Sam Tshabalala reminisces with a framed photograph of him winning the 1989 Comrades Marathon. Photo: Dimpho Maja/African News Agency
A five kilometre Fun Run in honour of South Africa’s first black winner of the Comrades Marathon should have been run in Sasolburg yesterday. But petty politicians got in the way.

In these dire times for the country when proper role models are few and far between and the future of the black youth is getting lost to the streets, you would expect that anyone coming up with a project as positive as a run in honour of heroes such as Sam Tshabalala would get support from their municipalities.

But no, the men and women in charge at the Fezile Dabi Municipality which runs the Zamdela township - the home of the 1989 Comrades Marathon winner - could not be bothered. The small matter of closing down some roads stretching to a mere 5km for a few hours could not happen because there had to be a council sitting. Really?

And we have had the president of the country preaching that we heed his call to ‘Thuma Mina’ - send me - yet when the likes of Thami Gorati raise their hands in response they are shunned and blocked from making a difference.

Gorati was in his teens when Tshabalala won the Comrades and was inspired by the pioneering feat of the man he grew up seeing running around the township. Because of Tshabalala’s victory, which at the time gave the black nation hope and uplifted them to start believing they had it in them to compete and even do better than their white oppressors, a young Gorati - as well as his peers such as Ernest Moikangoa and Moferefere Dhlamini - dreamt of making a success of his life.

And they all did. To the extent that now as adults they saw it fit to form the Sam Tshabalala Foundation through which they plan to inspire the youth of Zamdela and the surrounds. With this year marking the 30th anniversary year of Ntate Sam’s incredible win of the Ultimate Human Race, Gorati and the Foundation felt that a gala dinner as well as a fun run - which could later end up as a full marathon - would be a great way to celebrate that pioneering feat. The gala dinner happened alright! And it was an awe-inspiring event which saw the somewhat shy Tshabalala come out of his shell to share what it was that drove him to that success.

“Two things. I wanted a house for my family and I had seen Bruce Fordyce winning a car at Comrades and I said to myself, if I win I will tell them I want a house instead of a car. But also, I did not believe a white man could run faster than me. I wanted to beat them,” Tshabalala told those of us gathered at the Flavius Mareka Hall in Sasolburg on Friday night.

Back then, during the peak of apartheid, the black man was deemed pretty much worthless. The Comrades Marathon was essentially the preserve of the white man - Fordyce in particular - and the idea of a black man winning the famous ultra was pretty far-fetched. Even when Fordyce announced he would skip the 1989 race due to his participation at the World 100km Championships, no one bet on Tshabalala winning. But the man was so driven and he won somewhat comfortably in 5:35.31 to beat Willie Mtolo into second spot.

The victory was a massive win for the black nation and one of the speakers at the gala referred to that powerful image of a black lady on the roadside lifting her clenched fist in triumph. “That screamed black power and for us as young men, Ntate Tshabalala’s victory was more than just a road running triumph. It was a huge blow to apartheid. It told us we are way better than what the apartheid government was defining us to be.”

That Nelson Mandela was released the year after Tshabalala’s triumph spoke volumes to just where the country was headed to - change was imminent.

And then you have politicians - most of whom are probably members of the ANC and use the Mandela name ad nauseum - failing to honour Tshabalala with a mere 5km fun run. Come on man!


Sunday Independent

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