Newsmaker: Village honours its Comrades King

2012-06-09 17:32

When Ludwick Modibe Mamabolo crossed the finish line to claim the 2012 Comrades Marathon title last week, a woman in a village far away ran a different kind of race.

Olivia Mamabolo sprinted the short distance from her home to the Mamabolo tribal authority offices in Segobye Village to share the good news.

Ludwick, who won the race in five hours and 31 minutes, grew up in Segobye, a village in Ga-Mamabolo district, some 40km northeast of Polokwane.

The village is set in a picturesque valley of granite boulders and hills, but residents grapple daily with poverty and underdevelopment.

Mamabolo’s family moved to Mankweng township in 1996, a year after he matriculated from Bjatladi High School, where Olivia was his biology teacher and mentor. The two share a surname like many in the village, but they are not related.

The villagers remember him as a reserved, respectful young man; a star soccer player and champion runner.

“He was the pride of our school. Each time the school participated in an athletics meeting, we knew he was going to win,” says Olivia.

She says that academically, Ludwick was an average student, but worked hard.

“He was very passionate. If you said lessons start at 7am, he would be there at 6am. Every morning he woke up early to run in the village,” she says.

On Monday morning she told pupils at the school: “You have seen the best example of what an ordinary boy from a rural village can achieve.

“Nelson Mandela lived in a rondavel in a village, but he became president. Ludwick also comes from a rural village and look what he has achieved. Where you come from should not stop you from achieving your dreams.”

There is no mistaking the pride in Moses Mphekgwane’s voice when he speaks of the effect Ludwick’s victory has had on him and his peers. The shy teenager points to a dusty football field opposite the school.

“We live in a village where there is no stadium. Not all the houses have electricity and if you don’t play soccer there is nothing else to do,” he says.

His home has no electricity, so he watched the race at a friend’s house.

“No one from this village has ever achieved something like this. But now we believe we can also make it. Lodi has put our village on the map. When he came here to celebrate the victory, he encouraged us to follow sport and education,” he says.

Back in Mankweng, Ludwick’s father, Mankga Mamabolo, struggles to keep up with the stream of visitors. A teacher and athletics coach at Mankweng High School, he’s been forced to take time off work to handle the media and well-wishers.

SABC radio station Thobela FM went as far as doing a live broadcast from the family home on Wednesday.

Ludwick, who works for Absa as a teller at a branch in Midrand, has not had any rest either. After returning to Johannesburg on Monday, he was quickly hauled off to his uncle’s home in Tembisa. Then it was off to Bela Bela, Limpopo, where a delegation of government officials was waiting to honour him. Next was Segobye, where members of the royal family and villagers waited to celebrate his victory.

In Mankweng, another enormous media contingent was waiting when he arrived. A parade through Polokwane and the opening of a sports centre in Mankweng followed.

Just as he thought it was all dying down, he received a call on Wednesday evening from Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula’s office and the following morning he was on his way to Cape Town to meet him.

Mankga says his son first ran the Comrades in 2010 and finished an astonishing second. Last year, suffering from a slight ankle injury, he came seventh. Mankga is not at all amazed by his son’s achievements.

“Even when he was young, you could tell he was going to achieve something big,” says the proud dad.

“He trained so hard for this year’s race. You could see he was determined. I felt sorry for him sometimes because he was working too hard.”

Mankga says watching the race on TV was nerve-wracking. He scanned thousands of faces on screen searching for his son.

“I was worried. But just near the halfway mark, I saw him and I knew he was fine. But when I saw him suffering from cramps I panicked,” he says.

He smiles from ear to ear recalling his son’s entrance into Kingsmead Stadium.

“Ah, when he ran into the stadium raising his hands I knew he had made it. When he hit the finish line everyone in the neighbourhood went outside blowing vuvuzelas,” he says.

The celebrations are not over. In Segobye, knives are being sharpened and oxen are being lined up. The village is planning a massive feast to honour its champion son.

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