Makaya Masumpa, a winner of many a race over more than three decades, is something of an enigma in that he is reserved, dignified and yet always jolly to the extent that his nickname in running circles is “Smiles.”
Makaya and his running career have been extremely close to me for the best part of his post school years.
The now 52 year old Masumpa stands tall in many ways. His height is somewhat intimidating compared to the generally slight of build athletes in distance running. His longevity has him towering over even greater runners than himself and his times and records speak volumes for a man who is still running competitively, 35 years after he started as a 17 year old at school.
Speaking openly he reflects on how he got into running, who he looks up to, his own highlights, his 12 year old son and the inaugural races he has been a part of and often won.
When I first floated the idea of a race like the Sole Destroyer, something totally novel at the time, Makaya and his friends embraced the idea when many said it would not work, it could not last, which is the theme that has followed Masumpa and his closest allies from the very beginning.
The race was launched and was named after another great mutual friend, Chris Sole, who trained often through Horseshoe Valley, the integral part of the event.
When asked who had the biggest influence on his running career, he does not hesitate – “Monde” he says with his famous smile. That is Monde Tutani one of the provinces most versatile athletes who was a national treasure on the track, a great cross country and road runner. Masumpa would follow suit in many of the same disciplines.
It was Tutani who encouraged a bunch of soccer playing youths in Mdantsane to run the Daily Dispatch Fun Run, while they were away at the Great Train Race. He said they could win many prizes. Masumpa was one of them and he went, he ran and he won prizes.
He also never looked back as he embarked upon a phenomenal running career that is certainly not over yet.
At school it was all track and cross country running – the very basis of every successful career in athletics. Only upon leaving school and joining Real Gijimas, the successful Mdantsane based club, did he add running on the road to his repertoire.
He remembers with affection racing on the track and turf against the same Chris Sole. He also recalls Neville Dyer as an influence.
They all ran against many South African greats on the “old” Amalinda track. So many memories that would be lost on some.
On switching to the road he beams at the thought of his duals with the Donald brothers, John and Stephen.
In 1987 Masumpa joined President Steyn Mine in Welkom. It was the “Mine System” of attracting athletes that turned South Africa, albeit it in isolation, into a powerhouse that no athlete or country could ignore. At the same mine was his friend Tembinkosi Bishop, David Chawane and David Hlabahlaba to name a few.
At the rival President Brand Mine were luminaries such as Xolile Yawa, Michael Scout and Shaddrack Hoff.
It was the inter mine competitions that pushed these fantastic athletes to still greater heights as they raced over 5000m, 1500m and the 3000m steeplechase.
I tell him Ewald Bonzet died recently and he looks at me in disbelief. “He was so fast and such a great steeplechase runner as well as in almost every other event in distance running.” Bonzet was just 65 years old.
While at the mines Masumpa ventured into road running. He represented Free State at all three disciplines of athletics and ran in every SA Championship provided.
Masumpa recalls with great pride having run the 60:11 World Record breaking SA Half Marathon Championships in East London in Free State colours.
Upon his return to East London he was encouraged by a true friend to link up with me at Oxford Striders. We, together with numerous others, formed probably the most potent racing team the province has ever seen. It was inclusive of the same Tutani, Bassie Mbenya, Mpumelelo Mawu, Mphumezi Bomvana, Mlamli Nkonkobe, Mthunzi Dyonase, Moses Fokazi, Edward Khangelani and numerous other great runners. Add to that the likes of Brett Kennard, Glen Wearne, Sole, Gordon Shaw, Rodwell Sims, the Donald brothers and Shaun Ninneman and it becomes clear that the team we assembled had few who could stay with it at club level. Those were the glory days of Border running.
The women’s team was also exceptionally strong.
Masumpa again smiles at the memory of these combinations breaking the World 24 hour record and winning the Great Train Race against clubs from all over South Africa. At that stage it was a case of athletes and management gelled as one. He adds almost apologetically, “I won so many awards in Border Road Running and at club level. It is a pity things have changed so.” They have indeed changed at both provincial and at that particular club.
Masumpa has a best 10km time of 29:58 which he ran in Durban, well remembered by this scribe who was there. His 15km best of 45:30 was set at an SA Champs in Cape Town.
Here is the most interesting stat of all though as his best half marathon and marathon were both at SA Championships hosted in East London. His 21km time is 64:02 and his marathon, which was on a supposedly “not fast course” was 2:20. Perhaps that is a route that should be relooked at?
For the past two years Masumpa has won the silver medal in his age category at the SA Half Marathon in Port Elizabeth. So should we pursue the 60:11 Half Marathon in East London he is asked? “Yes” is his no nonsense reply. And so in 2017, now as Born 2 Run, a new exciting innovative running community, that is what we did.
The highlight of his running career? The 2002 London Marathon which he ran in 2:22.
His favourite SA Athlete? Mathews Temane who won the now most famous ever SA Half Marathon in 1987 on the East London Esplanade in a the then world best time of 60:11.
His favourite international athlete? Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia.
Virtually every weekend Masumpa is still involved in running races, encouraged by old mates, many of them now in the purple shades of Born 2 Run.
He has been beaten only once in his age group.
Will he keep on running? All the way to heaven suggests the fairly religious Masumpa whose 12 year old son plays soccer, cricket, swims and runs at College Street School. Given that the young Masumpa only dropped soccer at 17 to take up running, the chances are we could have more of the same for many years to come.