In December 2011, a young man arrived in Hout Bay in search of a new beginning.
Like thousands of others from his native Eastern Cape, Anda Lubelwana had come to Cape Town in search of work, and with assistance of his cousin Joyce, he set about establishing a new life in Imizamo Yethu.
Having settled in, he began to notice that running was a favourite pastime of Hout Bay residents. He had always loved running as a youth, although by his own admission he had never taken it that seriously. Nevertheless, he was inspired to take up the sport despite never having had any formal coaching, let alone running shoes and other required kit.
Sporting broken formal shoes and long chino pants, he took to the streets before sunrise and after work, covering up to 32km each week day and another 40km on Sundays. The diminutive man may not have looked like an athlete, but the work he was putting in would have put many a professional road runner to shame.
As a runner himself, Hout Bay resident Charl van der Spuy could not help but be intrigued by this figure he saw tackling the roads each day. It was immediately clear that this young man “had” something in terms of his talent, but his attire needed to be addressed.
After approaching Mr Lubelwana, he pledged to help and organised him several pairs of running shoes, some of which were sponsored by New Balance. A friend also helped him join the Hout Bay Harriers running club.
Belonging to a registered club allowed Mr Lubelwana to enter world-famous events like the Two Oceans Marathon and Cape Town Marathon, and in his first Two Oceans he came in at an impressive time of three hours fifteen minutes. In 2014, two days before his second Two Oceans, his shack burnt down and he was struck with a debilitating stomach bug. While his time of four hours was some way off his 2013 performance, the fact that he still participated under these circumstances showed his commitment and determination to succeed in top-level competition.
There was a sense that it was only a matter of time before Mr Lubelwana would cast his eye towards the legendary Comrades Marathon, South African long distance running’s Holy Grail. And so it was that in 2016 he ventured to KwaZulu-Natal.
“I came in at 6:40, and placed 158th overall. I was exhausted, it was difficult, but I also felt that this was something I could do and compete with the best runners,” the quiet and affable 31-year-old told the Sentinel.
“I was in the first bunch (of runners) until about 68km before I dropped back. I also knew that I hadn’t trained properly.”
And so in the months leading up to this year’s Comrades on Sunday June 4 Mr Lubelwana stepped up his game. He covered an astonishing average of 52km a day, rising in the dark to train and returning home well after 7pm.
“Some people in IY said I was wasting my time, but I knew it would be worth it. Some friends joined me on my runs, and I was determined to succeed.”
On the day of the big race, he knew that he would put in a strong performance. “I felt good the moment we started. I was running with the leaders, and they were fast. Very fast. I was very sore, but I was able to keep up with them,” he
Back in Hout Bay, the Van der Spuy family was watching the race on television. “Suddenly we saw this little guy up with the leaders. ‘That’s Anda!’ I said. We couldn’t believe it,” said Charl van der Spuy’s wife Briony.
While Mr Lubelwana was unable to keep pace with the frontrunners, he eventually came in a very respectable 33rd in the men’s race.
Yet for Hout Bay’s latest rising star, this achievement is the tip of the iceberg. “I wanted number one or two, and I will be going for that next year.”
With his talents coming to the fore on the national stage, professional coaching could be seen as the next logical step in Mr Lubelwana’s development, but he insists he does not need any.
He believes his traditional diet of meat, vegetables and pap and a disciplined training regimen will be enough to see him through, and wants to show fans and critics, particularly in Imizamo Yethu, that a simple will to succeed can overcome the biggest odds.
“A lot of people are drinking in Imizamo Yethu, but I want to show people that a healthy lifestyle can help you achieve whatever you want to. Sport really can make a difference.”
Mr Lubelwana paid tribute to the Van der Spuy family for their assistance over the years, although Ms Van der Spuy insisted his success was all his own. “This is not about our help. We just want him to be the best he can be because he is such a good runner,” Briony said.
His cousin Joyce Lubelwana was also very proud of his achievements. “I cry with joy every time I see him run,” she said.
The kit issue remains problematic for the athlete, as the staggering distances he covers each day means that he goes through many pairs of Size 7 or 7-and-a-half running shoes a year. He is also in need of a good sports watch to measure his speed and distance.
“I want to be a professional runner one day, and my ultimate dream is to run in the Olympics one day. I am still young for a long distance runner, so I think I will get better with age.”
Those wishing to assist Mr Lubelwana’s with kit can call him on 079 266 7451 or Joyce Lubelwana on 083 942 6694.