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Precious McKenzie to be recognised by South Africa

Precious McKenzie to be recognised by South African homeland – at last

Forty Two years after quitting the apartheid republic of South Africa so that he could compete internationally in his chosen field of endeavour, coloured weightlifter Precious McKenzie, MBE, is to be inducted into the South African Sport Hall of Fame.

News of the latest honour to be bestowed on the four-time Commonwealth Games gold medalist and long-time New Zealand resident arrived in the form of a letter from Naas Botha, chief executive of the South African Sport Hall of Fame Management Committee, in Pretoria.

Botha said it was a great honour and privilege to inform Precious of the committee’s decision.

“As numerous South Africans have been inducted into various sporting Halls of Fame abroad, but not yet been able to get recognised in South Africa, we have found it of the utmost importance that these sports heroes should be the first people to receive this honour on South African turf,” he said.

Precious (70) is to be flown to South Africa early next month to attend the induction ceremony on December 5 at The Emperor’s Palace, in Pretoria. He will be honoured with a bronze head-and-shoulder statue and a commissioned painting commemorating his sporting career.

For the former South African, the announcement of his forthcoming induction was entirely unexpected. It was, in Precious’ own words, the realisation of a dream.

“Man, this means I have come full circle,” the diminutive and effervescent Precious said from his home in Howick, Auckland, today. “I left South Africa because the authorities wouldn’t let me compete internationally even though I was the best lifter in my weight division.”

Durban-born Precious described his hurried departure from South Africa in 1964 as his darkest hour.

“I was a young married man with two young children and very little money. Fleeing my homeland to start a new life in England wasn’t something I did lightly. While I was excited about the future, I hated having to leave friends and family behind and saying goodbye to the country of my birth.”

Return visits to South Africa hold bitter-sweet memories for him. While he said it was good to catch up with relatives and old friends, he despised the apartheid system that had forced him out.

He recalled he was invited by a South African newspaper to be guest speaker at a public function, but visas for himself and his wife Liz were withheld because of their colour and his stand on apartheid issues. However, all that was behind him now and he was pleased to see South Africa had finally shaken off its past.

Precious said official recognition by the South African authorities meant everything to him.

“Being recognized by my homeland makes all the past sacrifices seem worthwhile. I can die a happy man now.”

Precious’ forthcoming induction into the South African Sport Hall of Fame comes on top of news that the UK producers of ‘Precious’, the movie on his life, are hopeful filming could begin on location in South Africa next year. The search is on for an actor to play the lead role.

* * *

Precious McKenzie won gold at four consecutive Commonwealth Games – three for England and one in the black singlet of New Zealand; he also represented Britain at three Olympic Games and is five times world powerlifting champion. A current World Masters Powerlifting champion, he was elected to the World Hall of Fame for Powerlifting, in Texas. Today, he travels the world as an international consultant on correct lifting techniques and the prevention of back injuries in the workplace.

END

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