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Bruce Fordyce

On the 1 June 1981 a slightly built, blonde-haired young man attracted the nation's attention when he won the Comrades Marathon in a record time of 5 hours 37 minutes. What was perhaps more significant was that he wore a black armband in protest against the Comrades Marathon being used by the government at the time to use the event as part of its 'Nation-building' festivities in order to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Republic of South Africa. There was a great deal of controversy around this, particularly amongst the English-speaking University communities. Fordyce had been a student on campus since 1975 and, like so many fellow students, his opposition to the Government's policies was strong enough for him to want to make a stand, particularly against the back drop of the Soweto Uprising and the turbulent times of the country in the seventies. By wearing Wits University colours, Fordyce was able to make his individual triumph become a University's statement against racism. It was one of the first years of television and the media played a significant role in capturing the young Wits student's determination and passion for running but also his courage to engage with human rights issues

Bruce joined the staff of the University as the first research officer of what was then the Rock Art Research Unit. He led the unit's first research project in Harrismith during the mid-1980s, where he used the tough terrain as a training ground for his running. This project would be seminal in establishing rock art research on a permanent academic footing and the small research group of which he was the first employee would go on to grow into a research unit and eventually institute. He was also one of the first members of the rock art research group to work on the Bleek and Lloyd ethnographic records. His work helped lay the foundation of what would eventually become a twenty-year labour of love that was finally completed in 2000.

While Bruce undertook research at Wits University, he continued his political activism. He became involved with the Five Freedoms Forum and together with David Webster arranged for sporting apparel, such as tracksuits and running shoes, to be delivered to political detainees. For his role in these activities, David Webster was assassinated by the apartheid government in 1989. Bruce was well aware of the dangers of his involvement in political activism but this never deterred him.

Academically, Bruce was a talented archaeologist and easily moved between the different fields in the discipline. While working on rock art material, he did research on the Iron Age period to undertake his Masters degree. Having done much work on the project, he was forced to abandon it due to the commitments of his rapidly developing athletics career. 

Fordyce's dominance of Comrades throughout the 1980s gave him the opportunity to reach a nation he inspired South Africans regardless of race, colour and creed one of the reasons why it is appropriate that Wits recognise his achievements.

He will be recorded in world history books as one of the greatest ultra distance runners and has legendary status amongst the running fraternity. Besides being a nine times winner of the Comrades Marathon (1981-1990), he has also won the

  • London to Brighton(53 miles) three times
  • United States 50 mile championship in Chicago
  • Nanisivik Midnight sun ultra 84 km in the Arctic Circle
  • Standard Bank ultra 100 km in Stellenbosch

However, it is his self-less commitment to the sport that will remain long after the records have been erased. Bruce Fordyce's appointment as CEO of the Sport Trust (an independent organisation that was set up by the private and public sector) in 1997 allowed him to channel back into sport all that he had gained. The purpose of the Sports Trust was to develop and advance sport across all disciplines and at all levels in South Africa, focussing particularly on those who had not the opportunity to participate. The initial focus was to level the playing fields as far as facilities are concerned. Fordyce's key role was to raise funds for projects which would realise the goals of the Sports Trust. The Gugulethu NY49 sports complex, on the outskirts of Cape Town consists of a grass athletics track, basketball courts, netball and rugby fields, and a cricket oval is a product of Fordyce's involvement in ensuring that previously disadvantaged communities are reached.

Fordyce has used Sport to uplift communities: The Mossel Bay indoor sports centre which is a multi purpose venue caters for all indoor sporting codes as well as acting as a distribution point for the Pensioner community and the Mangaung multisports complex in the Free State, an outdoor venue which has been fully integrated into the community are examples of what is perhaps the single most significant contribution Fordyce has made to South Africa - to harness the power that sport has in breaking down racial barriers and in developing both individuals and communities.

There are many examples of his passion to help others- Bruce Fordyce joined members the 'Jardine Joggers' a club which consisted mainly of runners who acted as 'pilots' for blind runners. Today, The Achilles Club, to which Jardine Joggers is affiliated, has a membership which includes and benefits people with all types of disabilities. There is a strong commitment to the Community Computer Schools for disabled people have been set up. One particularly successful school is based in Soweto where sponsorship for state- of- the- art computers has been donated and disabled people are teaching able-bodied people valuable computer skills and in doing so, generating their own incomes

The Water Awareness Programme, a project run by the Sports Trust that seeks to educate communities on water safety, reaches out particularly to children. Fordyce's involvement in creating awareness about such every day activities makes him stand out as a person committed to making a difference.

Fordyce ran the 1991 Comrades it was to be his 10th win – he fell ill but was determined to finish the run, as he had, through the Reach for a Dream Foundation, promised to present his medal to a terminally ill young girl.

A In 1998, Fordyce helped realise the dream of an ordinary runner who as a schoolboy at Kernsney College had witnessed Comrades on many occasions and had vowed to run it. The man later joined the Royal Flying Corps and was sent to Bosnia in the year he had planned to run Comrades. Undeterred the runner requested permission to host his own 'Comrades' in Bosnia and invited Fordyce and a number of other high profile runners. Steve Cram (world record holder of the mile and 1500 metres) participated with Fordyce and 20 other men in war torn Bosnia, and ran 87, 9 km, monitored by surveillance aircraft to ensure their safety. The Funds raised from this run were used to rebuild a Muslim and Christian school in Bosnia.

Fordyce has won numerous Awards in a congratulatory letter sent by the then Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University, Prof DJ Du Plessis, it was noted that Fordyce's Sportsman of the Year for the fifth time was a feat, unequalled in the 61 year of the History of the University (1983). He was recognised as the SA ultra marathoner of the year ten times (1981-1990) and was awarded Springbok colours in 1984. He was presented with The State President's Gold Award for Sport by former state President Nelson Mandela in 1997

Fordyce graduated from Wits in 1978 with a Bachelor of Arts Honours (Archaeology) and is still passionate about Archaeology. He has published two books on running.

Remarkably, Bruce returned to Wits in 2004 where he took up the chairmanship of one of the committees overseeing the development of the Origins Centre. As a member of this committee, and now as one of the directors of the board of the centre, Bruce has worked tirelessly to bring Africa's archaeological and historical past to a wider public in so doing he continues his political activism.

Not only has Bruce Fordyce enhanced he University's image immeasurably through his brilliant sports achievements, he has also been able to use running as a platform for promoting tolerance, reconciliation and hope. The University is well aware that it has seldom, if ever, honoured someone whose renown has come from outstanding sporting achievements. However, as the exposition above has shown, Fordyce's stature and contribution extend far beyond the sports arena only. And, in any event, Fordyce's lustre is such that the University considers it fitting in this case to award its highest honour to him.