International Convention Centre, Durban: June 13, 2000

It is a pleasure for me to participate in the excitement of the next three days, which come as a forerunner to the 75th Comrades Marathon. The MTN Comrades Experience is setting the stage for this momentous South African event and has been designed to promote the spirit of physical challenge in a dynamic and energised sport. I have accepted the invitation of the Comrades Marathon Association to officially open this exhibition with great enthusiasm. With the heart of a patriot, I have always supported our true South African traditions which unite people across the historic barriers of race, language, culture and gender in a collective event of individual efforts.

The Comrades Marathon is a great leveller of socio-economic advantage. It exacts a high physical and mental demand on every athlete challenged to attempt it. Yet, it does not require that the runners are of a specific social grouping or cultural heritage. It asks merely that each one is willing to give the commitment and dedication necessary to take on this gruelling event. The Comrades calls for a strength of will beyond that of ordinary achievement. I believe that every individual athlete who answers the irresistible challenge of participating in this event, shares the one spirit of determination which unites all the runners under the banner of comrades.

It is with this due admiration of the Comrades runners that I stand in support of the MTN Comrades Experience as a venue to promote both the physical challenge of athletics and the spirit of unity in its collective experience. I wish to extend a word of thanks to the sponsors of this three day exhibition and to all those working behind the scenes to stimulate interest and awareness in this unique initiative. I believe that the advent of the year 2000 has brought with it an atmosphere of celebration in which big events will naturally prosper. Moreover, the importance of the occasion of the 75th running of the Comrades Marathon lends a high profile to this exhibition. I trust that, under such inspiring circumstances, the MTN Comrades Experience will prove to be a resounding success.

Throughout my life, I have noticed that South Africans have a quality which sets them apart from the various peoples of the world. We will stand and fight when others are ready to lie down and surrender. It is this perseverance and stamina that have brought our country to the point where we can work toward social justice, individual liberty and economic prosperity with the hope of real success. Our fighting spirit has brought us into the bright dawn of a new hope. I stand in awe of the personal strength of men and women of South Africa who refuse to surrender in the face of unusual challenge. Year after year, the Comrades offers us the opportunity to witness an open display of this tenacity in seemingly ordinary South Africans. I believe it brings a vital motivation to our country’s collective spirit and this, perhaps, is one of the secrets of its overwhelming success.

Running is the sport of the solo athlete. It is a personal and intimate experience of one’s limitations and one’s ability to overcome those very boundaries, and push further to succeed. I am often inclined to relate to the long distance runner, for I feel that my own life-long career has been, and is still, an ongoing marathon in which I run alone. No doubt, like the thousands of runners who have completed the Comrades in past years, I rely upon the support of those near to me. Yet, whoever takes on a task which, from the base appears insurmountable, knows that it is a feat of purely personal effort which secures a place on the summits.

I believe that the Comrades Marathon Association has chosen this year’s slogan with unique insight. Comrades 2000: The ultimate human race suggests more than an unmatched physical challenge, but gives an indication of the type of athlete who will take on such a challenge. Success is never a matter of mere physical endurance or muscular strength. It is a state of mind into which one must continually feed enthusiasm, motivation, positive thought and encouragement. An unmotivated athlete, regardless of peak physical capacity, will never know victory. To my mind, the Comrades Marathon is a celebration of the spirit of victory far more than a celebration of finely toned muscles and pumping hearts.

Maintaining a consistent level of motivation is a daunting achievement in itself. I therefore applaud the MTN Comrades Experience initiative, for I believe that by stimulating interest in the Comrades event, this exhibition will create an atmosphere of greater anticipation and enthusiasm to keep our athletes primed for success. This exhibition will, no doubt, also be a valuable springboard to project into our communities an emphasis on physical and mental fitness, as the prerequisites for success. Individual mental and physical health are vital contributors to a healthy and prosperous society. For this reason, I am pleased that the MTN Comrades Experience is operating from the heart of the city of Durban, that it may bring into the hub of this Province a greater motivation for individual achievement.

I have been very impressed by the contribution of exhibitors toward making this initiative the marketing centre for the Comrades itself. I wish the Comrades Marathon Association every success in the next three days, and offer my encouragement to all those participating in this exhibition. Without further ado, I accept the honour of announcing the official opening of the MTN Comrades Experience. May this initiative be a resounding success and open the way for a victorious Comrades 2000.

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