Take a look. The scar from the bullet cuts across Josia
Thugwane's chin. No, don't stare. Try to be subtle. Wait until
the photographer asks him to pose facing the industrial ugliness
of the Koornfontein Mines or until Thugwane picks up his
three-year-old daughter, Zandi, as she goes into one of her
opera-diva pouts. There. Take a look.
See the direction the bullet traveled? The angle? Not many scars
look like this one. This is almost a groove in the flesh, maybe
an inch long, slicing left to right. If, say, Thugwane's face
were constructed of cement, you would say that some ill-mannered
kid had pushed a finger across it while it was still wet. This,
instead, was a finger of speeding lead. Some kid pulled a
trigger on a jostled gun and let the bullet rip.
Thugwane (pronounced tug-WAN-e) will describe the situation, no
problem, except he will do it in Ndebele, his tribal language,
which sounds a lot like Zulu. Do you know Zulu? His tongue will
click in the back of his mouth in the middle of some sentences,
click here, click there, and sometimes a phrase in English--a
brand name or a simple direction, such as "Castle beer" or
"turned right"--will jump into the middle of the conversation.
Sometimes a harsh Afrikaans word such as bakkie, the word for
pickup truck, will be added to the mix.
The confrontation took place inside Thugwane's bakkie. A Mazda.
He had stopped to give a ride to three hitchhikers, one of whom
he recognized. This is a normal event in black South Africa. The
hitchhiker he recognized went, instead, to a Nissan Sentra that
stopped behind the bakkie. The two strangers climbed into the
bakkie. Thugwane started driving. The Nissan followed. A BMW
pulled in front and drove slowly. Something felt strange to
Thugwane. One of the men pulled a gun, presumably to steal the
bakkie. This is also a normal event in black South Africa.
Thugwane reacted. He hit the gas and turned the wheel hard one
way, then hard the other way. The bakkie swerved and jumped.
Thugwane turned the wheel again. One of the hitchhikers fired.
"I didn't feel anything," Thugwane says through an interpreter.
"No pain. But the bullet went through the windshield after it
touched me, and I saw blood everywhere. I grabbed the door
handle. The truck was still going. I opened the door and got
free of my seat belt and jumped."
What would have happened if the gun had been knocked just an
inch in another direction? Half an inch? What if Thugwane had
not jumped clear of the truck? The vagaries of life sometimes
leave overwhelming questions in their wake. There would have
been no Atlanta for him five months later, no triumphant run
into the Olympic Stadium at the end of the marathon on that
Sunday morning, his arms stretched to the sky, this 5'2",
97-pound man suddenly a symbol of all the emergent hopes of his
rehabilitated nation. History! The first black man from South
Africa to win a gold medal! There would have been none of that.
Take a look at Thugwane again. Take a look at the entire face
this time. This is the face of his country, the face of "the
golden boy of South Africa," according to President Nelson
Mandela. The innocence is there: Thugwane was a 25-year-old
long shot who traveled across years of neglect, generations of
change, in a single run of two hours, 12 minutes and 36 seconds
through the streets of a faraway land. The confusion is there:
Thugwane is an uneducated tribal man brought into a
buttoned-down world of commerce and contracts. The pride is
there: He is a champion at last, his potential set free by the
end of apartheid, by the first open South African elections, in
1994, and by rich resources and opportunities available at last
to the bulk of the downtrodden people who live in this land.
Here is the face of the man who beat every other man in the
biggest event of the biggest athletics carnival ever held. Here
is what South Africa can be, and here is what South Africa is. A
groove from a bullet is still the face's most noticeable feature.
"Is it possible to go back to the place where you were attacked,
where you are still afraid?" you ask. "Can we see where you
"We may go," Thugwane says, "but first we must get a security
Take his trip with him, see the unique route he has followed.
Take the security guard, too. Thugwane still fears that someone
is out there, waiting with a gun.
MZINONI TOWNSHIP, SOUTH AFRICA
The rolling plains of grass are brown now. This is early spring.
