The 1875 Meeting of Henry Morton Stanley, Linant de Bellefonds, and Kabaka Mutesa: The Invitational Letter of Recommendation for Uganda

October 26, 2014

Colonel M. Ernest Linant de Bellefonds [Bey], son of the renowned French engineer Louis Maurice Adolphe Linant de Bellefonds who executed numerous projects in Egypt including the Suez Canal, was an emissary at Gondokoro (Equatoria headquarters of the Anglo-Egyptian colonial administration) of General Charles Gordon [Pasha]. The Colonel, accompanied by forty Sudanic-Nubian soldiers, arrived in Rubaga at the court of Kabaka Mtesa (Mutesa) Mukabya of Buganda in April 1875 where he also met Henry Morton Stanley who had quite recently arrived at the court. At the time Mutesa had become oriented to Islam after Zanzibari Arabs had taught him and showered him with gifts. Mutesa became perplexed by the foreign religions and divisions, but decided to simultaneously embrace elements of both Christianity and Islam. Stanley, determined to convert Mutesa fully to Christianity, was so impressed with the enlightened kabaka whom he styled “Emperor,” quite impressed with the elaborate organization of the Buganda kingdom-state, with the culture, the attire, and the politeness of the Baganda. The landscape was beautiful, the natural resources bountiful, and Henry Stanley is widely credited with becoming the first to proclaim that B-Uganda was the “Pearl of Africa.” Stanley’s proposal to invite British missionaries, educators and technicians to come to Uganda to further the development was corroborated as positve by Linant who happened to be a French-Belgian Protestant, and Mutesa concurred. Stanley drafted the proposal to be sent to England, handed it to Linant who would be the messenger. The two Europeans parted on April 17th 1875, Stanley intent on completing the circumnavigation of the Lake Victoria Nyanza [Nyanja]. Unfortunately, on his way northward, Linant’s expedition was brutally attacked and Linant was killed by the Bari in Sudan at Laboreh on August 26, 1875, not far from Gondokoro. Among the grievances of the Bari were the recent raids by Nubian slave-traders. Linant’s body was crudely disposed of on the bank to rot in the burning sun. By a stroke of luck, Stanley’s letter was recovered still intact in the knee-high boot of the slain Linant. The blood-stained letter was sent to Charles Gordon in Khartoum, he would forward it to the “Daily Telegraph” England. Bloody mayhem in Uganda would ultimately be the result of Stanley’s observations and recommendations for Buganda. The British Special Commissioner to Uganda–Henry “Harry” Hamilton Johnston summarizes it: “Truly Stanley’s letter, the blood-stained sheet, of paper found in the boot of the murdered de Bellefonds, was big with fateful results for the Kingdom of Uganda” (1902: 223).

Stanley’s proposal (1876: 152-153), which follows, though written in April, would draw enthusiasm when it was published in November 1875.
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Mtesa’s Capital, Uganda, April 14, 1875

I must not forget to inform you and your readers of one very interesting subject connected with Mtesa, which will gratify many a philanthropic European and American.

I have already told you that Mtesa and the whole of his Court profess Islamism. A long time ago–some four or five years–Khamis Bin Abdullah (the only Arab who remained with me three years ago, as a rearguard, when the Arabs disgracefully fled from Mirambo) came to Uganda. He was wealthy, of noble descent, had a fine, magnificent personal appearance, and brought with him many a rich present for Mtesa, such as few Arabs could afford. The King became immediately fascinated with him, and really few white men could be long with the son of Abdullah without being charmed by his presence, his handsome, proud features, his rich olive complexion, and his liberality. I confess I never saw an Arab or Mussulman who attracted me so much as Khamis bin Abdullah, and it is no wonder that Mtesa, meeting a kindred spirit in the noble youth of Muscat, amazed at his handsome bearing, the splendour of his apparel, the display of his wealth, and the number of his slaves, fell in love with him. Khamis stayed with Mtesa a full year, during which time the King became a convert to the creed of his visitor–namely, Mohammedanism. The Arab clothed Mtesa in the best that his wardrobe offered; he gave him gold-embroidered jackets, fine white shirts, crimson slippers, swords, silk sashes, daggers, and a revolving rifle, so that [John Hanning] Speke and [James Augustus] Grant’s presents seemed of necessity insignificant. Now, until I arrived at Mtesa’s Court, the King delighted in the idea that he was a follower of Islam; but by one conversation I flatter myself that I have tumbled the newly-raised religious fabric to the ground, and if it were only followed by the arrival of a Christian mission here, the conversion of Mtesa and his Court to Christianity would, I think, be complete. I have, indeed, undermined Islamism so much here, that Mtesa has determined henceforth, until he is better informed, to observe the Christian Sabbath as well as the Moslem Sabbath, and the great captains have unanimously consented to this. He has further caused the Ten Commandments of Moses to be written on a board for his daily perusal–for Mtesa can read Arabic–as well as the Lord’s Prayer, and the golden commandment of our Saviour, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” This is great progress for the few days that I have remained with him, and, though I am no missionary, I shall begin to think that I might become one if such success is feasible. But, oh that some pious, practical missionary would come here! What a field and a harvest ripe for the sickle of civilisation! Mtesa would give him everything he desired–houses, lands, cattle, ivory,etc., he might call a province his own in one day. It is not the mere preacher, however, that is wanted here. The Bishops of Great Britain collected, and all the classic youth of Oxford and Cambridge, would effect nothing by mere talk with the intelligent people of Uganda. It is the practical Christian tutor, who can teach people how to become Christians, cure their diseases, construct dwellings, understand and exemplify agriculture, and turn his hand to anything like a sailor–this is the man who is wanted. Such an one, if he can be found, would become the saviour of Africa. He must be tied to no church or sect, but profess God and His Son and the moral law, and live a blameless Christian, inspired by liberal principles, charity to all men, and devout faith in Heaven. He must belong to no nation in particular, but the entire white race. Such a man or men, Mtesa, King of Uganda, Usoga, Unyoro, and Karague—a kingdom 360 geographical miles in length by 50 in breadth–invites to repair to him. He has begged me to tell the white men that if they will only come to him he will give them all they want. Now, where is there in all the pagan world a more promising field for a mission than Uganda? Colonel Linant de Bellefonds is my witness that I speak the truth, and I know he will corroborate all I say. The Colonel, though a Frenchman, is a Calvinist, and has become as ardent a well-wisher for the Waganda as I am. Then why further spend needlessly vast sums upon black pagans of Africa who have no example of their own people becoming Christians before them? I speak to the Universities Mission at Zanzibar and to the Free Methodists at Mombasa, to the leading philanthropists, and the pious people of England. Here, gentlemen, is your opportunity–embrace it! The people on the shores of the Niyanza call upon you. Obey your own generous instincts, and listen to them; and I assure you that in one year you will have more converts to Christianity than all other missionaries united can muster. The population of Mtesa’s kingdom is very dense; I estimate the number of his subjects at 2,000,000. You need not fear to spend money upon such a mission, as Mtesa is sole ruler, and will repay its cost tenfold with ivory, coffee, otter-skins of a very fine quality, or even in cattle, for the wealth of this country in all these products is immense. The road here is by the Nile, or via, Zanzibar, Ugogo, and Unyanyembe. The former route, so long as Colonel Gordon governs the countries of the Upper Nile, seems the most feasible.

