3500 participate in Heroes Marathon to honour Mandela

Hundreds of residents, among them government officials, grandparents, mothers and children from several villages in the former Transkei, participated in the popular annual Heroes Marathon in Mthatha yesterday.

The fun-filled and yet fiercely-competitive race, saw 3500 participants honour former president and revered world icon Nelson Mandela that attracted professional athletes from as far afield as Malawi, Kenya, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Top road-runners from across the country also took part in the event.

The event consisted of four different races, the 42km, 21km, 10km and a 5km “peace walk”.

The marathon is hosted by Athletics Transkei in partnership with the Eastern Cape department of sports, recreation, arts and culture under MEC Pemmy Majodina.

Majodina, who was visibly impressed with the turnout, threw down the gauntlet to sponsors to try and make the event even bigger next year as the country will be hosting Mandela centenary celebrations.

“We are happy that even runners from outside were able to get in touch with Mandela’s birthplace.”

She commended the media for assisting in popularising the event over the years, saying they wanted it to partner with them even next year as the country will be celebrating Mandela’s centenary.

“During the next centenary celebrations we won’t be here all of us.” Nkosikhona Mhlakwana from KwaZulu Natal who won the 42km race, said he was happy to have taken part in one of the most important races in South Africa.

He said it was the second time he had competed in the race.

Two years ago, he finished in 15th place.

“ I felt strong from start to finish. The weather was also nice which made the race even more enjoyable,” he added.

The women’s race was won by 21-year-old Chiletu Bogale Assefa who posted a time of two hours 47minutes.

But there was more fun in the shorter races where even OR Tambo district municipality mayor Nomakhosazana Meth took part in the 5km walk, while King Sabata Dalindyebo local municipality mayor, Dumani Zozo, completed the 10km race.

A jovial Zozo said he had taken part in the last two races, where he finished second on one of the occasions.

Hence he felt he needed to give others a chance by taking on a longer race.

“It is not about leaving people in your wake but more about building camaradie among communities.”

Zozo said the event presented major spin-offs, especially for KSD particularly in the tourism and hospitality industries.

“Our BnBs and hotels were full as athletes came from outside and slept here,” he said.

Among those who competed with Meth were Mawepa Nomasoja Maqanda of Chris Hani informal settlement in Mthatha.

She was born on June 15 in 1918 making her 33-days older than Mandela. She said although she was not an active runner, she could not miss an opportunity to run in a race to honour the late statesman.

“I bought a new pair of tights on Saturday just to make sure I was ready for this event,” she said.

Joining her in the walk were members from the Siyaphumelela Club for the disabled from Mthatha.

Their members could not contain their excitement after receiving medals for completing the race while promising to come back next year.

Sixty-five-year-old Maphumalanga Tshambula, of Mkhankatho in Ntlaza near Libode also managed to complete the 21km race and earn herself a medal while her granddaughter 13 year-old Phila Cothoza took part in the walk. Both were happy with their medals. — sikhon@dispatch.co.za