Today’s race at the National Botanical Gardens in Pretoria was no exception. Again I was surprised by what I learned except that it was not from a South African but a foreigner who has been in South Africa for only nine months.
One is not accorded a special status in road running. All runners are equal. Unlike the public discourse which is characterised by divisive racism, violent political rhetoric and the politics of rage especially by the EFF, road running does not suffer from these travails.
Main picture: The entrance to the Willows resort in Port Elizabeth. Instead of inserting some arbitrary pictures onto this blog, I have included photographs of Willows Resort near Port Elizabeth because as youngsters we spent many an Easter Holiday there.
Perhaps road runners have misjudged the mood of South Africa, but none of this crude discourse is evident in road running.
Let me digress to the Birchwood 21km race some four weeks ago. This race was a two-lapper. Again this race proved to be no exception to the rule that race, age, culture or creed is inconsequential during road running. After about one kilometre, a co-worker caught up with me. Not being a regular runner, she was battling. Instead of surging ahead, I feigned ill-health and pulled her through the 10km. What we discussed defies easy definition but could broadly be defined as life in general. At the 10 km mark she peeled off into the finish whereas I still had another 10 kms to complete.
Perhaps it was impeccable timing, but at 13 kms there was another female in distress. This was her first 21 km race and she had come to a juddering halt. Clearly in pain, I stopped to assist. I sauntered along with her until she was able to start jogging again.
Mike Brand then took over shepherding duties. In his usual cheerful joie de vivre manner, Mike kept her going. In our endeavours to assist fellow runners, we both sacrificed our own goals.
Needless to say but the first woman was Coloured and the second Black.
In marked contrast to this multi-racial solidarity, was the news on 702 Talk Radio on the way home. Comments by various politicians were both mean spirited and racially divisive.
Why would politicians want to inflame racial tensions by the use of such incandescent language?
I would like to take umbrage at such diabolical and short-term political ploys.
Returning to today’s race
Without being melodramatic, at 1.5 kms, I literally heard the tendon snap. My race was over. Joan Erasmus came to my assistance and organised transport back to the start via the finish. The vehicle was the camera van filming the race. Being a suitable candidate for an interview in their eyes, I was interviewed. Let us call the Interviewer “Ray” who spoke with an American / West African accent.
Amongst the questions was one whether running promotes community spirit. I answered that between the runners it did whereas with the local community it did not. “The exception to this rule,” I pontificated, “Was Black areas where the whole community came out to support the runners.”
Between filming, he continually commented how wonderful South Africa was. Eventually I quizzed him about his origins. Ray was a middle aged Ghanian who had been working in South Africa for 9 months for Ghanian Television. According to him, nothing worked in Ghana whereas most things worked in South Africa. Whether it was roads, water, electricity, sewerage et al, nothing worked in Ghana!
Ray’s ideal future would be to live in South Africa permanently.
I find it ironic that South African politicians will habitually endorse failed states such as Zimbabwe with 90% unemployment or Ghana where nothing works, as role models for what South Africa should strive for.
South Africa will not thrive under Mugabe’s inane economic policies. Only the kleptocratic minority at the apex of power, like Mugabe’s acolytes, will be enriched but nobody else.
Below is a blog written by Michael Vlismas which emphases the points that I have made above but in a much more cogent manner.
This is a Facebook post written by Michael Vlismas after he ran his first Two Oceans ultra-marathon on the 26th March 2016
29 March 2016
You learn so much about yourself when you run 56 kilometres. And one thing I learnt in running my first Two Oceans ultra-marathon this Easter weekend is that my faith in my fellow South Africans is not misplaced.
It’s so easy to see the news and believe we live in a country being ripped apart across racial lines.
It’s easy to make the mistake and believe that South Africans are all racists who argue about colour and language and cannot live side by side.
But when you run 56 kilometres on the streets of South Africa with South Africans, you realise what a lie this is.
It’s a lie perpetuated by our politicians who specialise in highlighting what keeps us apart so that we may, out of fear for each other, support whatever agenda they push onto us.
But this is not the real South Africa.
The real South Africa is what I saw during my race.
I saw South Africans of all races and languages doing exactly what this year’s race asked of them – to run as one.
And they do it so easily, because ordinary South Africans are all one at heart.
I saw runners stop to help a fellow runner who tripped and fell. I even saw one runner turn around and run back after he’d heard a runner fall behind him.
As we ran through Kalk Bay, we clapped hands for the two old white rockers who’d set up in their roadside garage and were cranking out some amazing tunes on their electric guitars.
There was also a lady and her young children in their driveway making pancakes for the runners. And further on, the coloured ladies were there handing out their baby potatoes.