With all deference I would suggest that the mission should bring to Mtesa as presents, three or four suits of military clothes, decorated freely with gold embroidery; together with half-a-dozen French kepis, a sabre, a brace of pistols, and suitable ammunition; a good fowling-piece and rifle of good quality, for the King is not a barbarian; a cheap dinner-service of Britannia ware, an iron bedstead and counterpanes, a few pieces of cotton print, boots, etc. For trade it should also bring fine blue, black, and grey woollen cloths, a quantity of military buttons, gold braid and cord, silk cord of different colours, as well as binding; linen and sheeting for shirts, fine red blankets and a quantity of red cloth, with a few chairs and tables. The profit arising from the sale of these things would be enormous.

For the mission’s use it should bring with it a supply of hammers, saws, augers, chisels, axes, hatchets, adzes, carpenters’ and blacksmiths’ tools, since the Waganda are apt pupils; iron drills and powder for blasting purposes, trowels, a couple of good-sized anvils, a forge and bellows, an assortment of nails and tacks, a plough, spades, shovels, pickaxes, and a couple of light buggies as specimens, with such other small things as their own common sense would suggest to the men whom I invite. Most desirable would be an assortment of garden seed and grain; also white-lead, linseed-oil, brushes, a few volumes of illustrated journals, gaudy prints, a magic lantern, rockets, and a photographic apparatus. The total cost of the whole equipment need not exceed 5000 [pounds] sterling.
Henry M. Stanley

Works Cited

Johnston, Sir Harry. The Uganda Protectorate. London: Hutchinson & Co., 1902 .

Stanley, Henry M,”Letters of Mr. H. M. Stanley on his Journey to Victoria Nyanza, and Circumnavigation of the Lake,” in Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, Vol. 20. 1875-1876 (134-159).

Jonathan Musere

Earl of Ronaldshay and the 1909 Review of Winston Churchill’s “My African Journey”

October 26, 2014

Lawrence John Lumley Dundas, sometimes addressed as the Earl of Ronaldshay was an author, politician and administrator who would serve in such capacities as Governor of Bengal and President of the Royal Geographical Society. The most significant early review of “My African Journey” (1908) by Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was written by Ronaldshay and published in “Bookman” (Volumes 34-35. January, 1909 page 188-189). The review follows.
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Under the appropriate title of “My African Journey,” Mr. Churchill gives us a readable account of the expedition which he made through British East Africa during the latter part of 1907, while still officially connected with the Colonial Office as Under Secretary. The record of his wanderings which he here gives us takes the form of a popular narrative of travel. Facts and figures, as he reminds us in his preface, are already on record in profusion, and–mindful, perhaps, of laborious hours spent in enforced perusal of statistical abstracts and blue-books–he decides to avoid them, a decision for which the reader will doubtless be duly grateful. On two or three occasions only do any figures creep into the narrative, and on one at least of these they would have been better left out, for while we are told at one moment (p. 85) that the Victoria Nyanza is 4,000 ft. above sea level, we are led to infer at the next (p. 129) that its altitude is 3,500 ft. It matters little, however, to the average man whether the height of any particular sheet of water be 3,000 ft. or 5,000 ft.; what he desires is to obtain with as little mental exertion as possible a. vivid picture of lands which he will probably never see, but which constitute a not unimportant part of the British Empire.

In Mr. Churchill’s book the picture is vividly and attractively drawn. Here and there he employs a somewhat extravagant language to describe matters of insignificant detail, as, for instance, when, having presented a dressing gown purchased on the outward journey to a local chief in the Lado Enclave, he tells us that “thus the fabrics of Cathay were by the enterprise of Europe introduced into the heart of Africa”; and now and again the party politician peeps out, as when he describes those who preserve game in England “with so much artificial care, and to the inconvenience of other dwellers in a small island,” as “perverse and unenterprising folk”; but on the whole there is little to criticize and much to praise in the story which he unfolds.

