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Home / Kind-hearted Ruben //Gowaseb tells his story

Kind-hearted Ruben //Gowaseb tells his story

2022-04-08  Carlos Kambaekwa

Kind-hearted Ruben //Gowaseb tells his story

Namibia’s double world champion Ruben //Gowaseb started his long and winding athletics journey against able-bodied athletes in a marathon career, stretching over almost two decades. The long-serving long-distance runner made his debut in local long-distance races at the then annual Midgard Half Marathon, and certainly left a long-lasting impression with his never-say-die attitude.  Arriving on the scene during the period of already-established road runners, shepherded by veteran internationally-acclaimed runner Luketz Swartbooi, Emile Roman, Joseph Tjitunga, Moses Maasdorp, Reinhold Iita, Willem Rooi AKA ‘Willy Red’, Ruben ‘Tix’ Indongo, Vilho Namufinda, and evergreen Bertholdt Karumendu were already strutting their stuff, was not going to be an easy assignment, but the down syndrome new kid on the block kept going about his business unhindered, and as they say, the rest is history.


Double Special Olympics gold medallist Ruben //Gowaseb is a bitter man, pulling no punches in what he claims systematic institutionalised discrimination meted out against disabled and intellectually-challenged athletes in general. 

Tellingly, the now 41-year-old veteran road runner minced no words, fingering the country’s sports authorities for applying two different sets of rules when it comes to perks, remuneration, appearance fees, and win bonuses. 

Born in Namibian’s commercial hub, Windhoek, with a light mental deficiency, Ruben started school at the Augeikhas primary learning institution before he was transferred to the Moresôn Special School, catering for children with cognitive impairment. All these challenges did not put him down, as Ruben started encroaching on the athletics tracks in long distance running. A dedicated fitness fanatic, Bro Ruby started competing in high-profile schools’ events against able-bodied athletes, and certainly did not disappoint.

Bro Ruby made his breakthrough in the now-defunct annual Midgard Half Marathon in a strong field that boasted the likes of old-time campaigners Iita, Swartbooi, Tjitunga, Maasdorp and the emerging Indongo. He would later change his status to a recognised Special Olympics athlete, competing against his peers in international competitions.

Having represented his motherland in various august international gatherings, his breakthrough arrived in 2015 at the Special Olympics Half Marathon in Los Angeles, United States of America (USA), where he surprised friend and foe to clinch a gold medal, clocking an astonishing personal best time of one hour and 35 minutes.

Upon his arrival from the USA, //Gowaseb was cold-shouldered by authorities, and welcomed with a half-hearted reception, unlike his peers in the able-bodied categories, who, after attaining high accolades on foreign soil, are customarily greeted with the red carpet laid out for them with high-profile dignitaries flocking en masse to the Hosea Kutako International Airport (HKIA) to bask in the glory of the returning athletes. 

Despite the lukewarm reception, the Namibia Sports Commission (NSC), the country’s presiding sports body, rewarded the new gold medallist with a handsome amount of N$200 000 in hard cash. A calculated bloke of humble beginnings and somebody not exactly attracted by material things, Bro Ruby invested his reward wisely, by constructing two modern bachelor flats in the backyard of his old lady’s house in Moira Street, Soweto. 

Contrary to reports doing the rounds that he donated a significant chunk from the reward to his church, //Gowaseb’s old mother Regina rubbished the claim as hogwash, insisting Ruben gave a small donation of N$3 700 to the church, and not a single cent from that money came from the N$200 000 reward by the NSC. 

“It was money that was collected by Good Samaritans from Germany for Ruben as an encouraging gesture of appreciation for his astonishing feat. The family took a unilateral decision to donate the entire amount to the Bet-El Church, because it was indeed through the church that he was given that money,” she explained.

Upon his arrival from his historic victory in Los Angeles, then deputy minister of sport Agnes Tjongarero confidently reassured //Gowaseb that government was definitely putting shoulder to the wheel, working on a modality to reward //Gowaseb in a most-dignified manner deserving a world champion. 

A year later, Bro Ruby was back in the limelight when he was duly voted joint winner of the prestigious Sports Achiever of the year accolade, alongside Namibia’s three-time world boxing champion Paulus ‘The Rock’ Ambunda during the 2015 NSC Annual Sports Awards Ceremony at the Safari Hotel. 

In addition to his prestigious award, Bro Ruby also walked away with the first prize in the senior men’s category for athletes with disabilities, to claim a historic double on the night. 

A dedicated churchgoer, Bro Ruby replicated his feat from Los Angeles when he left his challengers in the lurch to scoop another gold medal at the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi. In contrast to the N$200 000 reward he received when he clinched gold in the USA, //Gowaseb only received a paltry amount of N$4 000. 

To his utter shock and dismay, dozing bosses at Special Olympics Namibia failed to file a nomination for the newly-crowned world champion to be considered for the national sports awards. The reckless oversight or rather embarrassing incompetence left //Gowaseb fuming, as he strongly feels the decision robbed him of an ideal opportunity to stake a serious claim for the top prize. 

It’s incomprehensible as to how officials, blokes who receive salaries every month-end, forgot to submit nominations for hardworking deserving athletes. That’s totally uncalled for, it amounts to taking food out of a hungry person’s mouth.

However, closer inspection reveals that the portfolio minister has been dragging her feet in implementing the National Sports Reward Policy approved by Cabinet in 2018. The process is ostensibly hamstrung by insufficient funding in getting the wheel rolling. The newly-developed rewards policy sees gold winners receive a handsome amount of N$200 000, with the runner ups (silver) walking away with N$150 000, and bronze medallists N$100 000. 

A teary //Gowaseb expressed utter disappointment that, unlike his peers who have been invited to State House upon winning silverware at noble events, he is yet to receive an invitation to visit State House, despite having bagged a pair of gold medals at high-profile international competitions. 

The brother is also unhappy with his handlers from Special Olympics Namibia, complaining bitterly about the lack of humanitarian and psychological support and financial assistance. 

“As it stands, I don’t have a dedicated assigned trainer, nor do I get assistance for proper training equipment, such as running shoes and other necessities as well as access to a gym,” he noted.  

2022-04-08  Carlos Kambaekwa

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