I heard that most beautiful way of the black man who, when an elderly white man walked to the side of the road and declared his race over, exclaimed, “Sorry Baba. Sorry”. Just a simple way to say I share in your suffering. Or maybe even more significant, I recognise your suffering. You are not invisible.
When we reached the start of Chapman’s Peak, I felt my legs falter at the thought of the climb to come.
And then a bus came up behind me. A Cape Muslim man was at the front of it, and we took on that hill together. He carried about 50 of us up that hill, telling us when to stop and walk and then when to start running again. I know for a fact I would not have made that hill without him.
That’s what South Africans do. Sometimes we run up a hill together. Sometimes we have to walk. But always we keep moving forward together.
And when we reached the top, a Kaapse Klopse band heralded our achievement with their trademark music, playing it with such passion that I know listening to a symphony in the Sydney Opera House wouldn’t have come close to moving me as much as this did.
I ran through Hout Bay, where people from the squatter camp had come to join in the throngs of people lining the road and cheering us on.
When we reached Constantia Nek, I was forced to stop and walk. “Michael from Strand,” said a voice behind me, reading my name and club on my vest. “Are you okay my friend?”
An Indian man pulled up next to me, and put his hand on my shoulder.
“Ja. It’s just a bit eina,” I told him.
“Me too, my friend. I’m also hurting. I’m just hiding it better than you. C’mon, let’s go together.” And so I started running again. I think about what he said. We are all hurting. Some of us just hide it better. So many South Africans hide their own hurt, but are there to help others.
During this climb, we had some help from a group of Zulu runners. We heard them from behind, their rhythmic Zulu chanting sounding like Shaka’s very own warriors. Two of them had adorned their caps with impala skins, and one blew a whistle as they ran in unison.
Once at the top of Constantia Nek, there are some sneaky hills thereafter. Some runners in my club call them the “Dammit Hills” because you don’t expect them.
Two Indian men were running behind me as we hit the first of these, and I couldn’t help but smile as I heard him say to his friend, “No man, now I’m just bedonnerd”. Bedonnerd. What a fantastic word. In that moment, there was no question of the politics of language. No tearing down statues or protesting for the rights of only one language. Just a moment of being purely South African. Words like lekker and bru and bra and eish! and yebo and so many other words that are more a part of our South Africanness than any legislation could ever force upon us.
As we sang the national anthem at the start of the race, I wondered how many of those people protesting for just one language or asking, “What is the purpose of Afrikaans or Zulu or Sotho? Why not just English?” could sing only the English parts of their own national anthem, while their brother standing next to them could sing every verse?
And as we hit the home stretch into the stadium, and we ran across the finish line, a black man who finished next to me put his arm around me and said, “We did it!”
You know what, we did.
For one day, once again, ordinary South Africans did it.
They came out in their thousands, stood on the side of the road and cheered for their fellow South Africans from the start to the finish.
They showed each other compassion, gave each other hope, inspired each other, helped each other.
Because that’s who we are.
We are not the divided people our politicians would have us believe we are.
We are not a society filled with hatred.
We get on with this business that is South Africa. Sometimes we stumble. Sometimes we walk. And sometimes we run. But we always get on with it, together.
We are ordinary South Africans who do what ordinary South Africans do. We are extraordinary to each other.
Every. Single. Day.
Perhaps road runners reflect the real mood of South Africa instead of the manufactured rage and insulting language of the politicians ever ready to score a cheap political point!
YES, South Africa CAN learn from road running.
Related Blogs on Running:
The Rand Athletic Club 10km Race on 15th May 2016
Assessment of the Cradle of Humankind 21km race on 27th April 2016
The 52km Rhodes Mountain Race – Saturday 12th July 1997
Bob and I
Trail Run in the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy
Meeting the Neighbours or How the Other Half Lives
Around the World Challenge: 40 075kms in Official Races
The Chronicle of the Journey into Terra Incognito
Every day Heroes in Road Running
Road Races Redolent of a More Gracious Past
Vicissitudes of Time
Are Road Running Entrance Fees becoming a Rip-Off?
An Icy Race: The Sterkfontein Dam 25km Run
My Comrades Marathon: An Abiding Memory
My Running Redux
Poisoned Chalice or Fool’s Errand?
My Mid-Life Crisis: How did I attempt to regain my lost youth?
Ashley Wood – In Memoriam
IoT: What impact will it have on Road Running?
A Drab and Unremarkable Race with Pretensions: Gauteng Sports Challenge
A Running Experience: A Hill too Far
The First Time
Andre Hydenryck – In Memoriam