From Mombasa he carries us along the Uganda Railway–“one slender thread of scientific civilization, of order, authority and arrangement, drawn across the primeval chaos of the world”–causing us to alight at intervals to accompany him in pursuit of rhinoceros, lion, or pig, to look on at the wildly gyrating figures of a Kikuyu war dance, or to take part in a discussion of the questions of the day as they present themselves to the white community of the East African Protectorate. “Every white man in Nairobi,” we are told, “is a politician.” A distracting medley of problems “confront the visitor in perplexing disarray,” of which, facile princeps, is that of the white man versus the black, and the brown man versus both. To this thorny question Mr. Churchill attempts to supply an answer. East Africa, he thinks, can never be a white man’s country in the true sense of the word, for proof is wanting that “the pure-bred European can rear his children under the equatorial sun and at an elevation of more than 6,000 ft.” The same doubt is expressed later on with regard to Uganda. Here “every white man seems to feel a sense of indefinable oppression. A cut will not heal; a scratch festers. In the third year of residence even a small wound becomes a running sore…. Whether it be the altitude, or the downward ray of the equatorial sun, or the insects, or some more subtle cause, there seems to be a solemn veto placed upon the white man’s permanent residence in these beautiful abodes.“

In any case the desire of the white man to make East Africa a white man’s country does not bring him into collision with the black aboriginal. The black aboriginal plays an important part in the white man’s scheme, for, whatever Mr. Churchill may have said with regard to a similar question in another part of Africa from his political platform in 1906, he here admits that “the white man absolutely refuses to do black man’s work.“

But the brown man from India is another matter. In all manner of occupations–trading, farming, banking, contracting, engineering, building, accounting–the Asiatic steps in and ousts the European. Here, then, in Equatorial Africa. we find waiting for solution a problem–immeasurably complicated by reason of the fact that the brown man from India is himself a. British subject–which is at the same time perplexing the statesmen of Great Britain in such different parts of the Empire as Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. The chances of finding a reasonable solution are, however, greater here than in other countries. The immediate course of sound policy, Mr. Churchill thinks, would seem to lie in reserving the highland areas for exploitation at the hands of the white man, while at the same time encouraging the Asiatic to trade and settle in “ the enormous regions of tropical fertility to which he is naturally adapted.”

From Nairobi the railway winds through magnificent scenery to the great lake. At Naivasha we are given a glimpse of a Government stock farm and learn how by judicious crossing the progeny of the native sheep “a hairy animal” is being transformed into “the woolled beast of familiar aspect,” and that of the humped African cattle into a “respectable British shorthorn.”

Beyond the railway lies Uganda. Of its entrancing scenery, its immense productivity, and its attractive people Mr. Churchill writes with undisguised admiration. “The kingdom of Uganda is a fairy tale.” In the rich domain between the Victoria and Albert Lakes “an amiable, clothed, polite, and intelligent race dwell together in an organized monarchy.” Everything grows here better than it grows anywhere else–cotton, rubber, hemp, cocoa, coffee, tea, oranges, pineapples. “As for our English garden products, brought in contact with the surface of Uganda they simply give a wild bound of efflorescence or fruition, and break their hearts for joy.” At first sight, indeed, Uganda appears to be paradise upon earth, and it is not until closer acquaintance is made with this fair country that the dark shadows which overhang it become apparent. Nature resents the intrusion of man, and sends forth her armies in the shape of insects to fight him. The dreaded spirillum tick infests the land and takes satanic delight in spreading the poison of a peculiarly painful ‘fever. But far worse than the Spirillum tick is the species of tsetse-fly known as Glossina Palpalis, whose baneful occupation of carrying the germs of “sleeping sickness” from man to man is carried on with hideous success. “In July, 1901, a doctor of the Church Missionary Society hospital at Kampala noticed eight cases of a mysterious disease.” By the middle of 1902 over 30,000 deaths had been reported, and by the end of 1905 the number had reached 200,000 out of a population in the plague-stricken regions “which could not have exceeded 300,000.” The story of the war now being waged against this scourge will provide one of the most interesting alike in the annals of British administration and of medical science.

We have no space to follow Mr. Churchill as he trekked north, passing from the regions of equatorial luxuriance to the two great deserts–“the desert of sudd and the desert of sand”–to emerge finally in the tourist-ridden land of Egypt, traversed by the “comfortable sleeping-cars of the Desert Railway and the pleasant passenger steamers of the Wady Haifa and Assouan reach.” But we note that in spite of his being fully alive to the dark side of the Uganda picture, his first enthusiastic impressions of that country remain uneffaced by subsequent travel. Speeding down the White Nile to the Sudan and Egypt which lie before him, he reverts to his opinion that “the best lies behind. Uganda is the pearl“; and when finally he comes to sum up the conclusions formed as a result of the journey, they are comprised in the words–“Concentrate upon Uganda.” In a concluding chapter the steps which should be taken to develop the immense latent wealth of the country are discussed, and the conclusion arrived at is summed up in the three words–“Build a railway.” The Uganda Railway at present stops short on the threshold of that country: with steam transport linking up the Victoria Nyanza with the Albert Nyanza immense stimulus would be given to enterprise and an incalculable boon conferred upon the country.

Jonathan Musere

Kabaka Mukaabya Mutesa: Bloodthirsty, Renowned, Diplomatic, and Enlightened Buganda Despot

September 24, 2014

Buganda’s most renowned of warrior-kings, Ssuuna (Suna/ Suuna), whom Henry Morton Stanley compared to Shaka of the Zulu (sky) Clan would succumb to small-pox in 1856. Just before his death, he called together the Kingdom-state’s three hereditary senior chiefs and the prime minister and instructed that his eldest son Kajumba be installed as his successor when the moment came. The “Emperor” Ssuuna strongly favored Kajumba whom he likened to himself, and surmised that he would be the appropriate strongman to maintain the prestige and supremacy of Buganda. Kajumba was apparently head and shoulders high above his brethren, he was youthful and violent. However, it is such headstrong tendencies that made Kajumba largely unpopular with the Buganda leaders, the royals, and the local population.

