Death of ultra-marathoner at Berg training camp still a mystery

Comrades Marathon champion Bongmusa Mthembu (left) has returned from training in Lesotho to attend the funeral of his friend and fellow runner Sphiwe Ndlela (right).
Comrades Marathon champion Bongmusa Mthembu (left) has returned from training in Lesotho to attend the funeral of his friend and fellow runner Sphiwe Ndlela (right).
Gallo Images

Ultra-marathon star Siphiwe Ndlela was buried in his hometown, Ixopo, on Sunday as the cause of his death remains a mystery.

He died last weekend at a training camp in the Drakensberg after complaining of stomach cramps, for which he took “herbal medication”, according to his coach, Mdu Khumalo.

The president of KZN Athletics, Sello Mokoena, said on Sunday afternoon that the funeral was attended by people from around the country.

He said that from the reports he received, Ndlela was not the only athlete to have taken the herbal medicine the day he died, and another athlete felt better after doing so.

Mokoena said herbal medicine is used throughout the world. “When it comes to sport, we only concentrate on performance enhancements that give an unfair advantage over others. These are listed and there are many. In terms of medical, we don’t get involved, be it herbal or whatever.”

Mokoena said KZN Athletics would rather focus on, for instance, getting all coaches and other interested parties to undergo basic first aid courses.

He said the cause of Ndlela’s death was unknown at this stage, and he could not speculate.

Police spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala said an inquest docket is being investigated.

“Investigations are still continuing pending the post-mortem results.”

Gwala could not say when the results will be made available.

Ndlela, who ran for the Nedbank Running Club, won gold in last year’s Comrades Marathon when he finished sixth and gold in the Two Oceans Marathon where he came ninth.

In 2016 he came seventh in the Comrades and eighth at the Two Oceans.

Provincial spokesperson for the Department of Arts, Culture, Sport and Recreation, Thabo Mofokeng, said that Ndlela was examined by a doctor before leaving for the Berg training camp and found to be in good health.

“There was nothing wrong with him and there were no signs of any ailments.”

Ndlela was part of the department’s elite athlete development programme based at the Prime High Performance Institute in Durban.

Mofokeng added it had a medical team which checked the athletes’ health regularly. In addition, they received detailed specialised training and nutritional support.

The department’s MEC, Bongi Sithole-Moloi, was unable to attend Ndlela’s funeral, but was represented by officials.

She said on Friday his death was a loss to the athletics fraternity and sports as a whole.


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