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Run Jozi

The Luminescent Migration

by Lindokuhle Nkosi / 26.03.2012

I have my last cigarette a few hours before the race. This is the sum total of all my preparation. I’m meant to be carbo-loading, so I order Belgian waffles with Maple syrup, sorry, maple-flavoured syrup and extra bacon. Professor Tim Noakes eat your heart out. I’m out of my depth. I know it. But the fates conspire to let me know exactly how deep I am in it when I have to share a cab with a junior red-headed Hercules from Men’s Health and an older, life-long buff guy. You know the one who hikes up Table Mountain and swims to Robben Island just for shits and giggles. We drive from Sandton , past a Nelson Mandela Bridge already swathed in Lumo-green, as thousands of runners stretch at the starting line.

Undetterred by the rain, they mark themselves in fluorescent body paint. Manicured warriors of the street. Apparently we’re taking back our streets. I’m just not entirely sure who from. Are we reclaiming them from the students that call Braamfontein home? The KZN refugees (thanks Hellen Zille) who drum and dance at the refreshment stop at KwaMaiMai? The foreigners who’ve abandoned their Human Rights Day revelries and stepped out of various inner city shebeens and taverns to cheer us on, offer us beers and quick drags on their cigarettes? PAC youth seems to be of the opinion that we the runners, in fact, are the thieves. The yellow army, Nike swooshed, are not in fact, “taking back their streets” but rather insulting the 69 martyrs who died on this day, 1960.

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In Sharpeville, just a few kilometres away, another run of sorts is underway. Residents, angered that the actual site of the Sharpeville Massacre had been snubbed with the memorial service and political addresses being moved to Freedom Square in Kliptown, held their own march, reclaiming “the spirit of the Sharpeville Massacre”. Across town, the countdown begins. Bodies in various stages of fit huddle together; pushing and shoving in the name of reclamation. 19h00. Bang. The race starts.

I’m still getting lessons on how to breathe correctly (apparently I’ve been doing it wrong my whole life). One deep in, two short out, when I’m pushed along in the wave of the luminescent migration. Over the bridge, up Market Street, past the notorious Noord taxi rank where impatient drivers rest on their hooters. My legs are now both heavy and weightless. They are under me, somewhere. I can feel their weight as they hit the tarmac. I can hear the thud, thud, thud. But they don’t feel like they’re attached to me. As if I am going through my own incarnation of Phantom Limb Syndrome. By the time we run (walk to be honest) past the historical hippie spot, the Troyeville Hotel, where designer Marianne Fassler offers encouragement with a glass of wine in hand, I am tasting blood at the back of my throat. My lungs feel limp, like I’m trying to blow up a connective tissue balloon with a hundreds of tiny pin pricks in it. The tar that lovingly lines my lungs has loosened itself and is now a phlegmy mass in my throat. This is how I’m going to die.

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I look around for a way out. There’s a stationary ambulance parked not too far from Ellis Park stadium. But there’s a man bleeding in there. And it’s proper dark now. Energy levels are on reserve when we enter Hillbrow, but fear trumps exhaustion. A mystical burst of energy shoots through my body and I’m literally running for my life until Constitutional Hill. The rest is a blur of finish lines, medals and claiming back streets from fictitious thieves.

A well-planned event from beginning to end, I suspect that the inner city-dwellers might have gotten more out of the run than we did. While we ran under the banner of repossession, it seems like the marathon did more giving than taking-back. Kids ran outside. Pride was given and taken. The city was remembered, and should not been forgotten again.

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