The rainy season will come at the end of November, and the veld
will turn green for the start of summer in December. Somewhere
in the middle of all this grass, about 120 miles east of
Johannesburg, is where Thugwane lived as a boy. If you squint
you can see little clusters of shacks or huts, sometimes
indicated by a curl of smoke stretching from an open fire to the
blue sky. Thugwane lived in one of those shacks, growing up the
Ndebele way, untouched by state-run schools or much of modern
"The Afrikaners still own the lands," the security man, Faro
Makhubedu, says. "A black man can live on the land, but he must
work for the Afrikaner for food to feed his family. The black
man not only must work, but he must provide a son to work. If
the black man becomes sick or if he dies, a son must replace
him. Even if the man has worked 30 or 40 years, if there is no
one to replace him, the family must leave the land. It is not
good, that rule. How can people be made to leave like that? If
their grandfathers already have been buried in the land? It is
something we are trying to change now. It is not fair."
Makhubedu is a black man, a Christian. He wears sunglasses and a
narrow-brimmed hat. His 38-caliber revolver is stuffed
inconspicuously in his brown pants, underneath his white shirt.
He and Thugwane both work for Koornfontein, the mining company
located maybe 30 miles to the north.
The mines--coal here, then gold and then diamonds as you travel
south and west from the province of Mpumalanga--have been for
blacks the traditional alternative to laboring for Afrikaner
farmers. The choice has been a grim toss-up, with low wages,
dangerous working conditions and lowered life expectancy in the
mines matched against the insecurities of life on the veld.
There have been gradual improvements in mine work with the rise
of labor unions and with concessions made by the companies since
the end of apartheid, but the mines are still not a great place
to punch a time clock. Thugwane was making approximately $330 a
month before the Olympics.
The traditional black alternative to living on the veld has been
living in townships, the legislated, segregated holding pens of
apartheid. Another grim choice. Makhubedu stands in Thugwane's
front yard as he looks at the plains in the distance. If he
shifts his focus, looks directly across the dusty street, he can
see five cows eating from a garbage dump. Thugwane's house is a
four-room shack of corrugated tin at the edge of a grid of
shacks. Thousands of shacks. There is no electricity, no running
water in this part of Mzinoni Township, though Thugwane has
added his own electricity with a small generator. The only
permanent structures in sight are the concrete outhouses behind
every shack. There are no street names, only numbers for each
plot of land. Thugwane's is number 7037.
"You call this a stand, the plot of land," the security man
says. "If you want to live here, you request a stand from the
township. Your name goes on a list. You wait. And then you are
called. The township carves out a boundary and builds an
outhouse. The township will service the outhouse and clean the
road--that is it. Everything else you must do yourself. Do they
have places such as this in America?"
Thugwane says, "I built the house myself, with help from
another guy, when I decided to get married. It took us four,
maybe five days."
Ownership of the house, sagging on one side because the plot of
land is not level, until recently was Thugwane's biggest symbol
of success. This was what he had gained from running and
winning. Money was why he began to run races in the first place.
Money was why he continued. Agonizingly small amounts of money.
This corrugated box was what the money bought.
Until he was 17, Thugwane played soccer. He was so small, he
knew he would go nowhere in the sport. He looked for options and
noticed that road races paid prize money. That looked promising.
Hadn't he always run, run everywhere, easy and fast, run across
the fields for miles simply to see a friend or to buy a snack?
He decided to take the sport seriously. He bought running shoes.
It was not a simple matter.
"I did not have the money for new shoes, but there was a guy, he
had a pair of shoes, the same size as mine," Thugwane says. "He
said he would sell them to me for 180 rand [about $40]. They had
not been used much. He said he would let me pay a little bit,
then a little bit, then a little bit. I ran races, and if I won
any money, I gave it to him for the shoes. The final payment, I
won 75 rand by winning a half marathon. Then a sport shop sold
me shoes, Nike, the same deal. I finished fifth in a marathon at
Sun City. I won 700 rand. I paid off those shoes."
His running gained him a job at the mines. The companies
traditionally have had sports programs, mine against mine, and
athletic success was a way to a job. Not a good job, perhaps,
but a job. Thugwane worked in the kitchen of the workers'
cafeteria. He ran with the mine's team in workouts and in races.
