I can’t think of a better way to celebrate reconciliation than to unite people through sport. I have to admit I was a little apprehensive driving into Gugulethu township, especially since I wasn’t quite sure where I was going, but I was immediately put at ease when I started to see other runners. It’s that weird sense of immediate camaraderie you feel towards fellow athletes who share your same passion.
Standing on the start line, amid a mix of runners from all different backgrounds, we were lucky enough to have the mayor of Cape Town, Patricia de Lille, open the race and remind us why we were actually there. Never mind personal bests and target times, we were standing in the streets of the township to celebrate reconciliation and remember Amy Biehl.
Now in its 12th year, the race was originally known as the Amy Biehl Reconcilliation Day Race. Biehl was an American exchange student working in Gugulethu who was murdered by a mob of township men during the turbulent times of Apartheid in South Africa. The men were convicted and sentenced to 18 years but were released only 5 years later by the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission when Apartheid was finally abolished. A year later in 1994, her parents founded the Amy Biehl Foundation Trust that worked to empower youth and discourage violence in the townships. Two of the men who murdered her even worked for the foundation.
“Let us be united in diversity,” de Lille said, and, with the inspiration of changed nation, we were off.
I ran like lightening for the first kilometre to escape the congestion, using my arms to shield me. Thankfully, the crowd thinned out quite quickly and at 1km in, as I dodged a loose snarling township dog, I slowed down to my tempo pace and focused on meeting each one of my race goals. I did get distracted a few times when an enthusiastic supporter caught my eye but I think the odd smile gave me a little mental boost. One young boy in particular was yelling “Balega! Balega!” at the top of his lungs, which basically means “hightail it!” in Zulu. It stuck in my head like a catchy song and as I hit the final 2km’s, all I was thinking was “Balega! Balega!”. With a lady in my age category just in front of me, I pushed the pace and was hot on her heels for the last stretch. We rounded the final 100 meters together and I managed to gap her in the sprint to take 5th in the ladies category with a finishing time of 40:35 and a new personal best to boot.
Running through the shacks and houses of the township was definitely an new experience but what I was really taken aback by was the support for the race. Unlike other events I have participated in, the majority of the course was lined with cheering spectators and even the marshals and fellow runners were encouraging people. I never thought that weird sense of immediate camaraderie you feel at sporting events could be so important.