Far away, in a country overseas called New Zealand, Precious McKenzie lives with his wife, Elizabeth and his children. But Precious McKenzie was not born in New Zealand. He was born right here, in South Africa.
Few people remember Precious McKenzie in South Africa today. But Precious McKenzie is famous in many other countries. Precious is a weight lifter. He has broken many records for the heavy weights that he can pick up. He has won many prizes – but he won none of these prizes in South Africa, the country of his birth.
Johnny Geduldt, an old weightlifter and friend of Precious told us Precious’s story. He told us how Precious got from Durban where he was born to being a world-famous weightlifter.
A PRECIOUS BABY
Precious was born on the ‘coloured’ side of the Red Cross Hospital in Durban in 1936. His family was very poor. Precious was the fourth child of Christine and Joseph McKenzie
Precious was very sick as a baby. He got a very bad chest sickness – pneumonia. Everyone thought he would die. Precious’s mother took him from doctor to doctor and from hospital to hospital but no-one could cure the baby.
Then someone told her about a German woman who could heal any sickness. And she did. Christine was so happy to have a healthy baby that she decided to call the baby Precious
NO HOME FOR PRECIOUS
But troubles were not over for the McKenzie family. Soon after Precious’s first birthday, his father, Joseph, died. Joseph was hunting crocodiles when a hurt crocodile attacked and killed him.
Christine was left to bring up the chil dren on her own. She found it too difficult and she started to drink. So Precious and his sister Gloria ended up with the Welfare. The Welfare found foster parents to look after them.
As Precious grew, he started to do gymnastics. He wanted to work in a circus. ” Precious was always a very hard-working person,” said Johnny.
“He wanted to be the best at every thing he did.”
When Precious was nineteen years old, a friend told him to go to Steve’s gym. They had all the training equipment he needed. And they had a good trainer called Kevin Stent. Here Precious met two brothers, Bobby and Harry Webber. They were Springbok weightlifters.
One day some visitors came to the gym. Precious showed the visitors some of his tricks. He joined the Webbers and he lifted weights for the first time. Precious liked weightlifting. He lifted more than he weighed himself 135 pounds.
Kevin told Precious that he must forget about gymnastics and start weightlifting all the time. Precious started to train with the Webbers. Soon Precious was lifting 200 pounds.
But Precious and the Webbers soon stopped training together. The weight lifting union did not like black and white weightlifters working together. Precious was very sad when they left the gym. But he had learnt a lot from them.
PRECIOUS MEETS JOHNNY
Kevin gave Precious a book to train from. But a book was not enough. Precious needed competition. And that was when Johnny Geduldt met Precious.
“I met Precious at a competition in Kimberley,” said Johnny. “I asked him to come to Cape Town. He was doing the same kind of lifting as I was – the squat. In Cape Town he could train with me. I was the middle-weight champion of the Western Cape. And I had a good coach called Ronnie Eland.
“When Precious came to Cape Town, we worked very hard. We used to lift weights four times a week and do gymnastics and exercises twice a week. We also took part in lots of competitions.
APARTHEID IN SPORT
“But the best time was when we were training for the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960. We trained very hard because we wanted to beat the white weightlifters. We wanted to lift weights for our country. We wanted to be Springboks.’ ,
People were talking about apartheid and sport. But Reg Honey, the President of the South African Olympic Association told the world that “any non white sportsperson good enough to take part in the Olympic Games will get a chance to do so.”
“The trials to choose the Olympic team were in the Cape Town Hall,” Johnny told us. “But there were separate trials – one for whites and one for blacks. We also had to use separate bathrooms and toilets. But we had the same judges.”
“I won the middle-weight division:’ said Johnny, “and Precious won the bantam-weight division. But when the team was chosen, it was an all-white team. We couldn’t believe it. Eddie Gaffney was going to the Olympics but Precious lifted better than him any day.”
THE END FOR PRECIOUS
In 1963 The South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee held a weightlifting competition. They wanted to show the world that black weightlifters like Reg Hlongwane, Precious and I were good enough to go to the Olympic Games. The Rand Daily Mail said this about Precious, “Pound for pound he is the best in the country of all races.”
In 1964 the Olympics were in Tokyo. This time when they chose the weight lifting team they could not leave Precious out. Precious could lift 675 pounds. We all thought that Precious was going to be the first black Springbok!
But the weightlifting union told Precious he must wear a different blazer. He could not travel together with the rest of the team and he must join the white weightlifting union. That was the end for Precious.
A NEW HOME
Precious decided to leave. He said, “I wanted to do my sport for South Africa – the land of my birth, the country I loved. But not like this. This was insulting.”
Precious went to England. At first life was hard for him. But then he was chosen for the English team. But even that made Precious sad. “I thought how come?,” said Precious. “A little while ago I was in Africa. I was born in Africa. Why wasn’t I winning medals for my own country?”
But at the same time Precious felt proud. “I was proud to belong to a country like England,” said
Precious. “The colour of my skin did not count here – only what I could do.”
Precious won many trophies and prizes as a weightlifter. He broke many records and won 3 gold medals. And the queen made him a sir in 1974. “But,” said Precious, “even with all this success, my wife and I still want to live in South Africa.”
“But I don’t want to go back to Apartheid. I don’t want to go back and be told I can weightlift here but not there. I think that Apartheid in sport is childish. It is like a group of children fighting over marbles. But I hope that one day anyone will be able to play their sport in South Africa – and feel proud.”