He ran on his own. He had no coach, really. He added an agent,
Tony Longhurst, an Englishman then living in South Africa, to
find him better races. Longhurst sent along instructions on
training procedures and eating habits, but Thugwane basically
worked on his own.
By fall 1993 he had received a bit of international notice. He
had finished third in Israel in the Dead Sea Marathon early that
year, then won the South African Marathon. He had made some
money. He quit the mines for three months, quit running. He went
to be circumcised. He was 22.
"I had to go to school," he says, declining to offer graphic
description. "I wanted to be married. I wanted to do it right.
If I were to be married, I had to go to school."
"School" was the ingoma, the Ndebele tribal initiation rite for
young men. The candidates are circumcised on the first day of
the ordeal. The job is done with an okapi, a pocket knife, by a
tribal elder. There is no medication involved. Salt is rubbed on
the wound as the only antiseptic. The candidates then live in
small huts, wearing loincloths, performing various rituals for
three months. Mostly they try to heal.
"The first weeks are, above all, a mystical endurance test,"
author Ivor Powell explains in his book Ndebele: A People and
Their Art. "If you die, if your penis gets infected, your blood
was 'bad.' Such bad blood can result from floutings of taboo
dating generations back, or it can be the consequence of
personal sins against tradition.... Thus does the tribe explain
the mortality rate among initiates which we would ascribe to the
shockingly unhygienic conditions of the circumcision."
Thugwane survived. His blood apparently was good. He married a
young woman named Zodwa, and soon they had Zandi, their first
daughter. He built their house on stand number 7037 and built
another shack next to it, from which he began to sell beer to
neighbors for extra money. A township bar like this is called a
shebeen. Thugwane owned a shebeen. This was important, because
his job at the mines had been given to someone else. He was
offered a job underground, but he rejected it because he feared
the effect on his running of coal dust in his lungs. Running was
now his major career.
He won a marathon in Pretoria in December 1993, finished 14th in
a marathon in Korea in early 1994, won the Foot of Africa
Marathon, in Bredasdorp, at the end of the year. The mine called
him back, saying that he didn't have to work underground, that
he could be a maintenance man cleaning the hostels where many of
the workers lived. In 1995, four weeks after cold weather and
dehydration forced him to drop out of the New York City Marathon
after 18 miles, he raced in Honolulu and won.
His goal after that simply was to make South Africa's Olympic
team. Since he had not finished in New York, a major South
African qualifying race, he had only one chance: He had to win
the South African championship. The three-man Olympic marathon
team already was set. A substitution could be made only if
someone not on the team won the South African title. Thugwane
was the someone. His time was 2:11:46. "There was no choice," he
says. "I had to finish first. Or nothing."
Everything seemed perfect. His wife had given birth to their
second daughter, Thandiwe. He was back at the mines. He had
spent some money to buy the bakkie, which he could use to bring
supplies to his shebeen. He was going to the Olympics. He was
flourishing. Two weeks after he qualified for the Games he was
driving the bakkie, looking to purchase some cows to finish off
the payment of his lobola, the bridal fee that a Ndebele man
must eventually surrender to the parents of his bride. The fee
was eight cows and 1,000 rand. He stopped to pick up the
"I went to the police, not the hospital," he says, describing
what happened after he was shot. "They didn't do anything. I
told them who had done this, because I recognized one of the
three men. They still didn't do anything. How can this be? We
found the bakkie on the other side of the township. It had run
out of gas. Witnesses told the police who had left it there. The
police said this part of the township was beyond their
jurisdiction. They did nothing."
He believes the entire grim business was about beer and success.
Before he got the bakkie Thugwane had bought his beer from the
owner of a township liquor store, a local businessman who could
deliver the beer to Thugwane's shebeen. Once Thugwane had the
bakkie he could buy his supplies from the distributor himself
for a lower price and make a larger profit. The liquor-store
owner was not pleased. Not with the beer. Not with Thugwane's
success. Perhaps there were others, jealous of his fortune,
waiting for their chance.
