Ntsindiso Mphakathi, a young and determined athlete from Port Saint Johns in the Eastern Cape, had dreamed of winning the Soweto Marathon for as long as he could remember. As South Africa reclaimed the African Bank Soweto Marathon on Sunday, 5 November at the iconic FNB stadium, Mphakathi and Irvette van Zyl emerged victorious in the men’s and women’s categories, respectively.
On a crisp and clear morning, Soweto buzzed with excitement as runners and spectators filled the streets. Mphakathi stood among a sea of athletes, ready to prove himself as the pressure was mounting for SA runners, having last won the “People’s Race” over a decade ago.
The 42.2-kilometre journey that lay ahead was both physically and mentally challenging, but he was prepared to face it head-on. Mphakathi’s victory was a significant and uplifting moment for South Africa, marking the end of dominance by foreign nationals in the men’s category. He triumphantly crossed the finish line with a remarkable time of 2:19.13, outpacing the defending champion, Ethiopian Daba Debele, and the formidable competitor from Zimbabwe, Tonny Skink, who claimed second and third place, respectively.
Mphakathi said that as the starting gun fired, he surged forward with determination. He had trained relentlessly, and his stride was a testament to his dedication.
“I have been trying to win this marathon, but it was just not happening. So this year, I told myself that after the Comrades Marathon, I was not going to participate in any other race in preparation for the Soweto Marathon. In 2017, I was number 3, and last year, I became number 5. It’s been a challenging journey, but today, I’m excited to have finally stopped the dominance of foreign nationals in the Soweto Marathon,” he said excitedly.
Mphakathi said he was encouraged by the crowd, which roared with encouragement as he took the lead, a moment that sent shivers down his spine.“This victory is not just for me but for all South Africans who dream of success and are willing to work hard to achieve it,” he said at the Soweto Marathon finish line.
Van Zyl, on the other hand, had predicted a record-breaking performance, but she narrowly missed it by just 33 seconds. Her final time was 2:34.16, surpassing Selam Gebre from Ethiopia and Faith Chepkoech from Kenya.
“The dream of breaking the record is still alive,” Van Zyl remarked. “Once more, this race was gruelling, but I’m intimately familiar with its challenges. It was around the 30km mark, near Orlando Stadium, where I made my decisive move, as that’s where the true race begins,” she said.
The City of Johannesburg Executive Mayor, Cllr Kabelo Gwamanda, who fired the starter’s gun to start the 10-kilometre race, congratulated the winners and all participants.”I want to extend my warmest congratulations to the winners of the Soweto Marathon. It is of immense significance and pride that both the male and female winners of the 42.2 km race are South Africans. This not only showcases the incredible talent and dedication of our local athletes but also symbolises unity and the spirit of South Africa. It’s a testament to the strength and resilience of our nation,” Mayor Gwamanda said.
The Member of the Mayoral Committee for Community Development (MMC), Cllr Lubabalo Magwentshu, who had completed the 10-kilometre race, added his words of congratulations.”I want to congratulate all the incredible athletes who participated in the Soweto Marathon. It’s a remarkable day for South Africa, and I am proud to see our compatriots winning the race. This achievement not only reflects their dedication but also inspires us all. Today, we celebrate the spirit of sportsmanship and unity in our nation,” said MMC Magwentshu.
He added that special gratitude goes to everyone who made the race a success.“The People’s Race is a beloved event in the heart of South Africa; it represents a symbol of resilience and unity. People from all levels of society gathered to watch and participate in this grand race, and I’m happy with each athlete’s participation,” Magwentshu said.