By FOCUS REPORTER
PRETORIA Central Prison was transformed into the scene of an unusual sporting event this week with twelve inmates from one of South Africa’s biggest prisons ran the equivalent of the 50km Bonitas City2City Marathon plus an additional 17km, totalling 67km in celebration of Mandela Day.
Watched by prison wardens and journalists, the team completed the race on 12 treadmills lined up in one of the prison’s halls. The men have been training for months for the event, running on a track inside the prison’s walls and using donated treadmills and running gear.
Three enthusiastic prisoners, Sipho Khumalo, Wolfram Abbot and Stefaans Coetzee ran the full 50km Bonitas City2City Marathon and then relayed for the last 17kms. The rest of the team broke into three relay teams which completed 22km each. They were accompanied by the team’s coach and ex-Comrades star, Nick Bester, as well as Nedbank Runner Sibusiso Nzima and Bonitas Team Elite runner Aaron Gabonewe. While Bester’s relay team won the 67km race in just 3hrs31, solo runner Abbot came a close second in 3hrs35min.
Director of Offenders’ Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture, Fezile Sipamala attended the event and was touched by the positive effect it had on the prisoners. The event not only boosted morale at the prison, but has proven a good example of how sport can help prisoners channel their energy towards a positive outcome.
Coach Nick Bester, a former Comrades winner was delighted with the performance of the athletes on the day.
“They have worked so hard for today and achieving their goal has given them some hope for the future and something to look forward to when they finish serving their sentences and return to normal life,” he says. “It was an uplifting and emotional day us all.”
The team plans to run more marathons in the future and Bester says more inmates in the prison are becoming interested in taking part in the training and working towards this goal.
“We hope that Madiba, as a former prisoner and keen sportsman would be proud of what these men are trying to achieve,” he says. The entire team signed a birthday card for Madiba, which will be delivered to him later this week.
The Bonitas City2City Marathon, which attracts thousands of passionate local and international runners, follows a gruelling 50km route between Pretoria and Johannesburg. This year the event will take place on September 18.