“Kajumba…Suna’s favourite…the war-loving father on his death-bed pointed…with pride to his chiefs the heroic qualities of the prince, reminded…how when a..boy he had slain a buffalo with a club and an elephant with a…spear, and assured them with his latest breath that Kajumba would become more renowned than either lion-like [Kabaka] Kimera or renowned [Kabaka] Nakivingi” (Stanley 1878: 295).

After his father’s death, Kajumba grabbed his heavy spear and massive shield, declared himself Kabaka Ssuuna’s choice and successor, and announced that he would determinedly uphold his father’s dignity to the death. The chiefs gave the order and Kajumba was attacked and tightly bound. “Mild-spoken, large-eyed” Prince Mtesa (Muteesa/ Mutesa), an alternative monarchical prospect regarded as much less violent and much easier to deal with than Kajumba, was instead installed as the new king.

However, soon after the burial rituals to honor the late Ssuuna, soft-spoken Mutesa would reveal himself as the ruthless power-obsessed butcher and disciplinarian, though his harshness would subside over the years of his reign. He struck terror in the population and earned the nickname, “Mukaabya,” (Mukabya) which translates to, “the one who causes to weep,” and by which he was prevalently called.

“He would have no subject…remind him…he owed his sovereignty to him. According to his father’s custom, he butchered all who gave…offence, and…lion in war, Namujulirwa, as also…Katikiro (or prime minister), he…beheaded. …in a passion, he would take his spear…rush to his harem…spear his women, until his thirst for blood was slaked. …Mtesa was of this temper when Speke saw him…continued…until…converted by…Arab Muley bin Salim into a fervid Muslim. After this…became…humane, abstained from…strong native beer which used to fire his blood…renounced…blood-shedding custom of his fathers” (Stanley 1878: 296).

Though he was a slave trader, Muley was regarded as a devout Muslim and teacher of the faith. Mutesa would toy with both Islam and Christianity, he saw the ironies and conflicts in the foreign religions and he never really took them seriously. But he did learn Arabic and he would at length ponder over and debate many philosophical issues.

The Buganda system of governance was a unique and sophisticated system of checks and balances that involved both civil and hereditary leaders that strived to ensure that no group went to extremes or became too powerful. The king married from all the clans in Buganda as a gesture of maintaining familial ties with all the Baganda. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the king did not have absolute powers, but was closely monitored and advised by the senior chiefs and the prime-minister. The king did not have the final say in who would be his successor. A prince who was quite young was usually chosen to be the successor, one who would likely be more easily molded and compliant as he grew and developed into the system of traditionalism. But though the king could be treated as more of a ceremonial figure, he was still capable of enlisting forces to get rid of the ruling elders, and vice-versa. The tradition of killing off princes, during the installation of a new monarch seems to have been in Buganda for centuries, and was designed to minimize royal rebellions and strife for power.

Despite Mutesa’s initial ruthlessness that reflected historical royal practices designed to exact utmost compliance to and reverence for him, Mutesa would become renowned for his enlightenment, his diplomacy, and for embracing monotheistic religions and innovative development in his kingdom. Foreign forces were fast penetrating the kingdom-state, and Mutesa was challenged to deal with traditionalism, the forces of colonialism, the new arms and ammunition, the shifting boundaries of his kingdom, the slavery and the slave trade, amongst a myriad of other issues during his three decades in power. The old order was rapidly changing, the forces of the industrial revolution and the Scramble for Africa had come to the most powerful kingdom state in Africa’s Great Lakes region.

Kabaka Mutesa Mukaabya died on October 9, 1884 (10th, according to some sources) and the Buganda Council picked his son Prince Mwanga Mukasa Basammula to be the new king. Coincidentally, Uganda officially gained political independence from England on October 9, 1962.

Works Cited


Stanley, Henry M. Through the Dark Continent. Vol.1. Harper and Sons: New York,1878.

Jonathan Musere

Vitus Ashaba: Olympic Performance of Uganda’s Middle-Distance Champion and Steeplechaser

July 3, 2014

In the late August of 1972, Uganda middle-distance champion and steeplechaser Vitus Ashaba aged 29, flew to Munich with the crop of Ugandan athletes and boxers to represent the nation at the Olympics in Germany. Also registered to compete in both the 1500 meters and the 3000 meters steeplechase were legendary Kenyan Hezekiah Kipchoge Keino, and the then unheralded future Tanzanian legend Filbert Bayi Sanka. One of the most anticipated Olympic 1500m duels would be that between “Kip” Keino and America’s greatest high school and national middle-distance runner James “Jim” Ryun who held the world-record.

Four years earlier at the Olympics in high-altitude and -heat Mexico City, a somewhat sickly and tired but not intimidated Keino, had against doctor’s advice persevered and used team tactics with training-partner Benjamin Wabura Jipcho to initially tire fellow competitors and then finally run away to win the 1500m gold in Olympic record time (3:34.91). It became too late for eventual silver-medallist Ryun (3:37.89) to catch up, and at the finishing line he trailed 20 meters behind Keino.

