By Nevani Nair
Papwa Sewgolum was one of South Africa’s many black sportsmen who never got to fulfil their true potential because of apartheid. However Sewgolum’s memory remains strong and continues to inspire a new generation of golfers.
Papwa was born in 1930 and lived in Riverside, Durban. Most of his childhood years were spent hitting golf balls on the beach with whatever resembled a golf club. His passion for the sport prompted him to become a caddie.
In 1959 Papwa got an opportunity to play against some of the leading professional golfers of the time in the Dutch Open in Holland. He showed his mettle by winning the tournament. It was only in 1963 that Sewgolum was allowed to play in his own country in the Natal Open at the Durban Country Club.
The Group Areas Act made it illegal for him as an “Indian” to enter the clubhouse. He had to change in his kombi and eat his meals with the caddies. Despite these indignities, Papwa went on to win the tournament.
His treatment received widespread publicity – pictures of Sewgolum receiving his trophy outside the clubhouse were seen all over the world and caused an international outcry – soon afterwards a number of countries imposed sports sanctions on South Africa.
In 1965, Papwa won his second Natal Open Tournament against golfing legend Gary Player. But his success was short lived – the following year he was banned from all local tournaments and the apartheid government withdrew his passport preventing him from even playing internationally.
Unable to make a living, Papwa died impoverished in 1978 at the age of 48. Those who saw Papwa in action, were convinced that he was one of the greatest golfers the world ever produced, and that given the opportunity Papwa would have achieved world champion status.
Papwa Sewgolum is set to be immortalised in a documentary being produced by a local film company and his son Rajen Sewsunker.
Facts courtesy of Great South Africans: The Great Debate