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Durban - A 6-year-old Durban boy was finally reunited with his Mickey Mouse stuffed toy on Tuesday after a Comrades Marathon runner snatched it from him more than a year ago.
While cheering runners at 45th Cutting in Sherwood, Arman Moodliar was left weeping and devastated when his toy was taken by one of the athletes, who disappeared into the throng of runners.
Now a year later, Tshokela Maphori has apologised and returned the toy, which was delivered to the boy’s Overport home.
Delaine Cools and Thami Vilakazi of the Comrades Marathon Association said they were relieved to have finally reunited Arman with the stuffed toy that was snatched from him.
“We hope that this act will inspire some form of comradeship in Arman so that someday he might also decide to run the marathon,” Cools said.
Vilakazi said the reason the association got involved was to show that it cared about its supporters, as the marathon attracted a lot of interest from across the globe.
“We understand that this might have been a mistake from the runner’s part and an inconvenience for the Moodliars. During the marathon, supporters usually have gifts for the runners, offering them water and other things, and we don’t think Maphori was aware of the implications of his actions,” Vilakazi said.
Maphori, who is unemployed, finished 4 470th, in 10:34:44 in his first attempt at the Comrades Marathon last year.
He said he was not able to compete in this year’s event due to a misunderstanding regarding his registration.
“I went to Pietermaritzburg but I was told that I am not registered and had to sleep at the police station,” he said.
Speaking to the Daily News by phone on Tuesday, the runner, who is from Polokwane, said he was grateful that the toy had been returned to the child.
He said the misunderstanding had made his life a nightmare. “I thought it was a present. When I got it, I even told my children to play with it because it was not a simple toy but had sentimental value to me,” he said. “I said it before, I didn’t take it because of being malicious, and I thought it was a present.”
The 43-year-old said he would like to compete in next year’s race if he manages to secure a sponsor or a club. “It would be great to participate. I just hope I can get a sponsor for it because it is hard to prepare when you’re doing things without any support.”
Maphori said he still had some of the other items he had taken during the race.
He said that Ludwick Mamabolo, last year’s winner, had collected the Mickey Mouse stuffed toy from him a few months ago.
Mamabolo, who resides in Polokwane, said he retrieved it last month.
He drove for three hours from Polokwane to Johannesburg, then took a flight to Durban, where the toy was finally reunited with its owner, Arman, on Tuesday.
Mickey, accompanied by a Minnie Mouse stuffed toy, was delivered to the Moodliar household along with other goodies.
Although Arman was at school, his grandmother, Premla Moodliar, was there to receive the package.
The Daily News contacted Premla to ask how the family felt about the gesture, but she said she was not willing to comment as they did not wish to attract any more publicity.