A 50th anniversary milestone was recently celebrated, as Jim Ryun reflected on the 3:58.3 national high school record in the mile that he established on May 15th 1965, at the Kansas State High School Meet at Wichita State University’s Cessna Stadium. It was also a new Kansas State record. Further, the 3:58.3 still stands as the record in a mile-race that included only high school students. Earlier on in 1964 Ryun, as a junior, still at East High School, had become the first national high school student to break the 4-minute barrier–3:59. And even more, in San Diego at the American open championships in early June 1965, 18 year-old Ryun still in high school, established a new American record (3:55.3) as he shocked the world by holding off New Zealand legend and triple Olympic gold-medallist Peter Snell. As a national high-school record, the 3:55.3 would stand for nearly four decades until Virginian Alan Webb’s 3:53.43 on May 27th 2001 at the Oregon Prefontaine Classic in Eugene. Ryun started taking competitive athletics seriously only a couple of years before he started establishing the many middle-distance records that would include world records established in 1967 in the 1500m (3:33.1; Compton-Los Angeles) and the mile (3:51:1; Bakersfield, CA). Ryun as a youngster had been rejected by youth basketball, baseball, and even track teams. But devout Ryun had the faith in church and God, and humbly prayed for fruition in life. Jim Ryun’s shoulders were broad and bony, his knees were long and bony, all on a 6’2″ lanky 165 lb frame. Perhaps his biggest drawback was his vulnerability to bouts of sickness and physical injuries. At the 1968 Olympics when 21 year-old Ryun lost to 28 year-old Kip Keino, he had recently suffered a mild bout of mononucleosis that had placed a question mark on whether he would compete in Mexico City.

The relatively lanky Ugandan Vitus Ashaba (5’8″, 130Ib) was placed to run the Olympics 3000 meters-steeplechase in Heat One of four preliminary heats of the first round on September 1st 1972. This first round also included both Africans 32 year-old Kip Keino and 19 year-old Filbert Bayi who would also compete in the 1500m. Tapio Kantanen of Finland, aged 23, won (8:24.8) in a new Olympic record. Keino finishing second (8:27.6), together with 24 year-old Takaharu Koyama of Japan (8:29.8), also qualified for the next round which would be the finals. But though Bayi who finished ninth (8:41.4) and Ashaba who finished tenth (8:45.0) would not move on to the finals, both times were Tanzania and Uganda national records. And the 8:45.0 would forever be Ashaba’s personal best. It would further be intriguing that in the fourth heat on the same day, Kenya’s Amos Biwott, who had won the Olympic gold four years earlier in Mexico City, would win and reduce the Olympic record to 8:23.73 within a couple of hours. On September 7th, Kipchoge Keino, running in an event he had rarely competed in, would surprisingly win the Olympic gold in the steeplechase in a new Olympic record (8:23.64). This was his second Olympic gold simultaneous with Olympic records! Kipchoge had initially planned to compete in both the 1500m and 5000m, but the Olympic schedule of 1972 would have made that very difficult. Also, only 32 year-old Julio Faustino Quevedo Elias of Guatemala, at only a couple of months older than Keino was older than him amongst the male steeplechase competitors of  the Munich Olympics. Filbert Bayi Sanka, who would beat Keino in the 1500m at the All-Africa Games held in Lagos in January 1973, was the youngest among the 1972 Olympic steeplechasers. Second in the finals was legendary Kenyan Ben Jipcho (8:24.62), and the bronze medallist was Finn Tapio Kantanen (8:24.66).

Ashaba hoped for better results in the 1500m. Here, there would be a first round of heats on September 8th, the qualified would move on to the two semi-final heats held on September 9th; and the finals would be on September 10th. The First Round consisted of seven heats whereby the first finishers in each heat, together with the next two overall fastest would move on to the semi-finals. Ashaba was placed in Heat Four which included Keino and Ryun. This would turn out to be the fastest heat among the preliminary rounds. The race began, and as typically, Ryun bided his time to wait for an outburst near the end of the race.  But it was not to be. About a lap before the end of the race, and accident between Ashaba, Ryun and Ghanaian William “Billy” Fordjour who were running in close proximity happened (Associated Press 1972). Ashaba’s heal was clipped by Ryun who ended up colliding and falling with the Ghanaian. Ashaba got away, though slowed down. It is not clear who caused the accident, but it seems to have been an accidental collision among runners in very close proximity. Many blame Ryun for the accident. Ryun blamed Ashaba. It was too late for Ryun to catch up in such a short race.

Keino won (3:39.97), and alongside Rod Dixon of New Zealand (3:40.03), Gunnar Ekman of Sweden (3:40.40), Klaus-Peter Justus of East Germany (3:40.44), and Gianni Del Buono of Sweden (3:40.78) were the semi-finalists of Heat Four. Ashaba was 8th, but still managed to establish his personal best and new Uganda national record–3:45.2.  Ryun finished 9th (3:51.5), and Fordjour last (4:08:2). Keino consoled his arch-nemesis. Ryun blamed Ashaba for the accident, and appealed for reinstatement. His appeal did not achieve fruition, and that ended Ryun’s run at the Olympics. As for Vitus Ashaba, the international sports world would mostly remember him for the accident with Jim Ryun.

Keino would move on to the semi-final round which included three heats on September 9th. He won in the second heat. Heat One had been won by fellow-countryman Mike Boit. On September 10th, at the finals, Keino was overtaken and upstaged near the end of the race by the Finn Pekka Vasala who won the gold (3:36.33). Disappointed Keino was second (3:36.81), Rod Dixon won the bronze (3:37.46), and 23 year-old legendary Michael Kipsubut “Mike” Boit who had won the 800m Olympic bronze on September 2nd was fourth (3:38.41).

Not much was heard about Vitus Ashaba after the Olympics of 1972. He died in 1985, in his early forties, and was survived by widow Joy Namata and five offspring–Dorothy Nshemereirwe, Gerald Mugume, Julius Barinjura, Humphrey Tumushabe, and Chris Tunanukye. Ashaba was interred at his ancestral home in Kyegwisha Village in Ibanda District, in Uganda.

Works Cited

Associated Press. “Accident Brings Ryun Bid to End,” in “Spokane Daily Chronicle” (September 8, 1972).

Jonathan Musere

 

 

Constance R. Nabwire of Uganda: The Impact on Future Pulitzer Prize Winner Alice Walker and on “Everyday Use”

January 28, 2014

Social worker and home economist Constance R. Nabwire is best known for her heavily illustrated books on African cooking and recipes and the cultural connections. During the early 1960’s, after her high school education in her native Uganda, Nabwire traveled to Spelman College in Georgia where she would eventually earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology and psychology. Her studies and upkeep were funded by the  African Student Program for American Universities. Thereafter she moved on to the University of Minnesota where she graduated with a master’s degree in social work.

