JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - One is white and the offspring of a South African yachting great. The other is black and hails from a shantytown set up by the defunct apartheid regime as a ghetto.
Together, Roger Hudson and Asenathi Jim are the South African entry for the two-man 470 sailing event at the London Olympics. They see themselves as symbols of the multi-racial country former President Nelson Mandela was trying to forge.
“We are going to be a light in South Africa - a good combination in and out of the water,” Jim told Reuters.
The two are long shots for medals, having only been together for about 18 months in an event where the world’s top pairs have usually been sailing partners for at least a decade.
The two are the unlikeliest of shipmates.
Hudson, now in his early 30s, grew up in the world of sailing, long associated with affluence. Jim, 20, comes from the Red Hill township overlooking the waters near Cape Town, a place whose streets of broken asphalt are a world away from the pristine yacht clubs dotting the coast.
As a teen, Jim joined the Izivungu Sailing School, aimed at building self-esteem and sailing skills among the legions of poor black youth whose lives have improved little since white-minority apartheid rule ended in 1994.
Jim, who goes by the nickname “squirrel”, took to the water like a duck, moving into the crew assembled by RaceAhead, set up by Roger Hudson and his father David Hudson, who represented South Africa at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and managed the country’s team at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Their RaceAhead foundation brings together promising sailors from diverse economic backgrounds in a nation where the scars of apartheid still run deep, and deep inequalities persist.
According to Statistics South Africa, 29 percent of blacks are unemployed compared with 5.9 percent of whites, while IHS Global Insight, an economic consultancy, estimates that whites have an average income nearly seven times that of blacks.
Roger Hudson, a teenager when Mandela became president, said he was inspired by his vision of a racially unified South Africa and the way he brought the country together through sport.
“When we put aside our different backgrounds and cultures to work together, we can be very strong,” he said.
When Jim, named SA Sailing Magazine’s South African sailor of the year in 2010, said he saw his future as a competitive sailor, Hudson welcomed him aboard.
With Jim as the helmsman and Hudson as the sail trimmer and tactician, they have climbed up world rankings from 213th in June 2011 to 46th less than a year later.
They hope to leave a few teams in their wake in London.
“Everyone we put behind us is a success because they are all of an extremely high pedigree,” Hudson said.
Their plan is to position Jim as a top sailor for the 2016 Games and a medalist by 2020.
For David Hudson, seeing his son and Jim sailing together in London will be a victory for the country.
“This is the optimistic vision of a new South Africa,” he said.
Editing by Pascal Fletcher/Patrick Johnston