Four champion black athletes from the apartheid era have been selected as the initial beneficiaries of Runaway Comrade sales proceeds. There are so many worthy recipients who unfortunately have not been included due to the relatively modest nature of the Runaway Comrade project. So with much joy Runaway Comrade has been able to provide modest assistance to the following four legends-
Matthews Batswadi - the first black athlete to be awarded national, or Springbok colours, in 1977. Batswadi won ten national titles over cross country (four times), 5,000m and 10,000m on the track and 21.1km on the road. His last national title was the 1980 Half Marathon Champs. Whilst competing at world class level in apartheid SA he worked as an underground miner for Western Deep Levels gold mine. He disappeared in the early 80's after his competitive running days were over and was recently tracked down living outside Kuruman in the Northern Cape and working as an unskilled farm labourer. Aged 67 he is single and still enjoys jogging most days. He remains financially impoverished.
Titus Mamabolo - the first black athlete to win a national track title at the 1974 SA Open Championships in Pretoria where he defeated Ewald Bonzet to win the 5,000m. Mamabolo was the second black athlete to be awarded national, or Springbok, colours. Born in 1941 near Polokwane in the Limpopo region he dominated the veterans and masters races in SA and aged 50, in 1991, ran a world age group record for the standard marathon of 2:19.29 - quite astonishing. Today he lives in the Limpopo region and cares for his mother, well into her nineties. He used the first small financial contribution from Runaway Comrade to assist with his mother's medical expenses.
- Hoseah Tjale - Tjale’s (major) achievements were simply dazzling. A few highlights:
- Winner of Korkie, Two Oceans, City to City (JSE) and London to Brighton ultras and winner of at least nine (per my research) other standard marathons, including victories over superstars like Mark Plaatjes and Gabashane Rakabaele - tough wins against quality opponents.
- First black SA runner to win a Comrades gold.
- Recipient of Two Oceans Blue Number 21 as the first winner of five gold medals in 1984
- First runner to achieve permanent numbers in both Comrades and Two Oceans for winning five gold medals in both ultras – when he won his fifth Comrades gold in 1986. I believe the only other runners to have achieved this Two Oceans/Comrades golden “double” are Stephen Muzhingi and the Nurgalieva twins.
- Second runner in Comrades history to run the combo of sub-5:45 in the “Up” and sub-5:30 in the “Down” runs, in 1986. Only Bruce Fordyce had achieved that ahead of Tjale. Some three decades later only five other athletes have replicated this phenomenal achievement of ultra versatility and competitiveness in both directions.
- Between 1980 and 1990 in SA’s four premier ultras – Pieter Korkie, Two Oceans, Comrades and City to City (JSE) – he achieved -
- 29 top-10 or gold medal finishes
- 17 top-3 (or podium) finishes
- 9 Comrades gold medals, including two 2nd and two 3rd positions
- 6 major ultramarathon wins
All of this was achieved as an amateur and a full-time, lowly paid employee working as a handyman and a delivery driver. No corporate sponsor, no trainer, no structured strength sessions, no nutritional programme and tough living conditions. He never worked for the gold mines.
In my humble opinion he undoubtedly was South Africa’s most consistent, competitive ultrarunner during the 80’s. And he was an amateur. He may not have won Comrades but he was on the Comrades podium four times and won nine Comrades gold medals. He won “everything” outside of Comrades, the only race that did not offer him any prize money at a time when weekend prize money provided an invaluable financial lifeline. In tennis terms he would have been the Roger Federer of the 80s who won everything, made every Grand Slam final and lost a few Wimbledon finals, the only title to elude him.
Tragically Tjale has virtually been unsighted since his retirement from competitive running in 1993. Contact with Tjale simply vanished.
During my recent travels across SA, the line used about the non-attendance of Tjale at Two Oceans and Comrades was that ... "he would prefer not to attend" ... well, in my humble opinion that does not reflect a genuine understanding of his personal situation. In fact no one even knew where he lived (if in fact he was still alive) or how to contact him. As recently as 2014 when CMA wished to invite him to a “Living Legends” gala function, they did not even know how to contact him. Tjale told me that prior to that telephone call he had not heard from Comrades/CMA for some 25 years, let alone Two Oceans. He is living the life of a township resident in Tembisa. He is reserved and appears to be shy and that is incorrectly interpreted as Tjale electing to be reclusive. This man made a monumental contribution to the success of Comrades and Two Oceans. He legitimized Two Oceans and Comrades along with Rakabaele, Ben Choeu, Siphiwe Gqele and Thompson Magawana.
His running defined him and encouraged millions of black South Africans. Today he lives in Tembisa and catches two taxis to work each morning and returns via two taxis every evening. He has to change taxis at the Carlton Centre, downtown Johannesburg. He told me that some mornings he walks the (one hour) second leg from the Carlton Centre to his place of employment in Langlaagte because he still enjoys being outdoors. Most of his work colleagues can’t contemplate walking that far and think he is crazy. He smiled when he told me the story as he said, “Bob, they don’t know.”
His footprints have disappeared and Athletics South Africa appear totally disinterested in his plight and that of the other remaining black athletes of the apartheid era. Tjale turns 60 on 25 February 2016.
- Thulani Sibisi - Sibisi will always be remembered for his stunning win at the 1986 56km Two Oceans Marathon against a world class field that included Thompson Magawana and Vincent Gabashane Rakabaele. Following the release of Nelson Mandela, Sibisi made an invaluable contribution to South African athletics. He was manager of SA's long distance athletes at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics as well as the Athens Olympics in 2004. He is also co-founder of the Soweto Marathon and has been television commentator for Two Oceans and Comrades on several occasions. Whilst still an active runner Sibisi collapsed in 2012 when he was diagnosed with third stage, advanced, prostate cancer. He survived surgery and has subsequently clung to life. In 2014 I jogged the Soweto 21.km with Sibisi as his first outing post surgery. Today he serves as a Two Oceans Ambassador and promotes prostate cancer awareness through public presentations in conjunction with the Cancer Foundation. Sibisi lives an impoverished life in Soweto and was recently assaulted by thugs looking for cash while out on his morning walk.