Black man running

Under doctor’s orders to take up exercise, Oarabile Rops Mosikare attempts a 30km charity walk in Francistown, Botswana. But he struggles to keep up with the elderly vice-president

I wouldn’t say that jogging has ever been part of Setswana culture. If Batswana were to choose between jogging and drinking alcohol, I’m sure the latter would sail through with high numbers. Batswana can drink. No wonder President Ian Khama wants to ban alcohol — who can blame him?

Just like the majority of my countrymen (and women), I have never considered jogging every morning and evening part of my daily exercise. Keeping fit has never been one of my favourite things.

”Jogging is a white culture,” I told myself. Even during my tertiary school days in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, I considered jogging to be an exclusively white cultural — exercise.

After all, the majority of people who I see hitting the road every morning and evening, whether in Port Elizabeth or in Francistown, Botswana, where I live now, are white. Some of them walk dogs too — part of white culture, I told myself.

This ridiculous mindset was changed when I was diagnosed with arthritis in January this year. This forced me to quit one of my favourite pastimes — you guessed it — and replace it with running.

Exercise suddenly became a part of my daily schedule. Just like the white chaps, I started hitting the road every morning, often going down to the river. And I love every part of it.

In fact I regret being a late starter. I’m not alone, there are many of us. Jogging is no longer a ”white” thing, it is — unbelievably — becoming a Tswana culture. Jogging and going to the gym are increasingly the ”in things” among Batswana living in urban areas.

Whenever my knee joints permit, I hit the road in the morning before I go to work. Many people, black and white, young and old, have joined the bandwagon to get rid of the unwanted fat.

Last month I did the unthinkable. I participated in a 30km charity walk. I was among the many who braved the chilly morning to take part in the Orapa/Letlhakane Mines (OLM) General Manager’s Annual Sponsored Walk. Besides the walk, billed as being to raise money for the Boteti community, this walk was also important to me: it would be a test of my new-found endurance and my arthritic legs.

Orapa is about 250km west of Francistown and Letlhakane is about 35km south of Orapa. For security reasons a visitor to Orapa needs to apply for a permit to enter the township. People with criminal records are not allowed to visit Orapa. Both places are in the Boteti district and are rich in diamonds. The route of the charity walk was along the tar roads through the Letlhakane residential area. The finish line was at the Itekeng Stadium in Orapa.

The people who took part in the charity walk were invited dignitaries, members of the media or Debswana employees.

The chief walker at this year’s GM sponsored walk was none other than the country’s, Vice-President Mompati Merafhe. The vice-president as chief walker and, more importantly, as a septuagenarian, was a divine inspiration for the rest of us.

We gathered at Itekeng parking lot at 4.30am and left with the buses a brisk 15 minutes later. We were quickly cleared at the eastern gate of Orapa, before heading out to Letlhakane.

When Vice-President Merafhe declared the beginning of the walk by cutting the ribbon promptly at 6am, I probably wasn’t the only one who wondered what I’d got myself into — especially as an arthritis sufferer. Fortunately there were plenty of cars and ambulances for those who might not manage to reach the finish line unaided.

It was a brilliantly organised event. Every 5km there were serving points where walkers could pick up an energy drink. Some refreshment stations also provided oranges and Lunch Bar chocolates. Everything was plentiful and for the first 15km I felt good and couldn’t believe my legs were taking me this far.

But, after 22km, my legs decided they were no longer in the mood to compromise. My companions also complained of painful muscles. We were in good company: Assistant Minister of Education, Skills and Development Lobonamang Mokalake was also struggling.

But our pride was at stake. ”Guys, we can’t lose our manhood because we failed to finish,” said one of my companion walkers. ”What will people say of our failure if the elderly vice-president managed to walk the entire 30km?” wondered another.

Yet another tried to justify our exhaustion. He chirped up: ”We are not like him. Besides, the vice-prez is an ex-soldier and I hear he’s a regular at the gym room, while some of us spend our free time drinking beer like fish.”

It was my turn in the debate. ”Some of us have never seen the inside of a gym. As far as I’m concerned, when the next rescue vehicle comes past, I’m getting a lift.

”We played our part. We’re not like those guys who quit at the beginning of the walk.”

There was a general muttering of support, so I drove home my ace card. ”At least we showed we care.” I had hardly finished my sentence when a kombi emerged and, like commuters fighting to get into a taxi, we hobbled towards it as fast as we could still move and packed ourselves in.

So, although we did not walk the entire 30km, we made our small contribution to the needy. It is not child’s play to walk 30km, especially with arthritic legs. But I’m not giving up. Next time I want to try the Comrades Marathon.

Oarabile Rops Mosikare is a correspondent for the Mmegi and Monitor newspapers. He lives in Francistown


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