By chance, Constance Nabwire was placed to room with future Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner (1983) and National Book Award winner (1983) Alice Malsenior Walker at the black historically prestigious Spelman College in Atlanta. They would become close friends, would become so intrigued and impressed with each other, and they would forever change each other. Evelyn C. White writes on their relationship and academic interaction.

“That Alice could craft a commanding essay on Russia’s literary giants did not surprise…Nabwire. Born in Uganda and educated at…her country’s prestigious…schools, Nabwire…among…talented African students…in the early 1960’s offered scholarships…by…Negro College Fund. Nabwire said…unlike most..students at Spelman who…have few interests ‘beyond…Friday night dates,’ Alice made…efforts to befriend Africa students and was well versed in foreign affairs. ‘Alice was informed, politically…had an international perspective rare at Spelman,’ remembered Nabwire. ‘…we were thrown together…made…difference…to room with someone…intellectually stimulating…engaged with the world.'” (White: 73-74).

Walker and Nabwire were so close that they shared items like clothing, and they together went to intriguing places and other settings to practically experience for themselves. An incident illustrative of racism and discrimination in the white church, shocked Nabwire to tears and to other forms of psychological restlessness. White airs Walker’s view on the whites who attended church in Eatonton in Georgia where she was born in 1944, and on Nabwire’s reaction when the two were denied entrance to a white church in Atlanta.

“…the ‘faithful’ whites in Eatonton…kept each (segregated) Sabbath with the Lord. …during…Spelman…Alice (wearing the vaunted pink faille dress [purchased by Nabwire]) ventured with…Nabwire to services at a church in Atlanta. ‘The white…missionaries had come to Uganda and taught..it was important to worship God…read bible…pray,’ Nabwire said. ‘When Alice and I tried to enter…church…door was slammed in our faces. I didn’t understand. …months, I did nothing but cry'” (White: 161) .

Nabwire and Walker shared the pink dress, which Walker described as “divine” (White: 76).

Walker, together with all of her women’s council and Nabwire would intimately and emotionally venture to pay respect and to take flowers the newly grave of an ancestral Walker. Nabwire’s impact on Walker was so profound, that she would visit Uganda. Alice also recounted the incident of the grave as she spoke at the Organization of African Writers, a conference held at New York University in 2004.

“…I went because…someone in Georgia just discovered the grave of my great, great grandmother, Sally Montgomery Walker. …born in 1861…died in 1900. …I went back to pay…respects…take flowers…I was lucky…to be able to get my…roommate…wonderful woman from Uganda who made me care deeply about Africans and African women. …I went to Uganda…to understand how Constance had been…produced by…country which before Idi Amin was very beautiful…tranquil…green. …Constance and I and my…women’s council…went to visit this grave. …We sat there…Constance…friend Belvee…so many of us with…histories…so painful. …a long time of crying…. We watered those graves with our tears. …happy to do it” (Goodman 2004).
 
Intrigued by Nabwire, Walker would venture more into understanding African culture and society, and to read more into the writings of renowned African writers. Passages on her website offers her opinions, reactions, and readings on Africa; and also comparisons with black America. The passages are part Walker’s speech of September 13th 2010 delivered as the 11th Annual Steve Biko Lecture at the University of Cape Town.

“It…propelled me into…curiosities about who Africans might…be. …in the deeply racist…States of the Forties and Fifties…Africa was shrouded in…profound mists of distortion, racially motivated misperceptions, gross exploitation, and lies” (Walker 2014).

“Africans…cheerfully despised. Considered…savages. Certainly. …When I…went…to college…that song, “Nkosi Sikeleli’Afrika”…that sound of so much humility, love, devotion and trust…led me to the most important friendship…during my student years…with…Nabwire….”  (Walker 2014).

“…that friendship…understanding that Constance and I were sisters, developed my deep interest…concern for Africa…its peoples…animals…rainforests…diverse cultures. Through the writing of Africans…I began to encounter an intellectual and moral thoughtfulness that bordered on…often embodied the most astonishing profundity. I remember reading The Concubine by Elechi Amadi and The Radiance of the King by Camara Laye…and just being stunned. I would…read Ama Ata Aidoo, Buchi Emecheta…Bessie Head…Okot p’ Bitek…Ngugi wa Thiong’o…Two Thousand Seasons [by] Ayi Kwei Armah….”  (Walker 2014).

Melanie L. Harris also mentions the depth and influence of the friendship between Nabwire and Walker that continued after Walker had transferred from Spelman to the more mainstream Saint Lawrence College in New York.

“…the deep admiration of compassion…care expressed by…people of Uganda…drew Walker to Africa. …witnessed…this depth of caring through…Nabwire whom she kept in touch with while at Sarah Lawrence…. However, the depths of poverty and impact of colonialism made Walker’s pilgrimage…[to Africa] hard to endure” (Harris 2010: 34)

It was in 1974, during the early years of the dictatorial regime of General Idi Amin that young Alice Walker fulfilled her dream of visiting the land of Constance Nabwire.

“…not…surprising that as soon as I found a way…[at] twenty, I made my way to…land of…Nabwire…to discover…what made her…a wonderful person…wise and gentle beyond her years and…of most of the other girls at…school. I…encountered a Uganda that bears little resemblance to the one we see today” (Walker 2014).

“Uganda…referred to by Winston Churchill as…’Japan’ of Africa, because of…people’s courtesy…kindliness. This…a colonialist view, but…it was also a land of…greenest hills and valleys…there…a palpable feeling of peace and patience with the stranger” (Walker 2014).

