Book Review – Papwa – Golf’s Lost Legend

by Maxine Case (Kwela Books) ISBN 9780795707117

The boy with the short skinny stature lines up the golf ball, and bends his knees into the shot. He checks his hold on his makeshift club, sniffs the air, and deftly takes the shot. ‘Look Pa, a hole in one!’ as the ball lands in the buried tin can in the yard. Now it’s time for a longer shot.

In the early ’30s poverty is rife, not only in Riverside, Natal. Pa values his job as a grass cutter for the Durban Corporation. He supplements his meagre pay by fishing.

The boy is Sewaunker ‘Papwa’ Sewgolum. He lives near Beachwood Golf Course and is fascinated by golf. One day he finds a five-iron and he is able to practise with a ‘real’ club! He is eleven-years-old when his father dies and he decides to become a caddy and contribute to his family. The caddy master recognises his extraordinary talent and he is allowed to practice on the golf course before 9am.

At 16, he enters the Natal Amateurs and wins. Graham Wulf who plays at Beachwood and discovers how talented Papwa is decides to assist him. He takes him to compete in Europe where he meets Gary Player. Papwa wins the Natal open and beats Gary Player. He wins the Dutch Open three times. At the height of his career, the apartheid government withdraws his passport.

Papwa is self-taught -an exceptional player who, in spite of adversity, still plays to world standards. Imagine if he had competed with all other world champions, he would have made a fortune instead of remaining in poverty. The story is heart-breaking when is Natal Open trophy was given to him outside in the rain as the club was for whites only. He had to use the caddy’s change rooms and was once given a caravan instead of normal facilities, which was abominable.

Unlike the cricketer Basil D’Oliviera who went to Britain in 1960 and played for England, Papwa did not move, always hoping for better times. Apartheid’s unjust laws are clearly demonstrated.

The author tells a story of triumph and disappointments. She casts light on the lives of Indians in South Africa during Apartheid, and the life of Papwa, one of our greatest golfers. She also delves into the history of the sport’s anti-Apartheid movement and the dismantling of some of the government’s most draconian laws.

Unfortunately when the change began to take place it was too late for Papwa. I could feel the utter frustration and sometimes hopelessness in Papwa’s situation.

Dawn Blankfield

Buy the book here

Posted on: 4th July 2016