Mfunzi's world was torn apart on November 12, 2016 when the 37-year-old was raped while preparing to take part in a race to raise awareness of diabetes in Tsolo, in the Eastern Cape. Her attacker bludgeoned her with a hammer and raped her but did not strike the final blow that could have left her dead.
“I remember him telling me that he did not have it in him to kill me. I managed to convince him not to do so by praying and pleading with him not to kill me, but he said his problem was that I was going to remember him,” she recalls.
Today, Mfunzi is hoping for a time of 6:35 - and a top 10 finish in only her second stab at the world’s oldest ultra marathon race this year, from Durban to Pietermaritzburg.
She’s won numerous races since starting in 2003 and completed a Comrades in 2013. But it’s not been an easy journey for the soft-spoken human resources administrator with the Department of Correctional Services at St Albans Correctional Centre in Port Elizabeth.
“After my ordeal, I thought this was the end. But my life changed after he let me go. I recall asking God if this was how He wanted my life to end. I thought to myself, not here in Tsolo, no one would find me, not even my family. But it was a miracle for me to be alive,” she says.
“I prayed and said ‘God, you could not save me from being raped, but you touched his heart so that he would not kill me. I’m still alive because of that’, so I promised God that I would be double the person I am, be far more good. I know there’s a reason why God did not let me die,” she adds.
Mfunzi, who runs in the colours of her sponsors, Nedbank Running Club, recalls: “I went to Tsolo hoping to defend my title for the third time, but my world turned upside down when the man I asked directions from sent me on the wrong route and waited to attack me.
She said she did not want to be tired for the race, so took a taxi from Uitenhage to Tsolo, leaving her car at home, as this was a race “I always pledged to support” since she was born in Transkei. “But what happened left me scarred.”
“But talking about it heals, it’s really what has helped me. I don’t think I could have felt this way if I had kept quiet; staying silent kills the most. Healing starts by accepting, as painful as it is, what has happened. I’ve never asked for this, it happened, it’s irreversible, so I’m left with two options: let it destroy my life or I write and speak about it. God has given me a second chance, I must rise above it. This is what I’m going to do.”
To cope with her attack, Mfunzi began running more. She says Nedbank Running Club national manager Nick Bester, winner of the Comrades in 1981, is a “father figure” and an inspiration. She has also started motivational talks. Her story inspired many women to address adversity in their lives by speaking about their ordeal and finding ways in which to inspire each other to deal positively with trauma.
“I am amazed at the words of encouragement and support from people I’ve never met; some of them have also been victims, like myself, but they’ve never told their husbands that they were raped.
“I am the only person they’re opening up to. That is why I said, let me educate people at the Comrades that there is still life after rape,” she adds.
“It is a life-changing incident, but you must reclaim your life. I know that it’s difficult, but I must fight, and especially after getting closure on February 18 (the day her rapist was sentenced to 22 years in prison), something has been taken off my shoulders.”