"I was scared," Thugwane says. "Threats were brought to me after
the incident. I was told that I would be killed. This is a place
where threats are serious. I was scared for my family. I did not
want to leave them alone, but what could I do? I could only
trust in God."
The trip to the Olympics did not seem as inviting as it once had.
"Josia was not the only one who was scared," South African
marathoner Lawrence Peu says. "We all were scared. We all had
families back home. We were gone, and it was public knowledge.
Anyone could come to our houses and do anything. It was very
easy for them."
There were four black runners and a white coach-manager, Jacques
Malan, in the marathon team's three-bedroom apartment on Eubank
Avenue in Albuquerque. They were all together for two months of
training at altitude to prepare for Atlanta. They ate together,
slept together, ran together, worried together.
The violence they left behind could not be forgotten. The
oft-stated statistic is that Johannesburg's murder rate is four
to five times higher than New York's. Razor wire or electric
fences encircle homes everywhere in South Africa. The weapons
stockpiled by liberation fighters have been sold, many to
criminals. The fastest-rising crime in South Africa is
carjacking. Everyone seems to have a story.
"On August 16, 1991, I had taken nine runners to the South
African cross-country championships," Malan says. "I was
bringing them home, to Soweto, next to Johannesburg. The road
that leads into the township has a curve and hits a T. Three men
were standing there in the middle of the road. I didn't think
anything of it. They turned around, and they had AK-47s. They
"My girlfriend was sitting next to me, in the front passenger
seat. One bullet went through her shoulder. Another grazed her
cheek. I threw her on the seat. The criminals made us get out of
the car and said strange things, that we were police agents or
something. We said we were runners. They let us go. We started
to run. Then they noticed that the immobilizer had gone on in
the van. The van couldn't move. They said they were going to
start firing. I turned around, walked back and gave them the
keys. I didn't know what would happen. They just got in the van
and drove it away. That was what they wanted."
The apartment in Albuquerque was a refuge from all of this, but
the highlight of every day was a trip to neighbor John
Bednarski's house to use the telephone. How were things back
home? Was everybody safe? Each runner made his call. The other
runners, waiting, played with Bednarski's six-month-old
granddaughter, Sonia, and thought of their own children.
Thugwane was the loneliest. This was the longest time he had
ever spent away from home. He was the one who wanted to put his
bed on blocks, to keep the evil spirits on the ground and away
from him, and was talked out of it. He was the one who arrived
with shoulder-length hair, dreadlocks, and was talked into a
haircut. He was the one who had a wicked toothache two weeks
into camp and had three teeth extracted and received a T-shirt
that said I HAD MY TEETH PULLED BY DR. TRAUB.
"I don't think he ever had been coached under a real program
before," Malan says. "He kept saying, 'My legs don't hurt. We
must not be doing enough work.' I kept telling him we were
running 110, 120 miles a week. That was more than enough."
The four runners were from different tribes. Thugwane was
Ndebele. Peu was Pedi. Xolile Yawa was Xhosa. Gert Thys simply
was "colored," the longtime South African legal term for those
of mixed ancestry. The runners' favorite meal every night was
phutu, a porridge that is something like grits. They had brought
the grains for the phutu with them but found that each tribe
likes the dish prepared a different way. They rotated in
preparing the phutu.
Their lives were limited mostly to running, sleeping, eating and
watching television. They slept 13 hours a day. They made one
social excursion during the two months, a trip to the movies in
a beat-up 1980 Chevy Impala. They saw The Nutty Professor.
Thugwane laughed out loud again and again. He did not understand
a word of the dialogue.
Sex was not an issue. They were "camping," their term for
abstaining before a big race. This was the biggest race of all.
"We had to argue with our Olympic committee just to go to
Albuquerque," Malan says. "This had never been done before with
South African marathoners. It wasn't until the week before we
were scheduled to leave that the Olympic committee freed up the
funds. There were a lot of people who thought this was a waste
"We told each other, all the time we were there, that someone
must win a medal," Peu says. "It didn't matter who. We had to
prove ourselves to our own Olympic committee."
