WITH HU­MIL­ITY

Com­rades cham­pion Bong’musa Mthembu has set up a foun­da­tion for poor ru­ral kids

CityPress - - News -

He still herds cat­tle in the green hills that sur­round his home, has no am­bi­tion to live in the city and doesn’t see him­self as a su­per­star. Bong’musa Mthembu, the man who’s clinched the Com­rades Marathon ti­tle twice in three years, and be­came the first South African to win the gru­elling race twice af­ter Bruce Fordyce, prefers the sim­ple life in his ru­ral KwaZulu-Na­tal home.

The 33-year-old says he still runs to the shops near his footof-the-Drak­ens­berg home in Bul­wer, to buy what­ever his mother, Sizeni (59) asks him to.

“I’m still a boy at home. I still herd cat­tle up in the hills. I take them for dip­ping and I fix the fence at home,” he said.

“Ev­ery­thing that a ru­ral boy does at home, I do. I live at home. I love it here. I won’t move be­cause my an­ces­tors are here.”

Mthembu is the fifth of nine sib­lings. Grow­ing up in such a large fam­ily was not some­thing strange in his vil­lage, he said.

“Poverty was the norm. I used to go to sleep some­times with­out hav­ing eaten any­thing. When I was grow­ing up, I wouldn’t sleep in the house if there were miss­ing cat­tle,” he added.

His fa­ther Sipho, a teacher by pro­fes­sion, died when he was 12 years old and his mother – a housewife – strug­gled to raise him and his sib­lings.

Mthembu’s son Sisanda, who he was pho­tographed hug­ging at the fin­ish line, is now the same age as his dad was, when his grand­fa­ther Sipho died. He would not like Sisanda to ex­pe­ri­ence the hard­ship he went through while grow­ing up in the vil­lage.

Mthembu stud­ied his lower grades at the nearby En­gud­wini Pri­mary be­fore ma­tric­u­lat­ing at Ndin­gelwa High School. In his ma­tric year, he had to walk 22km to and from school daily.

It was in 2009 af­ter ma­tric­u­lat­ing, that Mthembu de­cided to travel to Pi­eter­mar­itzburg in search of a job. He couldn’t af­ford to study fur­ther and worked for al­most seven years in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try, start­ing out as a brick­layer, be­fore win­ning his first gold medal in 2014.

“I de­cided to take a risk. I made a de­ci­sion that I needed to fo­cus on my tal­ent. But I did not think I would get this far,” Mthembu said.

When he won in 2014, he be­came the first South African in 23 years to win the 86.73km race. He came third last year.

In his 12th col­lec­tive marathon in the colours of the Arthur Ford Club last Sun­day, he won again in a time of 5 hours, 35 min­utes and 34 sec­onds – three min­utes ahead of Zim­bab­wean Hati­wande Nya­mande and about six min­utes faster than third-placed Gift Kelehe.

Mthembu’s col­lec­tion of medals also in­cludes sil­ver from the world 100km cham­pi­onships, where he came in sec­ond in Spain last year.

But, de­spite his in­ter­na­tional trav­els, Mthembu prefers liv­ing in vil­lages when he pre­pares for marathons. He trains in Le­sotho, Free State and Mpumalanga.

Mthembu set up a foun­da­tion in his own name in 2014, in a bid to help pro­vide sports equip­ment to young peo­ple from ru­ral ar­eas and see to their ed­u­ca­tional needs.

He also urges young peo­ple not to give up on their dreams: “My aim is to help when­ever I can. Young peo­ple should take it from me. I’ve been through a lot of dif­fi­cul­ties.

“It was not easy. I wanted to fur­ther my ed­u­ca­tion, but I could not. I’ve used my tal­ent, I’ve learnt to be hum­ble and fo­cused, so I could change my fu­ture and do away with dif­fi­cul­ties. Don’t give up. Noth­ing comes easy in life.”

Young peo­ple in ru­ral ar­eas are phys­i­cally fit and men­tally strong and they need to take ad­van­tage of that, he ex­plained.

To those who wish to com­pete in the Com­rades Marathon, Mthembu said they must step up and en­joy the chal­lenge, as there is a lot of sup­port of­fered to ath­letes.

Con­tin­u­ing to par­tic­i­pate in the Com­rades Marathon is his main plan at the mo­ment, and he doesn’t in­tend on quit­ting any­time soon.

Asked for a few things peo­ple don’t know about him, Mthembu replied that he is shy, quiet, speaks softly and is a “very emo­tional per­son”.

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