Village celebrates son’s win

2014-06-02 00:00

WITH two sons running in yesterday’s Comrades Marathon, Sizeni Mthembu had more reason than most to watch the race unfold.

However, too nervous to watch, in case “something” happened to either, she went to church instead. Her fervent prayers were answered in spectacular fashion, with one son bringing the Comrades crown back to KwaZulu-Natal after almost a decade.

Bongmusa Mthembu’s win brought his home village — Embhulelweni outside Bulwer — to life yesterday.

While brothers Eugene and Sandiso celebrated beside Mthembu at the finish line yesterday, the village was abuzz with young men singing traditional songs and dancing in celebration of his victory.

Sizeni was almost in tears, trying to come to terms with her son’s momentous achievement, saying he had competed in the Comrades several times before clinching the title.

His victory was as much a product of his own efforts as it was hers.

“I had to raise my children as a single mother working at a firm producing planks for furniture and building material when their father died in 1997,” she said.

Mthembu was in Grade 7 at the time, walking several kilometres to and from school along the village’s dusty gravel roads.

“I had nine children altogether — it was tough but I persevered and hoped that God would hear my prayers and help me raise them decently despite the challenges,” she said.

After Mthembu matriculated in 2002, he went to Pietermaritzburg to look for a job. “When things did not go well there, he started running and it was easy for him because he was an active child who participated in the traditional dance (indlamu) and also played soccer,” his mother said.

She said when he and his elder brother Xolani first ran the Comrades Marathon, she never used to watch because she was scared. “I could not get used to my children running such long distances.”

Mthembu may have hit the big time, but he has not forgotten his roots. “I do get my pension, but Bongmusa is the one who provides for my family and he has never abandoned his home,” said the mother, who never thought he would one day become a celebrated hero in his own village, much less in South Africa.

“All my neighbours came to celebrate his victorious finish and this brought tears to my eyes, thinking back to the difficult times that we once went through after the death of his father,” she said.

Sizeni said her family had recently been blessed with the birth of her daughter Thandazile’s twins and now her son had won the Comrades.

“When I saw him cross the finish line, I wanted to lift the television set — that is how happy I was,” she said.

Thandazile said, “Even though we come from a little unknown village, my brothers have made us proud and the rest of the world is now going to know that our area has talented people.”

A neighbour, Ntombifuthi Shabane, said Mthembu grew up in front of her and they were happy for his win because it had uplifted their village in the eyes of the world.

“This will make young people in the area proud and make them believe in themselves,” said Shabane, kissing Sizeni and saying she and their village had given birth to “the great”.

Congratulations also came from Premier Senzo Mchunu. “The Comrades Marathon is about endurance, determination and perseverance. I want to salute all the runners for being an inspiration to all of us. Importantly, I want to pay tribute to Bongmusa Mthembu for putting KwaZulu-Natal firmly on the map,” he said.

Mthembu, winner of three previous gold medals in the Comrades, crossed the line in five hours, 28 minutes and 34 seconds (5:28:34). He finished the 89,28 km race over four minutes ahead of Ludwick Mamabolo, the defending down-run champion, who recorded a time of 5:33.14.

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