'We are optimistic that a big sponsor will be announced soon' - Comrades Marathon Association
While the debate continues about the prize money of the world's biggest ultra marathon, reigning Comrades Marathon champion Tete Dijana says he doesn't run for money. The man from Mahikeng in the North West province stole South African hearts when he won The Ultimate Human Race in August, revealing that he had taken unpaid leave from his job as a security guard in order to prepare for the 90km dash from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.
Speaking at the launch of the 2023 race at Comrades House in Pietermaritzburg last week, the diminutive 34-year-old revealed that winning the 100-year-old race had changed his life. "There's a life before and after Comrades," he sighed upon receiving his winners jacket in front an appreciative audience of Comrades board members, sponsors and journalists.
"Before - there were ups and downs. It was not nice. It was very, very hard. But I have brothers and a sister. Every time when I had personal issues, I would share with them because sharing is very important otherwise you get depression. Even the day before Comrade I had a little issue and I told my brother Mothibi who said I shouldn't think about that - I should think about that money," he explained alluding to support he got from former winner and training partner Edward Mothibi who mentored him throughout his Comrades journey, as well as Nedbank Running Club teammate Galaletsang Mekgoe who took fifth place at Comrades.
Focusing on the R260 000 winner's purse would eventually earn him a total of R810 000 as a number of personal sponsors including Nedbank, his employer and the North West department of Sport topped up his winnings with rewards of their own. Yet the R260 000 remains a far cry from the half a million that Mothibi took home when he won the 2019 race. Most vocal about this has been 2015 Comrades champion Gift Kelehe who insists that the Comrades Marathon Association are not doing enough for athletes.
Comrades Race Director Rowyn James admits that the CMA was adversely affected by Covid-19 saying the plan is to make sure that the first man and woman to cross the finish line in Pietermartizburg in 2024 will pocket something close to half a million Rand which would represent a R200 000 increase on the 2023 race. "We are optimistic that there is a big sponsor that will be announced soon so expect the prize money to go back to what it was in 2024," he said.
It means that for next year's race at least Dijana and others will have to be content with racing for R300 000. But for Dijana who intends to use his 2022 winnings to build himself a home - that's enough for now. "I'm happy that the organizers have decided to increase the money. Although I'm not running for money, this means a lot. The money I won this year did change my life as I will build the house for my kids and invest in the future," he shared.