Farewell to a legend

Rufus Botha during the second edition of the Leon Botha Memorial Race, which he started in honour of his late father. The race followed the same time-trial route that Leon used to test his athletes. PHOTO: MORGAN PIEK

The athletics community within the Free State and South Africa was left in shock on Monday with the sad news of the untimely passing of the legendary Rufus Botha.
Botha was and still is synonymous with athletics as a coach, announcer and journalist. We will forever remember him for this, and on top of that for being a kind, gentle, compassionate soul who just loved people. Truly a person many will remember as a genuine friend who would go out of his way to lend a helping hand.
Botha was not just a colleague, but more importantly, he was a friend. A very dear friend indeed.
On Monday morning Botha complained that he was not feeling well and was rushed to the Netcare Univeristas Hospital by his son, Leon. At the hospital Botha suffered a fatal heart attack.
After completing school at Grey College in the Bloemfontein, Botha, went to work on the mines and this most certainly led to the unique way in which he treated people from all walks of life and from different creeds as equals. It was also during this time that he befriended and ran with and against the former Bafana Bafana coach, Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba.
A former world record holder in middle distance running at age group level, Botha’s love for the sport stemmed from his late father, also Leon, who carried equal stature to his son in the sport. He too was a legendary coach who honed many of the Free State and the counties top middle distance runners, including the likes of Anton Nicolaisen and Zola Budd.
Rufus in his turn had his own elite group of top athletes who have made their mark at national and international level, and these include the Queen of the Road in South Africa, Kesa Moletsane, and the T11 Paralympian, Louzanne Coetzee.
While Botha is well known for his role in athletics, he indeed had a love for all sports and was exceptionally passionate about junior sport and disabled sports.
Although Botha and Coetzee parted ways as coach and athlete last year, the T11 5000m world record holder fondly remembers the man who was prepared to help her achieve her dreams. “It is with a heavy heart that I have to speak about Oom Botha’s impact in my life and the fact that he has passed away,” Coetzee told Bloemfontein Courant.
“He was truly a mentor for me in my athletic career and has sparked the passion for athletics in me that I have today and I can only thank him for that. I will continue thanking him, and in a way will pay tribute to him through my participation. He really made me a world-class athlete and I will always be thankful to him for that.
“I would also like to share my condolences with his family and close friends. It feels unreal; he was a great man and he was very talented.”
Molestane, who has dominated during the 2017 national SPAR Women’s 10km series, said, “My heart is heavy. Thank you, Oom Rufus, for sharing your life and talent with us. You took me in as a 13-year-old-girl, believed in my talent and promised me that I would become one of South Africa’s best female middle distance athletes. I made my first national team under your strong guidance.” She added, “He came to see me after my surgery and he said ‘you are going to come back stronger, my angel’. I will not disappoint you, Daddy. This man didn’t just become a coach but one of my biggest supporters and a daddy to me.”
Botha will be laid to rest on Saturday, with his memorial service taking place at 10:00 at the St. Michaels’ School Chapel in Bloemfontein. He will be cremated later during a private ceremony. – Morgan Piek