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Bruce Fordyce wore a black armband 40 years ago when he won his first Comrades

31 May 2021 9:13 AM
Tags:
APARTHEID
Comrades Marathon
Bruce Fordyce
Republic Day protest

Refilwe Moloto speaks to the "King of Comrades" Bruce Fordyce about the event that took place forty years ago.
  • South African 9-times Comrades Marathon winner says in 1981 he knew he had a good chance of it being his first win.
  • The National Party decided to include the Comrades marathon as part of a series of events to celebrate what was then the 20th Republic Day on 31 May 1981.
  • Fordyce says he wanted to run that year but also show his dissatisfaction, and so decided, along with a number of other participants, to wear a black armband.
  • He says he was an unpopular winner at the time and had tomatoes and eggs flung at him.

Bruce Fordyce wins the 1981 Comrades Marathon, wearing a black armband in protest against apartheid. Image: TMG ARCHIVES

On that day in 1981, he won his first Comrades Marathon while wearing a black armband in protest against the plan to associate the event with the 20th anniversary of South Africa becoming a republic in 1961.

The race was run on May 31st, known then as Republic Day.

Fordyce was 25-years-old at the time and hailed from Johannesburg.

At the time there were a number of anti-Republic Day rallies in the country under the banner 'No cause to celebrate.'

40 years ago the Nationalist government decided to celebrate 20 years of apartheid rule and nationalist rule on the 31st of May. They had a whole lot of events planned like tank parades and flyovers and politicians in those old Homberg hats wagging their fingers - and we were supposed to celebrate.

Bruce Fordyce, South African marathon and ultramarathon athlete

Sadly, the Comrades marathon became part of those celebrations. It was called the Republic Day Comrades Marathon.

Bruce Fordyce, South African marathon and ultramarathon athlete

At the time Fordyce was on the Student Representative Council (SRC) at Wits University which was critical of the apartheid regime.

There were lots of runners at the time who were really angry about it and there was a call for us to boycott.

Bruce Fordyce, South African marathon and ultramarathon athlete

But speaking selfishly I knew that there was a very good chance I would win the race having placed second and third in the previous two years, so some of us who were desperate to run tried to find a compromise for how we could run but show our displeasure - so we wore black armbands on the day.

Bruce Fordyce, South African marathon and ultramarathon athlete

His girlfriend dyed her yellow Alice band black for him to wear as an armband - and he won the race.

He says he was not the only runner wearing a black armband but because he won it received much attention.

I had friends in detention a the time as things were escalating in the country. I am very proud of it now, but I was almost naive, because I was so trusting of the fact that one could protest and have your say.

Bruce Fordyce, South African marathon and ultramarathon athlete

I had no idea back then that I would win another eight.

Bruce Fordyce, South African marathon and ultramarathon athlete

It is still deep in my heart as one of my favourite Comrades wins. I ran faster in later years but I didn't run as bravely. I was a very unpopular winner, I had some tomatoes and eggs thrown at me.

Bruce Fordyce, South African marathon and ultramarathon athlete

He says his gesture was small compared to the sacrifices many activists made who ended up serving lengthy jail in places like Robben Island, had to flee into exile, or were tortured and murdered by the apartheid security forces.

He says he now has a 'dodgy' knee but his passion nowadays is spreading the concept of Park Runs.




31 May 2021 9:13 AM
Tags:
APARTHEID
Comrades Marathon
Bruce Fordyce
Republic Day protest

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