The names of the people in the Uganda family where Alice Walker lodged are not mentioned, but they lived near Kampala the capital.

“I was taken in…by a Ugandan family who sheltered…cared for me…dispelling…any sense I…had that I would not be recognized as one of Africa’s children” (Walker 2014).

The renowned and academically debated short story, “Everyday Use,” is part of the collection of short stories written by Walker. The collection entitled “In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women” was first  published in 1973. “Everyday Use” references the Deep South of the United States, the black family and the societal transformation, and Uganda.

In the story, the beautiful Dee who is older than her bodily disfigured and shy sister Maggie who has remained in the deep southern tradition with their mother Mama Johnson visits home after a lengthy stay in an urban setting. The introverted and audacious Dee views herself as a transformed woman now embracing modernism and black radicalism. At the beginning of her visit home with a stocky fellow Hakim, Dee utters the greeting, “Wa.su.zo.Tean.o!” This is apparently Walker adapting to writing the “Wasuz’otya nno/ Wasuze otya nno?” which in Luganda means “How did you sleep?” In Buganda it is the most commonly used morning phrase that equates to, “How did you sleep,” “How was your night,” or “Good morning.” Sometimes the greeting is shortened to “Wasuz’otya/ Wasuze otya?” While in Uganda, Alice Walker must often have encountered the native morning greeting. Also, the greeting carries a question mark, other than the exclamation mark that is attached to it in the short story.

In “Everyday Use,” Dee also declares that she is no longer Dee, and has Africanized her name to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo. In Luganda, “Wangero” can be a personal or place name, and it means “the one (or the place) of stories.” In some of Walker’s recounts, her friend Constance Nabwire is referred to as Constance Wangero. Is this an error or was Nabwire also known as “Wangero?”

The closest African name to “Leewanika,” is Lubosi Lewanika who was the king or paramount chief of Barotseland which is the western part of present-day Zambia. Lewanika reigned from 1878 to 1916, and he was deceived in 1890 by Cecil Rhodes into ceding the land to British protection through the British South Africa Company. Still, Lewanika would visit London in 1902 where he was embraced and attended the coronation of King Edward the 7th.

“Kemanjo” may well be an African name, or adaptation of one.

Works Cited

 

Goodman, Amy. “Alice Walker on the ‘Toxic Culture’ of Globalization.” Democracy Now! October 2004.

Harris, Melanie L. Gifts of Virtue, Alice Walker, and Womanist Ethics. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Walker, Alice. “Coming to See You Since I Was Five Years Old: An American Poet’s Connection to the South African Soul;” 11th Annual Steve Biko Lecture. September 2010:

http://alicewalkersgarden.com/

White, Evelyn, C. Alice Walker: A Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004.

Jonathan Musere

John Akii-Bua: Attempt to Smash the Hurdles World Record and the Renaming of Stanley Road

November 30, 2013

John Akii-Bua of Uganda was promoted by the dictator Idi Amin Dada to Assistant Inspector of the Police Force and the main Kampala road named after renowned Welsh-American adventurer-soldier-explorer-journalist Henry Morton Stanley was re-named by the dictator to “Akii-Bua Road.” This was only months after Akii had reduced the 400 meters-hurdles world record to 47.82 seconds at the Olympics in Munich in early September 1972. Among many other things, Henry Stanley is renowned for exalting Uganda as the “Pearl of Africa.” Indeed, Henry Stanley would quite often declare or imply that he was the very first to attach the term to Uganda.

“…’Pearl of Africa’….I applied that…term to Uganda…. Many…travelers…account for the term by adducing the fertility of the soil and the variety of its products; but the truth is that the term aptly illustrates the superior value of Uganda because of its populousness, the intelligence of its people, its strategic position for commerce, and for spreading Christianity–all of which make it pre-eminently a desirable colony for a trading and civilizing nation like ours [England]” (Stanley 1895: 719-720).

In January 1973, 23 year-old Akii-Bua, still fresh out of Munich and still heavily celebrated nationally, was now in Nigeria in the face of an excited high capacity crowd ready to witness the performance of the first African to ever win and establish a world track record in such a technical and grueling event. The VIPs who attended the track event included Nigeria’s president General Yakubu Gowon. The 400 meters-hurdles that requires speed, timing, and jumping over is still referred to as the “man-killer.”

On January 11th in Lagos at the Second All-Africa Games, in a 400mh semi-final heat, a relaxed Akii took his time and still won in 50.7. He was very confident that, despite the absence of the top world class competitors that he had faced at the Olympics, he would have actually broken his own world record if he had given it the effort and the technique. He remarked, “I ran six hurdles with a 13-strides pattern and then cut down to 14-15 strides in the last 200 meters…at full speed, I would have broken the 48 seconds mark” (AAP-Reuters: 1973).

Akii-Bua would also state that he had learned so much about technique and perfectly timing the hurdles from his encouraging friend and hurdling ace David (Dave) Hemery of Britain who is regarded as one of the best hurdlers ever. In 1968 at the Olympics in Mexico City, Hemery established a world record (48.12) in the finals of the 400mh. Hemery finished nearly a second ahead of the silver medallist Gerhard Hennige of West Germany. Hemery was third at the Olympics in Munich. In Lagos, Akii also told that he was struck with malaria, six months before the Olympics in Munich (AAP-Reuters: 1973).

The finals’ lineup for the 400mh in Lagos notably included William (Bill) Koskei of Kenya who as an immigrant had competed for Uganda and notably won a silver medal in the event at the 1970 Commonwealth Games held in Edinburgh. Akii was fourth then. But in 1971 in Durham in North Carolina at a USA vs Africa meet, Akii in winning beat Koskei and others and established a world-leading time of 49 seconds. It was then that the athletics world eyed the apparently relaxed and smooth-sailing hurdler Akii-Bua as a top contender for the gold in the forthcoming Olympics in Munich. Koskei was also regarded as an Olympic medal hope, but he would in Munich finish fourth in the first round heat, and thereby be eliminated. Akii, on the other hand, won in all his three heats, including the finals in which he set a world record.

