• Thathe Msimango

AMPU President Bester hits back at detractors as clubs push a motion of no confidence

Updated: May 8

A storm is brewing in the east as clubs in the embattled Athletics Mpumalanga (AMPU) are pushing a motion of no confidence against their Road Running Chairman Pietér Botes and his entire commission saying they are not looking after their interests and are failing to promote discipline in the province. The uproar came after the regional federation chose not to send a team to represent them a the last week's SA Half Marathon Championship in Gqeberha.


Bester (right) poses with AMPU athletes during happier times at SA Champs. Photo Credit: Johanita Els Bester.

In the circular which AMPU sent to the various clubs on the 28th of April, they explain that in the absence of road races caused by the Covid19 pandemic, the federation was forced to use track and field results to determine which athletes could represent the province at the SA 21km. Their calculations concluded that no athlete manage to meet stringent qualifying criteria set aside by Athletics South Africa (ASA), therefore a squad wasn't sent to The Windy City. #TheTopRunner spoke to AMPU President Paul Bester over the phone, who denied the accusations saying certain people are pushing an agenda which will not benefit the sport.

"We came across those type of comments from people who posted on Facebook," said Bester. "Pity, I'm not angry because all these people who released that stuff via social media are not even living in the province. How can you be certain about things that don't concern you? Road running is the discipline we love in the province. The reason we didn't sent the team was because no athletes managed to meet the criteria set by Athletics South Africa. Remember with Covid19, ASA required male athletes to run 1:04 to limit the field. Then, tell me, which Mpumalanga athlete can run that time? No one. The best guy can run 1:07, but sadly that's not good enough. But those who are willing to go ahead with the motion of no confidence they can do so. Besides, it's not like we were only province not represented in Port Elizabeth so people must not make a big deal about it."


Bester with ASA President Aleck Skhosana. Photo Credit: Colleen McNally.

Bester further adds that clubs should not use Glenrose Xaba to fight their battles because she left the province to seek better competition and opportunities not because AMPU failed to take care of her. Xaba, who is currently 10 000m SA Champion and the SA 21km Champion after winning in PE was born in Emalahleni but left the province to study in Pretoria four years ago and now runs for Athletics Gauteng North( AGN). And it's not just Xaba. Over the years the province has lost a lot of talent including Sibusiso Kubheka who chose to wear KwaZulu-Natal Athletics( KZNA) colours. Kubheka is from Amersfoort (near the KZN town of Newcastle) and recently placed inside top 10 in SA 21km Champs. Despite the loss of athletes to other provinces, Bester argues that elite road runners in the province enjoy a privilege that other disciplines don't get as they promote it more.


"I hate when clubs use Glenrose (Xaba) as the talent we lost over the years," said Bester. "We did a lot of things for her while she was running under the province. We helped her to get her matric certificate. I'm the one that organised things for her to further studies in Pretoria. Road runners don't even pay a cent when representing the province at the SA Champs but with the Track & field and Cross Country it is different as we require them to meet us half way in terms of fees to cover the cost. Elite Road runners get free shoes and we assist them with food as most of them are not working. Please tell me which province does that?" said a furious Bester.


Bester with former AMPU athlete and reigning SA 21km Champion Glenrose Xaba. Photo Credit: Johanita Els Bester.

But Mpumalanga top runner Moses Mahlanga labeled the claims made by Bester as a blatant lie. The 30-year-old athlete, who was the province's sole representative at the SA Track and Field Championships in Pretoria in April says AMPU failed to communicate and notify athletes about the selection of the squad. He further accuses the federation selector Johanita Bester of twisting the situation to protect the federation.


Paul with his wife Johanita Els Bester. Photo Credit: Johanita Els Bester.

"It was sad that I wasn't able to represent the province as I trained hard for the SA Champs," explains a disappointed Mahlangu. "I ran in Pretoria during SA Track & Field Champs in the 10 000m event and came position 8. So do you think the time of 30:22 wasn't good enough to send me to the run SA Half? The situation is always like this in my province. The selector Johanita called me a couple of times asking me on how the training is looking like. I replied that things are good. Paul (Bester) promised us a race so we can qualify, did it happen? In the end, Johanita said she tried to call me but the phone was answered by someone else. How come because I have using the same number since 2014? Why did she dial another cellphone number? She even sent proof that she spoke for over two minutes with that person. For over two minutes without her recognizing my voice? She making excuses because the federation is failing to look after us." he added.

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