South Africa: First Black Comrades Marathon Winner Runs His Final Race

Loved and Lost: Samuel Tshabalala (1957-2022)

Samuel Tshabalala made South African history in 1989 by becoming the first black Comrades Marathon winner.

The runner, born in Zamdela, Mpumalanga 65 years ago, passed away on Sunday.

Tshabalala engraved his name in the road running books by winning the down run in only his third Comrades effort.

Against all odds he won against favourite Willie Mtolo while subsequently ending Bruce Fordyce’s eight-year stranglehold on the race.

Many described his historic win as a trailblazing moment.

For his efforts he won four silver medals, including the prestigious Platinum Medal by the Comrades Marathon Association in recognition of his contribution to the Human Race Marathon.

Former Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) chairperson Mervyn Williams, who had the honour of welcoming Tshabalala over the line after the runner had clocked 5:35:31, remembers that golden moment with pride.

“It was my privilege, as chairman of the CMA, to welcome Sam over the finish line on that memorable day in 1989,” Williams said.

“Sam was indeed a gracious winner and fully deserved all the accolades as the first ‘black man’ to win the Comrades Marathon. May he rest in peace and my sincere condolences to his family.”

Mtolo said Tshabalala’s ground-breaking Comrades Marathon legacy is something that will stay with him.

“He was a very good person. We ran a great race in 1989, and remained very good friends since then. We had a lot to talk about every time that we met. I know that he was involved in assisting youngsters in his village with their running.

“That was Sam for you: helpful, encouraging, motivating, and a true inspiration. I will always remember him.”

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