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Honouring black legends needed to inspire young generation

Matshelane Mamabolo.

Matshelane Mamabolo.

Published Apr 17, 2022


Johannesburg ⁠— For a man who has a very good reason to be inwardly focused, Thulani Sibisi’s selflessness is very remarkable. The former Two Oceans Marathon champion has been battling prostate cancer for close on a decade now and you’d expect a man in his condition to be all about getting better or enjoying what could well be his last years.

Sibisi is fighting a completely different battle though, a mighty selfless one at that.

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Inspired into taking up the sport by the many talented runners who shone for the suppressed black nation during the apartheid years, the man from Newcastle is hell-bent on seeing yesteryear’s heroes being honoured by not only the sport they served so well but the government as well.

Sibisi gets close to tears whenever he tells the story of Ernest Seleke dying a lonely man and with no one aware of his passing for a long time. His heart bleeds at the fact that Matthews Batswadi is wasting way out in Kuruman when he could be imparting his immense running skills to the young generation.

He is even more hurt at the lack of recognition for the legendary Titus Mamabolo whose victory over Ewald Bonzet back in 1974 gave the oppressed black South Africans some dignity and belief that they can be better than their white counterparts.

At the Two Oceans Marathon this Easter weekend, Sibisi was delighted to see Freddie Williams, the great coloured sprinter who was forced by apartheid to leave the country only to go on to run for Canada whom he represented at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona as well as World Championships.

As he watches South African athletics flounder from one blunder to another, embarrassed at major events as they fail to bring any tangible medals, Sibisi gets cut deep inside in the knowledge that there are numerous talented former athletes who could be of great help to the current generation.

He has approached those in charge of the sport over the years to ask them to do something about honouring the legends in any way, a move he believes will help inspire the current and upcoming generations.

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“It is sad that our young athletes seem to think the best runners are from outside of South Africa. A lot of them look up to the likes of Usain Bolt and maybe (Eliud) Kipchoge. But we have great runners right here in our country who were brilliant and could have been world champions if it were not for apartheid,” says Sibisi.

“Because we have allowed them (legends) to just disappear from the athletics radar, our kids don’t know about them. We’ve got to honour these legends. I got in to running because of Titus. That man, he’s the father of all of us. And he is still going strong and alive. But he is no longer that young and I wouldn’t want us to be running around trying to honour him after he has died. Let’s do it now so he can know just how much we appreciate him.”

Given his sickly condition though, Sibisi is not able to act up on his wishes and the challenge is on those who run the sports – at national and provincial levels – to ensure that the legacy of the men and women such as Mamabolo, Batswadi, Matthews Temae, Josiah Thugwane Blanche Moila and Rosina Sedibane does not go to the graves with them.

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In many countries, legends such as these are celebrated and inspire generations after generations to achieving more.

Sibisi knows these and that’s why he is keen to see it being done here. Surely that’s not too much to ask.


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