Wembley Twilight Fun Run kept flame of athletics alive

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BY CLEMENT DU PLESSIS

NON-RACIAL sport had always been ridiculed for not being up to standard. But this was without contextualising the socio-economic and socio-political position of an all-white oppressive regime. A regime that had propped up a minority white athletics body with facilities, sponsorships, television coverage and access to international coaching manuals and 16mm film footage.

The ability of SACOS’ athletes not being up to scratch at the time was a fallacy, as many of the SACOS athletes, who got the opportunity during ‘sports unity’, proved themselves. Presently, the second generation of SACOS athletes (if one can call them second-generation SACOS athletes to make the point) are strutting the world stage with world records and titles to boot.

Jowaine Lategan (Parrott) of Bellville Training College races to her second win at the Wembley Twilight Fun Run.

The gentlemen in the photograph went a long way in keeping the flame of athletics alive in the community during apartheid. Adurahman ‘Maantjie’ Adams (football and rugby) and Colin Clarke (tennis) did likewise.

(From left, Abdurahman Adams, Wilfred Daniels, Colin Clarke. Front: Abdullah Gangraker and Frank van der Horst)

Wilfred Daniels

Wilfred Daniels and Pharmacist Colin Clarke conceived the idea of a mass fun run (5km and 15km) in a pharmacy in Athlone in 1988. The event had become known as the Wembley Twilight Fun Run (5pm start), and among the sports activists, the Freedom Run. 

Daniels is a former WP president and was the Western Province coach in 1988 and a former multiple middle-distance champion and record holder in 1975. And Clarke (tennis), a former SACOS executive member. He was the secretary of both organisations. Few would know that Clarke played chess for the Elsie’s River Chess Club before his rise to the top echelons of SACOS sport.

Daniels had to put together a large team of officials and administrators to get the event off the ground, which had attracted 9000 runners, predominantly from the Cape and from around the country.

Abdullah Eshack Gangraker

Thousands participated in the Wembley Twilight Fun Run which started in Belgravia Road, Athlone.

The sponsor of the event for three years, to the tune of R70 000, was Abdullah Eshack Gangraker, a well-known businessman and owner of the Wembley Group of Companies, which is famous for its Roadhouse and Wembley Whopper in Belgravia Road, Belgravia, Athlone. Gang, as he was known, attended the Gleemoor Congregational Church School opposite Wembley, Sunnyside Primary School and Alexander Sinton High School, a school known for its excellence in academics and athletics. Mr Gangraker passed on in June 2016. 

The first winners in the inaugural event in 1988 were Calvin Adams of Bokmakierie Primary School (3km for juniors), Jantjie Marthinus of the University of the Western Cape (5km), Martin Saayman of Bellville Training College (men’s 15km) and Jowaine Lategan (Parrott) of Bellville Training College in the ladies 15km.

Proven ability

Martin Saayman of Bellville Training College was the winner of the first 15km road race at the Wembley Twilight Fun Run.

The winners of the SACOS event had gone on to establish themselves during ‘sports unity’ with Marthinus winning the SA 800m title twice, adding to his collection of seven titles under Sacos, Saayman had won several road races in the Cape dispelling the myth that Sacos athletes were not up to scratch.

But significantly, the 15km distance for ladies had kept Jowaine’s interest in distance running alive as she became one of South Africa’s top Two Oceans and Comrades marathon runners.  You can count in Farwa Mentoor, the most decorated South African Ladies’ Comrades marathon runner in South Africa (road races for ladies were previously not catered for),  Donovan Wright, Melody Marcus, Owen Machelm, John September, Graham Schaffers (high jump, he held the WP record of, 2,18m during ‘sports unity’). The list is endless . . . 

Of all of the SACOS 800m runners, Shawn Abrahams, a former SA and WP senior schools 800m champion and record-holder, recorded the fastest 800m time of 1 minute and 45,03 seconds in post-apartheid South Africa which includes beating the time of the revered Freddie Williams (1:45,13, World Championships, Stuttgart in 1993), a Springbok athlete of 21 unbeaten 800m races under the banner of the South African Amateur Athletic Union and Springbok Johan Landsman, the former South African 800m runner (1:45,63) and 1500 metre record-holder (3 minutes and 33,56 seconds). Landsman had broken Johan Fourie’s SA record of 3:33,87.

The talent pool of middle-distance runners in SACOS went beyond Williams and Landsman.

Odessa Swarts’ (Krause) son, Wayde van Niekerk, the Olympic and World Record holder in the 400m probably blankets the argument.  

2 thoughts on “Wembley Twilight Fun Run kept flame of athletics alive

  • June 14, 2020 at 11:54 am
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    Dear Publisher, I am so proud to have represented Western Province athletics in the 70 s and 80s. We had so much potential and so much talent. We always had the best that South African athletics had to offer. We united under the banner of SACOS, and we were great together, officials, athletes, and the crowd.

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  • June 9, 2020 at 8:08 am
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    Dear Publisher, What is also very significant, is the fact that Freddie Williams and Jantjie Marthinus did not take time to be heard or seen when they broke ranks with SACOS. Both of them became senior SA 800m champions in their very first season of running there. This also emphazises the high standard and quality of athletes under SACOS and proved how good they were, without all those grand facilities and money.

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