Firemen back on Soweto tracks for colleagues

Three firemen ran last year's Soweto Marathon in honour of co-workers who died in a blaze. /Jetline Photography
Three firemen ran last year's Soweto Marathon in honour of co-workers who died in a blaze. /Jetline Photography

Three Johannesburg firefighters who ran the Soweto Marathon in their service gear last year in remembrance of their fallen colleagues will be doing it again this year.

Nhlakanipho Khoza, 23, Siphiwe Tshabalala, 26, and Nkosi Nzolo, 32, have decided to make running the marathon a tradition to remember the three firemen who died at the Bank of Lisbon building in the Johannesburg CBD last year.

The deceased firemen - Mduduzi Ndlovu, Simphiwe Moropane and Khathutshelo Muedi - lost their lives while battling a raging fire which had engulfed the building.

Now their colleagues, who completed last year's race, are preparing for another take - albeit without their service gear this year.

"For us it [running the Soweto Marathon last year] was a proud moment. It was the most meaningful moment of my life," said Khoza about completing the tough 42.2km race in the township. "They [the deceased] are heroes and are our brothers. So they are worth celebrating."

Khoza, from the Jabulani Fire Station in Soweto, said they were committed to using the marathon to educate people about their job and the many challenges they face on a daily basis. "This job is not for everyone. You need to have many qualities such as emotional intelligence ... and we want to educate people about this career," said Khoza.

Last year, the trio had to get special permission from the organisers of the race to compete because they had already missed the deadline. They only had two months to prepare for the gruelling race.

"We thought that because we are firefighters and are already fit we would be prepared. But we had to work hard to become ready.

"Because we were going to be running in our gear, which is very heavy and hot, we had to prepare for those conditions," he said.

Khoza said they had to run during the day to get used to running under hot conditions.

"We started off running in normal gym gear but started adding clothes and jackets as we proceeded. We had to give up junk food and keep very well hydrated," he said.

However, the young firefighter said this year they will not run in their gear because they want to enjoy the race and the good vibe.

"Last year, we had to pause a lot [during the race] because the equipment was too heavy. We were worried that we wouldn't finish the race on time," he said.

"We also considered quitting at times but because we're not quitters we managed to finish the race," Khoza said.

He said they hoped that more firefighters will join the marathon this year in honour of their fallen brothers.

"Last year, a lot of our colleagues said they wished they had joined us. This is a culture we want to build with the EMS [Emergency Medical Services]," he said.

Chairperson of the Soweto Marathon Trust Sello Khunou said the continued participation by the firefighters was proof that the Soweto Marathon was the "People's Race". "Their participation raises awareness on fires and them coming back for the second time sets a precedent for this to become a tradition," said Khunou.

The Soweto Marathon will take place on November 3. Entries to the race close on July 31.

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