Friday marks the beginning of the weekend, but in 2010 painting the town red got a whole new meaning. Hello Red Sock Fridays!
The city streets of Cape Town is overall a colourful sight, so seeing a group of cyclists or joggers sporting blood-red knee highs doesn’t spark a second glance, until you learn the enchanting tale of friendship behind them.
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It’s World War 2. Withering away in an Italian concentration camp, three friends make a pact to bring colour to a dire situation (Note: that there was hope). When they finally leave, they will wear red socks to commemorate their bond. Years later a Port Elizabeth high schooler would spot the red ankles of an elderly man on a memorial day. Like clockwork, the red-socked gentleman would lay down a wreath on memorial day every year. Typical teen curiosity took over and revealed the mystery of Sydney Feinsen’s red sock pact.
That young teen was Ian Symons (Symmo) who’d make a similar pact with close friend John McInroy on his return to SA from Dublin as a token to remember each other by. Finding red socks, however, proved far more difficult than one would expect back then, but they eventually found their Friday favourites. Little did they realize how iconic this tradition would become.
Fast forward to 9 April 2010, Cape Town station and experience a flash mob of red socks, diski dancing and joining arms to sing the national anthem. Soon corporates and individuals would sponsor and donate to the various charity events these red socks would initiate.
As if the veterinarian friendship wasn’t enough to inspire, McInroy (RSF founder) was moved by the legendary story of Phil Masterton-Smith, dubbed Unogwaja (hare in Zulu). He was a remarkable young man who couldn’t afford a train ticket to compete in the 1933 Comrades Marathon and cycled his way to Pietermaritzburg from Cape Town where he ended up winning, making him the youngest Comrades champion at only 19 years old. Without hesitation McInroy called up 3 friends to form the Unogwaja team that would reenact that very same feat; a 10 day cycle from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg followed by the Ultimate Human Race the very next day! The Unogwaja Challenge has become an yearly event that has participants from across the entire globe.
Today Unogwaja is a charitable trust, in association with The Light Fund, that aims to bring education to our nations youth at a primary level. Currently they are partnered with Vukusebenze in Cradock, Lebone Village in Bloemfontein and Umsilinga Primary School in Ezinketheni, KwaZulu-Natal (with McInroy wholeheartedly involved at Langa at present).
“Education is our bastion of hope. If you truly care for our country and if you truly want to contribute then this is how we can start to change everything,” McInroy.
This YouTube video will tell you a little more about their cause:
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Seeing posts of shoOops! red socks from around the world is inspiring. It is great to see that the example of friendship, endurance and selfless dedication has the power to connect us all, not only as a nation in the hope to elevate the lives of others but as an international effort. It is possible.
*McInroy’s vision is to see ShoOops on all continents
Follow them on all social media platforms @redsockfriday @TheUnogwaja to get involved and stay in the red.