Winning friends and pushing fitness
“We were supposed to go for a hike on the mountain, but a last-minute change of plan meant we landed up on the promenade, when we saw Ramaphosa and former finance minister Trevor Manuel stroll past,” continues Hirsch, who is pictured to the left of the new president.
She is part of an exercise group called Train for Gain, run by Kim Gershuny (pictured in purple on the left). It’s an exercise group for women of all fitness levels, which allows them to exercise in the safety of numbers while enjoying Cape Town’s beautiful scenery.
They got more than they bargained for when they saw the politicians, and at first were hesitant to approach them. But eventually Hirsch helped everyone to pluck up the courage, and quickly arranged the photo. “This is a moment in history, and we need to capture it!” she told the others.
The two men were “so incredibly humble, gracious and full of humility – one of the people. There were hardly any bodyguards and no flashing lights. They may have been up all night waiting for Zuma’s resignation, but there they were at 06:00, smiling and enjoying our beautiful city,” says Hirsch.
While the politicians were very interactive, they didn’t mention politics. For Hirsch, it felt like coming full circle, as she had been at the Grand Parade when Nelson Mandela gave his first public speech after being released from prison, while the microphone was held by Ramaphosa. The 28th anniversary of that momentous event was celebrated on February 11.
“My family are dedicated South Africans, with a business run by three generations which has been in this country for five decades. While we may have faced tough times, moments like these show hope for the future,” says Hirsch.
The moment was extra meaningful as it was the day of her father’s Yartzeit, and she hopes his qualities of menshlikheit and integrity will be the basis of Ramaphosa’s administration.
Rebbetzin Natalie Altman, pictured to the president’s left, says that when she ran past Ramaphosa and wished him good morning, he was relaxed and warm. “I got the feeling that he wanted to be among the people. The Sea Point promenade is accessible to all and in that way is a great leveller. Anyone can meet their new president.”
While she received messages from around the world after the photo went viral, it also left her feeling slightly vulnerable, especially when people on Twitter questioned why she was running in a denim skirt, or when other Jews asked why she allowed a man to touch her shoulders – which she felt was a necessary courtesy in the moment.
“In an interview with Talk Radio 702, I said it was wonderful that the president had ‘come out of his ivory tower’, but someone responded that Sea Point is still the ivory tower,” explains Altman.
A German runner from their group took the photo, so that her South African friends could all be in the frame. The picture was snapped on the first of Adar, which Altman believes was not coincidental. “In life, everything is interconnected. The energy of the month of Adar is that of freedom and literally a change of power, as seen in the story of Purim. It is a time of happiness and purpose, and a season of miracles.”
Rabbi Pini Hecht was in for good fortune when he and his cycling group bumped into Ramaphosa the very next day on the promenade. He was also on his bike, riding just a few hours before his swearing-in as president.
Sharing his excitement on Facebook, Rabbi Hecht wrote: “Had the honour of meeting our new president – what a gentleman! Really approachable and warm. I used the opportunity to congratulate him and offer him a blessing for success on behalf of our community.”
On Tuesday, Ramaphosa walked from Gugulethu Sports Complex to Athlone Stadium with a crowd of jovial fitness enthusiasts. “This walk, for me, is invigorating,” Ramaphosa told Eyewitness News.
“It starts off my day positively. I have positive thoughts in my head. I use the walk to think through the issues that happened yesterday and the issues for the following day.”