By Nthambeleni Gabara
Johannesburg – Hundreds of South Africans turned out to welcome home Team SA who successfully competed in the 2012 London Paralympics.
In true SA style, the supporters broke out in song, singing the national anthem as they met the athletes, who arrived at OR Tambo International Airport on Tuesday morning.
Crowds waving flags and blowing vuvuzelas welcomed home their heroes from the London Games. Placards displaying messages such as “Welcome back home Team SA”, and “Welcome back heroes” could be seen among the hundreds gathered at the airport.
Team South Africa collected a total of 29 medals at the games, eight gold, 12 silver and nine bronze. South Africa fell far short of the previous performance in the 2008 Games in Beijing where they collected 21 gold, three silver and six bronze.
The final day of South African participation saw the team winning a further five medals. Those medals came from Dyan Buis (silver, T38 200-metre), Kevin Paul (silver, S9 100m breaststroke), Fanie van der Merwe (gold, T12 100m, Anrune Liebenberg (silver, T46, 400m) and Oscar “Blade Runner” Pistorius who put the seal on a successful Paralympics when he won the T44 400m.
For their hard work and their efforts to popularise the country in the global sporting event, the medalists received a cash injection from the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC).
SASCOC President Gideon Sam said: “All Paralympic medalists would receive the same financial medal incentives as their Olympic counterparts.
“We will plan better and better ahead of 2016. This is not an issue… our Paralympian athletes will get their money just as the Olympians did,” he said.
Before the Olympic Games, medal winners were promised R400 000, R200 000 and R80 000 and Paralympic medal-winners, purely because of the vast number of classifications and events compared to the Olympics, got R100 000, R75 000 and R40 000.
But, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula intervened saying Paralympian medal winners deserved the same incentives as those received by the Olympians.
At the handing over of dummy cheques, sensational swimmer, Natalie du Toit became the top earner after she received a whopping R1.4-million for winning three gold and one silver medal.
Blade runner, Oscar Pistorius, who took home R700 000, told the hundreds of people who were gathered at the airport: “I never expected this huge turn out and I’ve never seen this overwhelming support in my lifetime.”
Paralympic sensational swimmer, Charl Bouwer took home R800 00 for winning three medals, while du Toit coach Suzanne Ferreira received R530 000.
Speaking at the event, Mbalula who described du Toit as a golden girl of South Africa said: “We are very proud of this team because if you don’t know perseverance, tenacity, exuberance and determination you know nothing and this is what this team has displayed, so we can’t ask for more, our athletes stood the ground and brought medals home.”
“We call them Olympians, we call them Paralympians, these are real people, and these are the people who have made our country very proud amongst nations.
“If you live with disability that does not mean it’s the end of the road,” said Mbalula who also paid tribute to du Toit, who is retiring from swimming.
The Games came to a conclusion on Sunday, 9 September and the next Paralympics will be hosted by Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016. – SAnews.gov.za