Mbanjwa makes canoeing history

6 February 2007

Michael Mbanjwa, partnering “Dusi Duke” Martin Dreyer, made history on Saturday when he won the Stihl Non-Stop Dusi Canoe Marathon in record-breaking time.

Mbanjwa, who finished second in the three-day Hansa Powerade Dusi two weeks ago, became the first black paddler in the world to win a canoe marathon on the famous river. And he and Dreyer did it in style, finishing in seven hours, 47 minutes and 40 seconds to slice seven seconds off the previous record, set in 2000 by John and Andrew Edmonds.

The pair was favoured to take victory after the Dusi as Mbanjwa had ended second and Dreyer third.

Covering 120 kilometres in a single day, the Stihl Non-Stop Dusi, which combines both paddling and portaging, is arguably the toughest canoe marathon in the world.

Success for canoeing development
Mbanjwa’s success is a success for Canoeing South Africa’s development programme. Born in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, through which the Dusi Canoe Marathon runs, Mbanjwa learnt how to paddle from the late Robert Lembethe.

Lembethe was a veteran of 17 Dusi Canoe Marathons, a top coach skilled in the art of technical coaching, and a mentor to up-and-coming young black paddlers. He died just before the 2006 Dusi, and the race was dedicated to his memory.

Lembethe formed clubs at Nagle Dam and Midmar Dam aimed at teaching young blacks how to paddle. Two prominent stars emerged from the Nagle Dam club, Mbanjwa and Loveday Zondi, who captured third place in the 2005 Dusi.

A sentimental win
The Non-Stop Dusi victory was thus a sentimental win for Mbanjwa. Lembethe’s widow lives on the banks of the river, and every time he and Zondi paddle past they both offer up a prayer of thanks for Lembethe.

In fact, says Mbanjwa, during the Hansa Powerade Dusi, when leading on the first day, he drew a lot of strength when he passed the Lembethe house while on his way to taking the day one honours.

Speaking after his victory in the Non-Stop Dusi, Mbanjwa reflected on the support of locals living in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, where he and Zondi are viewed as heroes. He said he hoped to encourage other young black paddlers to take up the sport.

Both Mbanjwa and Zondi live upcountry nowadays, paddling for the Ekhuruleni Canoe Club in Gauteng, but they’re carrying on the work done by Lembethe, working as development officers and coaches.

A successful elite paddler
While Mbanjwa is thrilled with the success he has achieved in the world of paddling, he would like to see people no longer viewing him as a successful black paddler, but rather as a successful elite paddler.

The Dusi wasn’t his first success in a major race – he and Len Jenkins won the Vaal Marathon in 2005 – but it was for personal and sentimental reasons that his win in the Non-Stop Dusi, an incredibly physically challenging race, was so important.

The Gauteng pair of Jacques Theron and Piers Cruikshanks took second place in eight hours, four minutes and 34 seconds, while third went to Craig Willment and Derek Stutterheim in eight hours, 34 minutes and 11 seconds.

Abbey Miedema, the winner of the Hansa Powerade Dusi in record time, teamed with Ken Collins to win the mixed doubles title and finish fifth overall.

Repeat victory
Hank McGregor repeated his victory in the K1 category, winning in eight hours, 10 minutes and 46 seconds, which was good for third place overall. Last year, he shocked the canoeing community by besting the K2 entrants in securing top spot.

Debbie Germiquet made her mark on the race by becoming the first woman to complete it on her own as she finished in thirty-ninth place.

“Dusi King” Graeme Pope-Ellis entered the race for the first time and turned in a magnificent performance. The 59-year-old teamed up with Nibs Taylor to win the grandmasters category in sixth place overall in a superb time of nine hours, nine minutes and 46 seconds.

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