Connie Esau from South Africa: “For each time there is a memory she has taken into her heart. “The event has become an important part of my life.”

Everyone is already looking forward to it, everyone is preparing thoroughly. Groups in more than 50 countries are working on their performance for the World Gymnaestrada, which will take place in Amsterdam from July 30 to August 5, 2023. In a series of interviews with participants and coaches, we talk about their commitment and passion for the event. In episode 7: Connie (Cornelia) Esau from South Africa. She is member of Bemur Gymnastics and Dance from Capetown. The event in Amsterdam will be her seventh World Gymnaestrada.

In 1975 Connie Esau for the first time attended the World Gymnaestrada. 1975, that was literally a completely different time, a diffetent world. Not only was Berlin still part of a divided nation, the event was in the western part of that city, but South Africa was also experiencing very different days at the time. Less pretty, that is. Apartheid still existed at that time. Where Esau was constantly confronted with different rules and freedoms for black and white in her own country, she became acquainted with a different world in Germany. It must have been a shock when she returned to her own country afterwards and discovered that logically nothing had changed, and therefore certainly not improved, in those few weeks. ,,Although our stay in Berlin was of course great, it is quite difficult to think back to those years. But we have it behind us, we now like to look ahead.”

When she returned to Berlin in 1995 for that year’s Gymnaestrada edition, the world had changed for the better. Apartheid was abolished in 1990, so that every South African had the same rights. Connie also attended the Gymnaestrada in 2003 (Lisbon), 2007 (Dornbirn), 2011 (Lausanne) and 2019 (Dornbirn). On the latter occasion, she was flag bearer on behalf of her country. “It felt very special, I was really surprised and honored.” But she also has special memories of the 2007 Gymnaestrada in Switzerland. “We, as South Africa, were part of the closing ceremony with a performance, which was also very special.” There is always a memory that she has closed in her heart. “The event has become an important part of my life.”

That is literally true. Because she has been married for many years now to the boyfriend she had during the 1975 World Gymnaestrada. “He was my friend then, now my husband. He also participated in the tournament in 1995, 2007 and 2011 with me, and today he is still involved in Gymnastics for All.’’

After returning from Berlin in 1975, Esau started with a number of enthusiasts, including her husband, the Phoenix Gymnastics Coaches Club, where underprivileged youth also had the opportunity to become acquainted with gymnastics and dance. “A lot of the kids from that time really benefited from that. Years later, some even went to the Gymnaestrada, became a coach at an association or are still active in sports. That makes us very proud.”

Amsterdam will be her seventh participation, almost 50 years after the visit to Berlin. ,,I’m really looking forward to it. Every time is special, every time the experience is different. But it is always the feast of recognition. Meeting gymnasts from other countries, experiencing such a non-competitive event, encouraging others, hanging out with each other in another country, I always look forward to that one week for years in advance.”

Esau (67) is part of Bemur Gymnastics and Dance, a club from Cape Town. The association, which trains under the leadership of Barbara Murphy, hopes to come to Amsterdam with about 200 members – young and old. Esau forms the senior group with a number of peers, the youngest of whom is 60 and the oldest 79. ,,The traditions and culture of South Africa will be emphatically reflected in our performance. Recently, at our performances in Cape Town and the surrounding area, we have already received a lot of support for it, we literally draw full houses with it.”

The club is running at full speed, there is a lot of liveliness in the Athlone Community Centre. “It is great to see the youth in particular working so enthusiastically there.” The group puts in long hours every Saturday to practice. Moreover, Bemur Gymnastics and Dance has to work hard to raise sufficient funds for the trip to Amsterdam. “That is why we regularly organize performances.”

Fortunately, color and origin are no longer an obstacle to do gymnastics together. ,,That is so important, gives such a better feeling. Discrimination is the worst thing there is, that we no longer have to deal with it is a great relief. It took a long time, but luckily it finally happened.”

Esau is looking forward to the trip to Amsterdam. Obviously a lot of training is still needed before then, but that only brings a lot of joy. ,,And then later when we are in the Netherlands I am curious about the Gymnaestrada, with all its experiences, but also about the city. I have been there before, together with my husband, during a holiday. The canals, with their bridges, the clogs, the tulips of course; it is wonderful to experience it with our group now.”

More News

World Gymnaestrada numbers highlight wish ‘to be there’

World Gymnaestrada numbers highlight wish ‘to be there’