Mulanje athlete forced to run SA’s Comrades Marathon as a South African

Doris Fisha from Mulanje

By Duncan Mlanjira

Malawian athlete from Mulanje District, Doris Fisha, ran the 2019 Comrades Marathon on Sunday, June 9 in a time of 7:20hrs and earned herself a silver medal but she was forced to participate at this great event as a South African because she was denied a citizen clearance letter from Athletics Association of Malawi (AAM).

Fisha is a five-time winner of the Mulanje Mountain Porters Race and she came second during last year’s Blantyre Marathon and relocated to South Africa where she joined Orcus Academy. 

Just three weeks ago she won the Empondoland Marathon in Eastern Cape Province. In the Blantyre Marathon that fellow Mulanje athlete Theresa Master won in a time of 3:19:49, Fisha clocked 3:20:37.

With her Roche Kelly silver medal

According to fellow runner, Imran Paya, who was assisting Fisha to prepare well for her first-ever Comrades Marathon, she was denied the clearance letter because she could not afford the required fee of 1,000 rands for AAM to issue the letter that was to help her run as a Malawian.

Paya said the Comrades Marathon’s regulations for this year’s event were changed in which all foreign athletes were to be allowed to take part as citizens of the countries of origin only if they were cleared by their home countries’ athletics board.

Paya also failed to get his clearance letter but he ran as a Malawian because the Comrades organizers asked him to win a medal to deserve that status while Fisha just grabbed the offer she was given by her host club Orcus Academy to run as a South African as she awaits to raise the ZAR1,000 to finally be considered a Malawian citizen in case it shall be needed for future races.

Paya and his medal

Meanwhile, Paya, who picked an injury before the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon in April and which he aggravated during the race, says he is very proud to have defied all odds and finished the Comrades Marathon in a time of 8:51:12 to also earned a Bill Rowan silver medal.

The Bill Rowan medal is earned by athletes who cross the finish line in a time between 7:30hrs and 9:00hrs. Fisha earned the Roche Kelly silver medal. Medals are mostly determined by time frames with the designated 12hrs cut off time.

Paya picked up the serious injury when he strained his left leg calve muscles during training and after being supervised by his physio for a week, he was given the go ahead to run the 56km Old Mutual Two Oceans race.

Fisha (left) on Blantyre Marathon podium

But after a while into the race, the injury kept nagging him and he had said the pain he experienced was not for the faint hearted to finish the whole distance. However, he did manage it because he had wanted to clock 10 years of participation to be awarded the Blue Number, which represents permanent registration number.

This year’s was 7th Comrades and out of 20,000 participants, he has always managed to place himself in the top 100, with the best time of 06:36 in 2014. 

“The injury was the major fact that made me finish in 8:51:12. I have 5 silvers in this race ranging from sub 7 to just over 7hrs in the years which I have participated.

Fisha’s result sheet

I have accumulated numerous silvers In different race and Golds from other races in a period of 11 years that I have been running

There were also other Malawians in this year’s Comrades — Stanley Mwakhiwa based in Durban, who ran a good race in a time of 7:10, a personal record in his second attempt. In his first race he did it in a time of 7:32hrs.

Peter Chiwaya from Thyolo and based in Eastern Cape finished in 7:49 while Rodrick Phiri, also living in Durban finished in 9:50.

In an earlier interview when Paya was failing to access the clearance letter, AAM general secretary, Frank Chitembeya had said the fee was an administrative requirement. 

“Have you ever seen a player being cleared free,” he had retorted. “You seem to be living in the past than present. Sports is a business where institutions/people invest a lot. Why do they need clearance?”