Peu was the alternate. Only three runners could compete. After
two months everyone else seemed to be running well, so Peu
decided to run a half marathon in Paris. A day before he was
supposed to fly from New York, he changed his mind. He would
stay in Albuquerque longer and prepare for another half marathon
back in South Africa. He was sitting with Malan in the living
room the next day, watching television, when the news came
across the screen that TWA Flight 800 had exploded over the
waters off Long Island. That was Peu's flight.
"My body just went cold," Malan says.
"I was not so bothered," Peu says. "I think that your destiny is
your destiny. The spirits decide."
Seven days before the Olympic marathon, the spirits decided that
Peu should run. Yawa suffered a stress fracture in his left leg.
Peu was the replacement. He had trained the previous three weeks
for the half marathon, skipping the long runs, but that was all
right. The goal was not necessarily a medal for him but a medal
for someone. By now the goal looked close.
"Everyone in Albuquerque was saying that we would win a medal,"
Malan says. "We had been training very well. Sometimes we would
run with other runners during our workouts. The Germans. The
Russians. The British. Our guys always would move to the front.
Our guys always ran farther. Josia was very big on this. He
didn't want anyone in front of us. He is an aggressive,
Malan thought Thys had the best chance. He had the most
experience. He was running well at camp. The runners
participated in the opening ceremonies, then flew back to
Albuquerque and did not return to Atlanta until three days
before the marathon, which took place on the final day of the
Games. Malan was worried that the excitement of the Olympic
Village would distract the runners. He was right. On the morning
of the race he no longer thought Thys was the choice.
"I saw him at the track, watching events, at 11 o'clock the
night before," the coach says. "I said, 'What are you doing?' He
said there was no problem. At 1:30 in the morning there was a
disturbance in the hall in the dormitory at the Village. I got
up and was going to tell the people to keep it down, that there
were guys here who were going to run a marathon in the morning.
There was Thys. He was still up. At four o'clock, when we woke
him--the race was to start at seven--he wanted to sleep. It was
The plan was to run a hard but not killing pace. This was based
on the women's marathon, run a week earlier and won by Fatuma
Roba of Ethiopia. The South Africans wanted to do exactly what
she had done, run fast enough to burn away the fast closers in
the field but not so fast as to fall apart. Peu was supposed to
control the early work, because he had trained for the half
marathon and probably would fade at twice that distance.
Thugwane was the major hope.
"Lawrence was supposed to run in the middle of the lead group,
because that is where the most body heat is," Malan says. "Josia
and Gert were supposed to be on different sides, where it is
easier to run. We wanted all three runners in front as long as
possible, able to communicate, able to help each other."
The plan worked. All three came to the front after the crowded
start. All three stayed in the lead group. All three helped.
Their major worry in the field was Lee Bong-Ju of Korea. Lee
made his move at 15 1/2 miles, breaking out to a 20-yard lead.
Thys went out to cover him. Peu followed. Lee dropped back,
seeing that he could not escape. Thugwane joined his teammates.
For a brief moment they were in the lead, one-two-three across
the street in a line of green-and-gold uniforms. Three men who,
until four years earlier, could not have competed for their
country. Three black men from South Africa who, five years ago,
all the way back in history, could not have competed anywhere
but in local races that were not even known to the outside
world. It was a picture. All three had grown up on the veld,
then worked for mines.
"I dropped back first," says Peu, who finished 27th. "I lost
contact. In the Olympics, when this happens, your spirit sort of
disappears. The only prizes are for the first three. I kept
running, and after a while I passed Thys [who finished 33rd]. He
was tired. When I reached the stadium, I didn't know what had
happened. Had I missed Josia? I didn't know if he had dropped
out or what. I looked for South African flags in the stands, and
then I started to see them. I started to think that something
good had happened, but I did not know. When I got to the
changing room, I still did not know. I saw Josia. There were
people around him. 'Did you get a medal?' I asked. 'I got
first,' he said."
He had made his move at the last water stop, about a mile from
the finish, skipping the water and leaving Lee and Eric Wainaina
of Kenya, the last two contenders, behind him. He controlled the
race until the end, although Lee finished within three seconds
of him for silver. Running the victory lap ever so slowly,
wearing his sunglasses and a smile, Thugwane held aloft the new
flag of his reborn country.
