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A blind KwaZulu-Natal man, Mandla Zwane, of Nongoma, completed his eighth consecutive Comrades Marathon on Sunday and said he still had more races to run.
Zwane, 31, who comes from Nzondwane, was born blind but never let that stop him from keeping up with his brothers, who all loved to run.
Speaking to The Mercury at his home on Wednesday, he said he was still recovering from this week’s Comrades, which he ran with a guide at his side.
“The weather was a problem because it kept changing a lot but I am fine now,” he said.
Zwane was only told by his mother when he was five that he was blind when he kept asking her why he could not go to school with his friends.
“I suspected this as my siblings usually assisted me. My mother then told me I had to go to a special school when I was eight years old.”
Attending a “special” school had made him feel “at home” because “no one teased us – we were all equal”.
At school they played soccer but tied a plastic bag around the ball so they could hear it.
“I always participated in athletics and nobody could beat me in the long-distance running,” he said.
His love of long-distance running was established and, when he finished school, he continued to train in the afternoons.
“I would trip and fall because I could not see the routes in Nongoma. The gravel and stones also made it hard. It took about eight months before I knew the routes in my head.”
After participating in various races, Zwane decided he wanted to run the Comrades Marathon.
“It is nice to be on the other side now,” he said. He trained for several months before completing his first Comrades in 2005. Since then joining a running club, winning numerous races and bettering his Comrades time every year.
In 2008 he did the 89km race in eight hours and 19 minutes. Last year his time was 7:57 and this year 7:53.
He said he intended to finish in under seven hours next year. “I use people’s footsteps to ‘see’ the route in Comrades. There is no traffic but sometimes I do bump into people, which I cannot avoid.”
Zwane is well known locally and hailed as a role model for children.
“I will participate in the Comrades until my body cannot take it,” he said.