HOWICK — “It always gives me great pleasure to be surrounded by the beautiful children of our land. Whenever I am with energetic young people such as yourselves I feel like a recharged battery, confident that our country can look forward to great things. You are the future of this country — you are the people who will lead us into the next century.”
Nelson Mandela said these words at the Food for Life festival in Durban in 1997, but he could well have been talking to the children taking part in Saturday’s Mandela Day Youth Run which forms an integral part of the Mandela Day Marathon sports weekend.
Mandela’s love of children is well documented, and it is well known that he started the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and donated a third of his salary to the fund while in office as the first democratically elected President of South Africa, so it is natural that an annual weekend of sporting activities that bears his name should include a youth-specific event.
The youth race takes place from Lions River with 2 100 young children finishing their 3,6km run at the Capture Site, the venue around which most of the weekend’s Mandela Day Marathon activities are centred.
The main event of the Mandela Day Marathon weekend is the road running races on Sunday, August 25, with runners able to choose from a 42km standard marathon from Pietermaritzburg to the Mandela Capure Site, a 21km half marathon from Hilton, or a 10km event which starts in Howick. On Saturday there will be thousands more competitors in the kids race from Lions River, the trail run and mountain biking events which start and finish at the Capture Site, and a triathlon at nearby Midmar.
According to the Mandela Day Marathon Race Director, Johan van Staden, the 2 100 youngsters in the youth race are drawn from the seven municipalities in the area and will be taken to the event by buses organised by the youth race sponsor, the KZN Department of Sport and Recreation.
While there is over R3 million in prizemoney for the various events over the weekend, the children’s races do not offer prizes, although the top three runners will win trophies and all athletes will get medals and a T-shirt.
The youth event is not so much about winning and losing, but rather about furthering the aims and ideals of Nelson Mandela and developing what the Nobel Peace prize winner described as South Africa’s greatest asset.
At the dedication of the Qunu and Nkalane Schools in 1995, Mandela said: “Our children are the rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation. They will be the leaders of our country, the creators of our national wealth who care for and protect our people.”