Wits athletes competing in Durban found themselves in a contest of a different kind: dodging the advances of prostitutes.
Female sprinter, Fikile Masikane, was among a group of 12 athletes who stayed at the Banana Backpackers Youth Hostel, which she believes also housed prostitutes working at the “brothel” next door.
Interactions with prostitutes
“I feel like we were staying with some of the prostitutes in the backpackers because there was a Japanese lady there who even asked me if I was ready to work [as a prostitute].”
Masikane said some of the male athletes were asked if they wanted “to buy” and were ogled by the alleged prostitutes as they stretched their muscles ahead of the championship.
“As some of the guys were stretching some of the prostitutes watched them, and one said to the other: ‘Lona u-fit, uyamufuna?’ [that one is fit, do you want him?],” she recounts.
“One of the guys appeared to be freaked out but the other guy calmed him down and told him to ignore it,” she said.
The athletes were attending the United Sports SA (USSA) National Track and Field Championship in Durban.
Masikane said one of the male athletes texted Marcus Toerien, the athletics manager, complaining: “When they said ‘banana’ I don’t think they were talking about the fruit.” She said Toerien just laughed in response.
The manager’s reaction
Masikane said Toerien dropped off the students at the hostel and saw the conditions but did not react.
“He was there for like three minutes and said the lady would show us our rooms.
Marcus’ wife asked him if they shouldn’t maybe get us supper before they left. He said something like ‘they’ll sort themselves out’,” Masikane said.
Wits sprinter, David Okharedia, told Wits Vuvuzela that Toerien walked into the place and did not flinch when he saw it. He said he simply walked in and showed them where they would sleep.
“Even his wife looked shocked by the state of the place, but Marcus didn’t care,” Okharedia said.
Masikane had to share a room with some of the male athletes as she did not feel safe or comfortable staying in the single room that was booked for her.
The hostel was also grimy with a strong odour from the toilets: “We used hand sanitizer for everything,” she said. The Witsies also had to lay their own towels on the beds to avoid having their bodies touch the filthy sheets.
“I slept like this, ngigqokile [dressed],” she said pointing at her clothes.
The showers also had a “horrible smell” forcing the Witsies to use the showers at the stadium.
“I was terrified”
Masikane was also worried about her safety. Her bed was near the door and she got a fright when some of her teammates came home late at night.
“When they came back I was so scared. I didn’t realise it was them. As soon as they tried to open the door my heart leaped. I was so scared. It only clicked in seconds later that it was probably the other athletes but that just goes to show how terrified I was.”
“I felt safer with the guys but I knew that if anyone were to come in and ask for me there was nothing they could do to help me,” she said.
When Masikane returned from Durban she called her mother and told her about the conditions of the hostel.
“My mom cried when I told her where I stayed. She hung up on me and I could tell she wasn’t okay. She called back and said ‘why didn’t you tell me’,” Masikane said.
Masikane said her mother wants an explanation about the housing and an apology from Wits.
Masikane said she didn’t feel like she could approach Toerien about her discomfort as he had fought about the disorganisation of the Wits delegation with Okharedia at the stadium.
Wits Sports responds
Acting head of the sports administration department, Marius Henn, said the accommodation was recommended to them by USSA and they had “no reason to doubt that it would be suitable”.
“Unfortunately time and circumstances did not allow us to source alternative accommodation. Wits Sport will take this up with the LOC [local organising committee] and USSA National to try and avoid a reoccurrence,” Henn said.
Henn said he welcomed athletes to bring “constructive feedback” to him so they could discuss the matter.