I had to wake up early for the long walk and leave the warmth of my three-star room in Queenstown, Eastern Cape. Getting up this early on a Saturday morning wasn’t helped by a little hangover left from the welcoming of athletes in a guest house for the Chris Hani Freedom Marathon the previous night. This was where I met the town’s flamboyant politicians who spoke proudly and loudly of their hero, Hani, and Lungile Gongqa, the champion of the Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town.
The early start gave me just enough time to rinse my face. The five-kilometer race was set for 6.30AM, in rural Cofimvaba, an hour’s drive from Queenstown. We went up and down the hills before dawn, before joining a convoy of about 15 buses.
We hoped the buses would lead the way – they didn’t, the convoy got lost and we had to make a turn and follow Google Maps which landed us about three kilometers off the tar road in Sabalele, Cofimvaba. Fortunately, a speeding taxi arrived behind us and told us the race was nearby. We sped off thinking we must be late.
By the time we found parking at 6.45AM, the race hasn’t started. People were still collecting their race numbers and some were even registering at the Chris Hani Community Centre for the race. People had stayed the night there; mattresses and food parcels were everywhere and a foul smell was in the air.
We received our numbers and walked to the starting point, stretched and waited for the race to start. There were 1,000 of us.
It was now 8:30AM. “African time is an issue,” I thought to myself. Despite this, the participants were patient and relaxed.
Finally, at 9:30AM, the first whistle went for the 25-kilometer race; at 9:45AM, the second one blasted for the 10-kilometer race and finally the five-kilometer walk – my walk – started at 10AM.
I walked with the councillor from the local Chris Hani municipality and the chief whip. Both ladies couldn’t wait to turn back after two kilometers.
I asked what the walk was about while walking uphill. The councillor, breathing heavily, answered, “the walk is for their fallen hero, Chris Hani, who walked that route daily to school.” It wasn’t easy walking on gravel. But I believe I spurred them on because I was photographing them all the way.
Once we finally finished the race, got our medals, mingled and hugged, it was time to drive back to the cosy rooms in a small town. It was a long drive. Cows, sheep and goats were all over the road. Children were also playing on the newly tarred road which meant we had to slow down even more. To make the arduous drive worse, my room didn’t have electricity. With no hot water, I couldn’t shower nor bathe; but almost two hours later the electricians sorted my wiring and I could refresh myself for the first time since arriving from Johannesburg.
Although my feet were sore, I was happy I had walked in the footsteps of one of the great South African struggle heroes. I slept knowing that Hani walked 25 kilometers to school; became leader of the South African Communist Party; Chief of Staff for uMkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) opposing the apartheid government; but sadly got gunned down in his driveway in 1993.
This is a journey that would have never happened without the struggle of the hero, Chris Hani.