Street mile runs out of favour in South Africa

THE Sacos-affiliated Western Province Amateur Athletic Union (WPAAU) provided the different forms of athletics to the disenfranchised in the Western Cape in the 1980s.

The union provided track and field, cross country, road and street mile races throughout the calendar year.

The street mile was popular on both sides of the apartheid divide during this time.

The Elsie’s River street mile in Halt Road (under the auspices of the WPAAU) was usually run midway through the track and field season in January-February and the Spartans street mile in Belgravia Road at the end of March -April.

A third street mile was held in Robert Sobukwe (Modderdam Road) in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Hennie Moses relaxes while all the Western Province athletes and bus driver wait for the petrol station to open for business on the occasion of the SAAAB Track and Field meeting in Durban in 1983.

The season started in October and usually ended two weeks after the Easter Holidays, climaxing in the South Africa Amateur Athletic Board’s Track and Field meeting which brought together the best athletes from the SAAAB (clubs), SATTCSA (colleges) and SASSSA (high schools).

The rest of the competition comprised of WPAAU (clubs) and WPSSSU (high schools) invitational athletic teams.

Hennie Moses

Hennie Moses of Ceres probably had the best chance of repeatedly breaking the sub-four-minute mile barrier.

For some peculiar reason, Moses vanished off the athletics scene, having dominated the 1500m, 5000m and 10 000m races. His time of 3 minutes 47, 1 seconds in the 1500m stood out as a SAAAB record in 1983. Hennis Moses, in peak physical prowess, was awesome to watch and no one, but no one, could hold a candle to him.

Mzoli Ngcawuzele

With this time and many sub-four-minute times over the metric distance, Moses was ideally placed to run a sub-four-minute mile.

Regarded, in the late 1970s, as a much younger athlete, Moses battled to beat athletes of the calibre of Mzoli Ngcawuzele of Gugulethu.

Moses was better than his home-town friend Jantjie Marthinus in the 1500m who concentrated on the 800m – a distance where Marthinus made his mark in Sacos and during unity in 1990 and 1991 when he won the SA 800m, in addition to his seven titles in Sacos.

Jantjie Marthinus (87) leads the field in the senior men’s 800m at the SAAAB Prestige meeting at the Vygieskraal stadium in 1986.

Marthinus has also won the street mile race on more occasions than any other athlete in the fold of Sacos with a best of 4 minutes and 00,3 seconds in 1988. On the day, the race attracted a quality field of athletes in Cecil Witbooi of Ravensmead, Martin Saayman of Bellville (the teachers’ college), Tobias Philander of Elsie’s River, Freddie Damon of UWC, Hermanus Williams of Elsie’s River, David Snyders and John September (both of Trafalgar).

Hermanus Williams

The honour of breaking the four-minute barrier fell to Hermanus Williams of the Elsie’s River Amateur Athletics Club who was the first SA Board athlete to run the street mile in under four minutes. He did so at the Elsie’s River Street Mile in Halt Road, clocking 3 minutes and 59.5 seconds in 1990.

* Moses never competed in a mile on the track or road. The closest he came to running in the mile was in the 4 X mile relay race on the track on the occasion of the first Sacos Games in 1982.

* Ngcawuzele is the owner of Mzoli’s Restaurant in Gugulethu, Cape Town’s Most Popular Tshisa Nyama Hangout and an attraction for mostly European tourists.

Valda Booysen of South Peninsula was the top senior ladies 800m athlete in the 1980s.

Park runs

These days, in the Cape, athletics is dominated by road running from 5km Saturday-morning park runs to the popular SAD and Two Oceans half marathons.

But none of the new clubs have on its schedule a street mile.

The street mile, under the auspices of the Sacos-affiliated Western Province Amateur Athletics Union (WPAAU), used to be run in Belgravia Road and hosted by the Spartans Amateur Athletic Club. The race started from Honeyside Road and finished near the Wembley food emporium.

Elsie’s River

Further afield, the mile was held at UWC in Modderdam Road (now Robert Sobukwe) and the highly popular street mile was hosted by the Elsie’s River Amateur Athletic Club in Halt Road.

Even on the track, the mile receded into the background and only lately has the race been revived in the Diamond League.

Internationally, the New York street mile was popular universally, but that too is hardly heard of these days (The 5th Avenue Mile).

The senior men  athletes in Sacos included athletes of the calibre of Jantjie Marthinus, Freddie Damon, O’Neil Simpson, Hermanus Williams, Harold Adams, Hendrik Klaase, Edwin Roems, Brian Jonas (of Eastern Province) Michael Toll, Tobias Philander, Martin Saayman, Sammy Claasen, Moos Hartnick, John September, Jurie Swartz, Keith Meyer and Donovan Wright.

Isaac Opperman, Tessa Hefele, and Jantjie Marthinus.

Theo Desmore

The junior men had Theo Desmore, Isaac Opperman, Lee Arends, Colin Francke, Mark Frank, Ebenezer Felix, Stephen Cloete, Jerome de Mornay, Norman Carelse, Jethro Louw, Emeraan Ishmail, Ronald Williams, and Desmond Petersen in their ranks.
Desmore (Trafalgar school and club) is remembered for breaking the boys under 17 800m record (1:56,4) of Freddie Williams at the Athlone Stadium in 1990. He had the presence and stride of a Joaquim Cruz, the Brazillian gold medallist in the 800m at the 1984 Olympics.

The ladies and junior ladies athletes included Valda Booysen, Anita Witbooi, Sharon Klein, Tessa Hefele, Constance Stuurman, Jowaine Lategan, Gadija Dawood, and Priscila Windwaai.

At the age of 13, Hefele became the youngest athlete to win the Elsie’s River street mile and hold the senior women’s 800m record (2 mins 13,6 secs) simultaneously in 1985. The street mile was the launch pad for Hefele’s illustrious athletics career. It was there where Robin April had taken her ‘for a try out’ on the advice of Cecil Blows who was a friend of Hefele’s father, Aubrey Hefele.

One thought on “Street mile runs out of favour in South Africa

  • December 23, 2018 at 10:03 am

    Dear Publisher, This was a good read, exciting to read and see photos of yesteryear’s heroes.


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