It took a village and a lot of sacrifices for him to get to this point.
First it was his grandmother, who did everything in her power to ensure his love for sports was nurtured. Then when she died, one of his teachers took over.
That’s why when he packed up his bags and left his family, including his two daughters, to go to camp, he knew he had a solid team backing him.
And it was all worth it for Comrades Marathon champion Tete Dijane.
Today, he’s going home to a hero’s welcome and to see his children, the youngest of whom has been constantly asking, ‘Daddy, when are you coming home?’ everyday for the past three months.
It was tough, he tells Drum. So much so that he felt like packing up his bags and going back home sometimes. But he had to constantly remind himself that he’s left so much behind, giving up was not on the cards.
“I had to persevere through the pain because I knew it was temporary,” Tete says.
Tete, who works as a security guard, says when he waved his colleagues goodbye and took unpaid leave, he knew it wasn’t going to be an easy ride.
Going to camp was a lot more change that he imagined, especially giving up his favourite foods.
He had to adapt to a new lifestyle for at least three months in a camp while preparing for the 95th edition of the ultra-marathon.
“We hardly ate pap, and it took me a while to adapt because pap has weight and energy, so eating only vegetables like mushroom mixed with carrots and chicken breasts on the side, was not easy. Sometimes we would have fish, spaghetti – it’s a lot of things that I usually did not eat.”
He recalls having moments where he felt like cheating on his diet. “I’d wish to have bread at least, but in the end I got used to it even though it took time.”
Tete has always been active, for a long as he can remember. The 34-year-old, who was born in Mahikeng, North West, tells us he loved playing soccer with his friends on the streets of Randfontein when his parents moved to the City of Gold for greener pastures.
“I attended a primary school at Mohlakeng in Randfontein, called Matlapaneng. I loved sports but mostly played soccer with my friends in the township.”
After he completed his junior school grades, Tete moved back to Mahikeng to live with that one person who sacrificed a lot for his passion, his late grandmother, Roseline Taole. He says that’s where the love for running was nurtured and uncovered.
“I started running when I was in Grade 8, and I was doing it to compete and representing the school, that is how I discovered that ‘Okay this is what I do best’.”
And even then, he used to win. “I used to qualify through the second positions mostly. That’s when I thought to myself that I should maybe start practising to make it to first place.
“I did not stay far from Mmabatho stadium and that is where I met a group of other athletes and asked if I can join and start practising with them. They agreed and that is where I started to develop.”
He’d had hopes of establishing his athletics career while at tertiary, but he just didn’t have the funds to further his studies.
Tete tells us that his late grandmother, Roseline, played a major role in supporting his dreams regardless.
“I looked up to her because when I moved to come and stay with her in Mahikeng, she helped me a lot. You’d find that we have a tournament at school, and she doesn’t have money at the time, she would go as far as borrowing money from neighbours for transport and registering for these races.
“And after my grandmother passed on, my high school teacher, Goitseyone Marutla, took over, he was helping me a lot.
“He’d give me money and ask if I was fine, he had so much belief in me and that’s why he’d now and then check if I am okay and how are things going. He said I shouldn’t be scared to tell him if I needed anything, and he would make arrangements for me to go play sports tournaments.”
He will always be grateful for the roles they played in his life.
Tete gives us an idea of what life in the camp was like.
“We woke up at 5.30am and training would start at 7.30am. We had training twice a day, in the morning then afternoon.
“We did all kinds of exercises like jogging, long rounds, speed work and hills. It was tough,” he says.
“Sometimes you’d feel like packing your bags and leaving. But I knew that I went to the camp for something that I deeply want so I had to persevere.”
The journey was also not easy for his family. Tete says his two daughters could no longer stop asking about his return.
“It was difficult because I would speak with them everyday but they would still ask, ‘Dad, when are you coming back?’ but my firstborn was able to understand that I was not there. The youngest couldn’t. It was sad.”
Crossing the finish life in a time of 05:30:38 and winning this year’s Comrades Marathon, which was a downhill from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, was indescribable. It was a thrill he will never get over.
“My younger daughter keeps saying, ‘Daddy we saw you on TV’. They are so happy and I can’t wait to see them because I have not go home yet.
“I am still at the camp. I will be leaving soon for my welcoming ceremony. The premier of the North West province as well the MEC will be there,” he says.
“Yoh! It was so exciting, I wasn’t sure that I’d win but my body said, ‘yes’ and allowed me to move where I wanted to move and seeing myself as the winner is a big thing for me.”
Tete says he’s also grateful to his sponsors and Nedbank which, at the beginning of August, launched its third edition of Runified in partnership with the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).
Runified is a combined virtual and physical running challenge to rally around mental health.
The challenges are led by running enthusiasts such as Amy Hopkins, Graeme Richards, Nicola Schreuder, Tumi Sole and Zinhle Masango, amongst others.