Celebrations took place at the mine, where Shift B had stopped
for the race. Celebrations took place in the township, where
Thugwane's family had watched the race on a television powered
by the generator.
Not since Jesse Owens won four gold medals in Berlin in 1936 had
a more powerful racial statement been made on an Olympic track.
Celebrations, parades and receptions in South Africa would
continue for two weeks after Thugwane's return. Tribal dancers
would gather around him and chant praise poems about his deed.
Mandela would shake his hand.
"This is for my country," Thugwane said at the press conference
in Atlanta after his victory. "This is for my president. I'm
grateful I have this opportunity. It is an indication to others
that if we work hard, all of us have equal opportunity, not like
in the past."
He bought a CD player that day to celebrate his great win. A CD
player and 30 CDs.
BLINKPAN, SOUTH AFRICA
He lives now on a trim, paved street of middle-class homes
located next to the Koornfontein Mines property. The house is
owned by ESCOM, the power company, whose fat cooling towers for
the coal plant nearby look as if they have been left behind by
extraterrestrials. The neighborhood was all
white--"traditionally white" is the euphemism used now--before
the end of apartheid changed everything. It is mixed now.
The mine has rented the house for Thugwane and his family.
Because of the death threats, he had pleaded with the
Koornfontein executives to move his family while he was in
Albuquerque, but nothing happened until he won the gold medal.
His wife and children were moved the next day. Guards were
stationed at the new house, around the clock, for a couple of
weeks. There are no guards now. Thugwane is not happy with that.
The mining company has promised to buy him a house, but no deal
has been struck.
"I picked out three houses I like," he says, "but the people at
the mine tell me nothing. I say, 'Tell me the difference between
what you want to spend and the house I want. We can go from
"He will have his house, but it will take time, and it may not
be exactly what he is thinking," says Ray Dibden, personnel
director and organizer of the track team at the mine. "Josia has
some unreal expectations, I believe. He doesn't understand so
much about houses, about taxes, about the costs of a house. He
will be moving to Middelberg, a traditionally white
neighborhood. We don't want him overwhelmed by costs that he
Actually Thugwane is not too sure what his expectations should
be. He has heard a lot of promises, shaken a lot of hands, but
not much has happened in the two months since his win. There
have been estimates that he could make as much as $5 million in
endorsement income and appearance fees over the next four years
as a national hero, an Olympic champion, an international star.
He has not seen many advances on that money. A new
Mercedes-Benz, part of the reward for his gold medal, came with
costly payments for shipping and incidentals. He turned it down.
His flashiest new possession is a cellular phone. He carries it
"We are fully in charge of the situation," says Banele Sindani,
secretary general of Athletics South Africa (ASA), the governing
body of South African track and field. "We are making sure that
Josia will not be shortchanged. We have a vested interest in his
welfare. We will see that every dollar that he earns goes into
Is this true? It is a curious situation. The government has
taken control of his career. He signed two separate contracts
with U.S.-based agents--one in 1991 with Longhurst, another the
day after his win in Atlanta with Luis Felipe Posso of
Tampa--but both have been invalidated by ASA. Sindani says that
ASA will find Thugwane an agent in due time, "possibly at the
end of November," when an ASA panel will hear all propositions.
ASA will take care of business until then.
"We are concentrating on the major endorsements," Sindani says.
"There will be four or five of them, companies who get the whole
package: the television, the personal appearances, everything.
We will have those in place by the time we interview the agents.
The one who is selected will handle the rest: the lesser
endorsements, the race schedule, the other things."
There is not even a shoe contract now. The Olympic marathon
champion does not have a shoe contract! High schools in the U.S.
have shoe contracts! Thugwane wears Reebok some days, Nike other
days--whatever is around the house. Adidas apparently has great
interest in him. The agents sniff a foul smell around the delay.
