A club that shows it values its Comrades
Entsika ensures there are no falling stars in its ranks
THE Comrades Marathon, as with other road-running competitions in major cities across the world, has become a big and popular event. Yet it’s hard to come across any club management that thinks about the athletes holistically.
But there is this particular group of athletes who do exactly that, and even more. They don’t just care about their running careers now but are concerned about what will happen to fellow athletes when they reach the twilight of their careers and retire from being professional sportsmen.
Renowned Comrades Marathon champion maker John Hamlett is like a kid in a sweet shop, excited at having finally teamed up with a corporate that is interested in more than just using his runners as a billboard. In Entsika Consulting, Hamlett and his group of elite runners have a caring management that does not pay lip service to investing in its people.
It is a rarity in sports, an industry that generally treats its proponents like a gum – chew them for all their flavour and then spit them out. It is common knowledge that the townships and villages of South Africa are teeming with former sports stars who have fallen on hard times. In Pietermaritzburg, where today’s Comrades Marathon started, lives former superstar Mbulelo Mabizela, the epitome of just how unkind sport can be.
How can we forget the sad tale of world champion boxer Baby Jake Matlala who died a pauper? Entsika is intent on ensuring that the likes of Gift Kelehe, David Gatebe, Charles Mkhonto, Gordon Lesetedi and the rest of the Entsika Athletics Club do not swell the ranks of this sorry rags-to-riches-to-rags tale.
“We could easily have just come in and paid these guys stipends, got them to run in our colours, and get all the glory when they succeed,” said Entsika founder and director Zakhele Mkhize.
“But as a company we are more than that. As our motto states, we are ‘driven by a desire to make a difference’ and when we decided to team up with John’s team we asked ourselves, how can we make a difference in these guys’ lives?”
Another director, Clifford Makoloane, added: “I sat down with each of the runners in the club individually to understand exactly who they are, where they are in life and what their goals are – both in running and afterwards.”
Instead of giving the athletes stipends, as is the case with most clubs where runners are then forced to compete in just about every race as they strive to make ends meet, Entsika also affords their runners work opportunities.
Charles Mkhonto, who was running his second Comrades today, is already a beneficiary of this project.
“I was a petrol attendant just recently, but now they have given me a job in the office and have also taken me to training. I was able to go to a training camp in Dullstroom for two months without worrying about what my family would eat because it is paid leave.”
The knowledge that they have a sponsor which sees them not as billboards but as human beings puts the athletes at ease.
It is apparently in Entsika’s DNA to help make a difference, and the company has also given bursaries to numerous students throughout the country.
One of its beneficiaries, Phakamani Mngomezulu, went on to become a doctor. Sadly he died in a car accident and was buried yesterday. The Entsika Club members ran the Comrades in his honour today.
“Instead of buying billboards, we’d rather put the money into developing people of our communities,” Mkhize explained.
“With the athletes, we are not just supporting them in their running.
“We are also getting them professionals to help mentor them in any areas of their interests that they want to pursue after running, as well as to help them with financial advice.”
With such a company backing them, Kelehe, Latudi Makofane and Siya Mqambeli are unlikely to become statistics swelling the ranks of former sports stars who have fallen on hard times.
IN GOOD HANDS: Comrades Marathon champion maker John Hamlett and his group of elite runners have a caring management that does not pay lip service to investing in fellow athletes.