green Point Track, as there was no under 16 age group for girls at the time. Bardien fell away in the under 17 age group.
Coming through the ranks was Sharon Hanslo of Wittebome who would eventually compete against Alexander in the late 1970’s at club level.
The Western Province sprint and long jump records were held by all these young ladies at different times in their careers.
But this story is really about Joseph who attended St Raphaels Primary School between 1963 and 1971 and was a union and provincial athlete there.
Joseph and Alexander (Thornton Road Primary School) were rivals since primary school days in the 1960s and their rivalry would last through to high school and club athletics, gaining provincial colours at all three levels.
“My greatest moments were at the Green Point Track – that is where I really found my love for the sport, the urging, the cheering and the encouragement of my school friends, and coach Mr (Dennis) MacKay,” says Joseph.
Alexander and Joseph were Athlone Union and Western Province schools athletes (primary and high school).
Joesph was a barefooted sprinter until she got to high school where she was introduced to wearing a pair of spikes.
“Norma had to get used to running in the spikes, it wasn’t easy at first,” says her 90-year old mother Helen Joseph.
“O, Norma was a real star, we would go and watch her at all the different venues; Green Point, Hewat, Athlone Stadium, Bellville South and even Paarl. My son Stephen and I travelled by train to Bellville and Paarl. You know, there were no hooligans on the trains, the trains were empty and you felt safe.
“Norma would go by bakkie with the other athletes to the athletics events.
“Norma liked the 200m, she could really the run the bend, but she was also a very nervous athlete. “At Green Point, while she was still at school, I saw her ankles and lower legs tremble. I asked her why her feet were trembling and she said she was nervous because Sharon (Alexander) jumped the gun and that had unsettled her,” says Mrs Joseph.
Norma’s trembling was fixed under the coaching of renowned Eddie May when she joined Spartans at a house in Lansdowne.
“It was at my first meeting at Spartans where I met Mr May,” says Norma.
Norma had to leave high school in 1975 to support the family as her father, Alexander, had died in 1973. But club athletics gave her the opportunity to further her love for the sport.
She worked for an insurance company in Strand Street, before it closed. Her boss there organised four of the key staff, including herself, jobs at the council (City of Cape Town municipality). It wasn’t long after her job at the council (1987) when she left for Australia.
While here, though, as an athlete, Norma trained under Eddie May.
“I was still very keen on the sport and, through a friend, I joined Spartan Athletics Club at Mr (Robin) April’s house in Lansdowne where I met Mr Eddie May who became my coach,” she recalls.
“Mr May would pick us up in his beige Datsun bakkie and take us to Rhodes Memorial and Strandfontein for training. We did track work at Hewat in the evenings,” she says.
Joseph recalls a 100m race in Bellville South where an athlete by the name of Johanna (she can’t remember the surname) beat her. But the athlete seems to be Loretta Jeneke on research. (see main photo athlete in white top, right)
“She was Paarl’s (Boland) top woman’s sprinter. Her victory came as a shock to me, but I was able to rectify the result in Paarl where I beat her in both sprints. It was strange that we did not see her again on an athletics track,” she says.
At the time, Norma was part of a group of top athletes of that era which included Alexander, Andy James (Spartans), Mohammed Paleker (Spartans), Patrick Dowman (South Peninsula), Christy Davids (Spartans), Wilfie Daniels (Elsie’s River), Olga Howard (Ravensmead) and Ronel Juries (Hewat).
Several athletes were propositioned to join the whites, and some athletes did defect, but they could never gain access to international competition while competing in South Africa.
The world had already isolated the country because of its apartheid policies.
According to her brother, Stephen, Norma had been offered to run for the whites after her record-breaking feats in 1975.
“Norma was approached by a man from Spartan Harriers who wanted her to join the club. A SACOS official, though, put a stop to it as he said to us that if she goes I would also be banned from all SACOS activity. We were not prepared to be ostracised and decided to stay with SACOS. But by that time, Norma already had problems with her feet and legs as she had done road work which affected her badly,” says Stephen.
Norma still follows athletics closely and is a fan of the Jamaican Usain Bolt and compatriot Sally Pearson.
In 2000, she attended the Sydney Olympic Games. Norma still lives in Sydney, Australia.