ASA says it sniffs a foul smell around the agents. None of this
"Josia is being pulled from pillar to post by people who don't
care about him," Longhurst says. "I feel very, very sad for the
guy. He's being raped and abused. He is probably not going to
see one third of the money. Maybe not a fourth. The thing I
worry about is the running. He is going to be dragged so many
places, he won't be able to train. The running is going to
"The last time I talked to him, maybe eight days ago, Thugwane
told me he was 'tired and confused,'" Posso says. "They have him
doing interviews every day. He is not training enough. I know
I've had calls from everywhere, from people in England, Japan,
France, the States, people who all have been to his house to do
interviews. These things have to be organized. Someone has to
help. I would like to do it...not because it would make a
difference for me, but because it would make a difference for
All of this would be hard to handle for a Harvard Business
School graduate, much less for a product of the veld and the
mines. Thugwane is not a dumb man, no, but he is a victim of
apartheid as well as a victor over it. He does not read. He does
not have good math skills. He is confronted with situations he
never imagined, decisions that are hard to make. Everyone has
advice, but he has no true adviser. Whom should he trust?
Dibden, his superior and confidant at the mine, favors
Longhurst. Malan, the coach, is employed by Posso. ASA works its
own agenda. Thugwane seems almost paralyzed by his choices.
Even the terrorizing of Thugwane's family in the township is
debated. Sindani says the matter has been settled quietly. The
measures taken cannot be discussed "for security reasons," he
says, but there will be no problem. Is that true? At least one
source says he has heard a rumor that the local government is
behind the threats, on the theory that a scared Thugwane is a
compliant Thugwane. Whom to believe? Thugwane knows only that he
still hears about the threats. He is still nervous. He notices
that there is no fence behind his rented house, that anyone
could approach at any time.
"Josia should be nervous," Makhubedu, the security guard, says.
"There are bad people around. I have four sons, and I tell them
if they are jealous of someone owning something, say they are
jealous of someone who has a car, they should simply work as
hard as they can, and someday, if they are lucky like Josia,
they will have what they want. Some people just can't wait. They
just take what they want."
Thugwane could leave, of course. People tell him that all the
time. Posso tells him to come to the U.S., live in Albuquerque
and train. How could he do that? This place in South Africa is
what he knows. Its people are the people he knows. His mother
and father live in his old tin house in the township. His
90-year-old grandfather lives on the veld. This is the home of
his tribe, his customs, his beliefs. Where else would he fit? If
he is the face of South Africa, shouldn't he be there?
These are his roads. This is his life.
"Where do you usually run on your workouts?" the face of South
Africa is asked.
"I run all kinds of routes around here," Thugwane says, clicking
his Ndebele words to a translator. "I have different routes for
different days. I run up the coal piles for the big hills. I run
the road toward the township for the long runs, 20 kilometers to
the Oliphants River, 20 kilometers back. Sometimes I used to run
straight, the 40 kilometers to the township. I don't do that
anymore. I can't."
Take a look. Happiness should be a simpler, earthly matter.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB MARTIN Despite Thugwane's Olympic success, he still hasn't escaped the mines. [Josia Thugwane running in front of mine buildings]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB MARTIN The path of a hijacker's bullet is etched on Thugwane's chin. [Josia Thugwane]
COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON/FOCUS ON SPORTS Thys (left) and Peu helped Thugwane (trailing) catch Lee. Josia Thugwane [Gert Thys, Lee Bong-Ju, Lawrence Peu and Josia Thugwane in race]
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS In Olympic Stadium, Thugwane glimpsed certain victory. [Josia Thugwane running ahead of Lee Bong-Ju on track]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB MARTIN Thugwane built the township shanty where his parents live. [Josia Thugwane in front of corrugated building]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB MARTIN Unlike most Koornfontein miners, Thugwane has never worked underground. [Josia Thugwane surrounded by miners]
COLOR PHOTO: JULANI VD WESTHUIZEN/THE JOHANNESBURG STAR Like Mandela, Thugwane is a black pioneer. [Josia Thugwane and Nelson Mandela]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB MARTIN Thugwane (with Zandi) has a new home but an old worry: Will his family be safe? [Josia Thugwane and Zandi Thugwane]