Unlike the Munich Olympics in which Akii was drawn in the disadvantageous innermost “tight” lanes, in Lagos at the finals, he was placed in a middle lane–which is easier to navigate through. The gun went off in Lagos and Akii burst out fast. He seemed to slightly relax and slow down after the last corner, then suddenly pick up speed. Days later, Akii would remark that he indeed slowed down but that when he looked up in the stands at the jubilant and colorful uniformed dignitaries that included the Nigerian President Gowon, he decided to run faster. He did not have to since he was well ahead of the rest of the field. Akii-Bua won in an amazing 48.54 seconds. Though Akii had not attained his lofty goal of obliterating his own world record, the time would be the world’s best in the 400mh in 1973, and it remains among the best ever ran on African soil. Nearly two seconds behind, William Koskei was second (50.22) in a photo-finish with Silver Ayoo (50.25) of Uganda who won the bronze medal.

Overall, Uganda was fourth at the All-Africa Games in Lagos, and that performance in which the nation won many medals (exclusively in track-and-field and boxing) is still Uganda’s best ever at these Games. Uganda ended up with 8 gold medals, 6 silver medals, and 6 bronze medals, placing Uganda fourth overall behind Egypt, Nigeria, and Kenya, respectively.

 

Works Cited

AAP-Reuters. “Ugandan Plans Attempt at World Time.” Canberra Times. January 12, 1973.

Stanley, H. M. “Uganda Railway.” The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art. Vol. 79 (1895): 719-720.

Jonathan Musere

John Akii-Bua, Teddy Sondota Ruge, and Uganda’s Top National Performances in the Decathlon

July 28, 2013

On the Saturday of October 9th 1971, precisely on Uganda’s eighth Independence Day Anniversary celebration from the political gropes of the British, John Akii-Bua broke Uganda’s national decathlon record. Akii-Bua is most renowned for his Munich 1972 summer Olympics gold medal in world record time (47.82), but it escapes most people that his decathlon performance on Independence day still officially holds as the national decathlon record. Akii’s 6933 decathlon points on that day also became Africa’s decathlon record. The record is validated by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF).

The decathlon is a 10-event competition spread over two days. The events are the 100 and 400 meter sprints, the long jump, shot put, high jump, 110 meters-hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and the 1500 meters metric mile.

Larbi Bouraada of Algeria established an Africa record (8332 points) in 2012 in Ratingen. He was stripped of that record when he tested positively for a banned substance. But his earlier African record (8302 points) in the same city on July 17th  2011, still stands recognized as the Africa record. The latest decathlon world record (9039 points) was established on July 23rd 2012 by the Oregonian Ashton Eaton in Eugene in his home state at the USA Olympic trials.

Akii-Bua was an enthusiastic and versatile athletic jack-of-all-trades who delved in a variety of sports. Apart from the track and field events, he also played soccer; and did not even start hurdling until he was 17 and was in the national police force at Nsambya near Kampala. Jorem Ochana, a police officer who held the 440 yards-hurdles Africa record was the police coach. A year later Akii impressively ran the 110 meters-hurdles in 14.3. He was soon placed under the guidance of the new national coach Malcolm Arnold from Britain. Arnold encouraged Akii-Bua to concentrate on the hurdles where his niche seemed to be and partly because of his stamina was advanced to the 400 meters-hurdles.

In the era of Akii-Bua, the decathlon was meagerly and rarely contested or trained for in Africa. Though he started seriously competing in sports during his late teens, multi-talented Akii-Bua and well-built Akii established a trail-blazing lead of inspiration for many athletes of Uganda and beyond. His record-breaking decathlon performance on the Kampala grass track in October 1971 included 100 meters in 10.9, 400 meters in 47.2, the long jump in 6.65 meters (21′ 94/5″), and the high jump in 1.90 meters which is 6′ 24/5″ (Editions Rencontre S.A. : 1978). In the previous year at the Commonwealth Games (1970) in Edinburgh, his fourth place finish in the 400 meters-hurdles while injured, had given Akii a dose of confidence. In 1971, John Akii-Bua would establish the world leading time of 49 seconds in the 400 meters-hurdles. He seemed to be unstoppable! And it was a major improvement from the previous all-Africa record of 49.7 that 20 year-old Akii had established in June 1971.

The next notable Ugandan performer in the decathlon is Teddy Sondota-Ruge (Teddy Sondota) who had studied at the University of North Texas and established a personal best of 6809 points in Dallas on June 1st 2003. 11.84 in the 100 meters, 6.20 meters in the long jump, 11.53 meters in the shot put, 1.92 meters in the high jump, 52.19 in the 400 meters, 15.09 in the 110 meters-hurdles, 37.94 meters in the discus, 4.37 meters in the pole vault, 58.01 meters in the javelin, 4:57.42 in the 1500 meters. Ruge still holds the Uganda national record in the pole vault: 4:57 meters established in Abilene in Texas on May 15th 1997.

At the eighth All-Africa Games held in Abuja in Nigeria near the end of 2003, Teddy Sondota finished fifth in the decathlon (6476 points). His performances were: 11.74 (100m), 6.48m (long jump), 12.50m (shot put), 1.85m (high jump), 53.52 (400m), 15.09 (110 meters-hurdles), 39.72m (discus), 4.00m (pole vault), 51.82m (javelin), 5:33.56 (1500m).

Works Cited

Editions Rencontre S.A. (1978) “For J. Akii-Bua (UGA), Hurdles are no Obstacle to Continuing Success”: Lausanne Photos Werek Syndication International, Italy.

Jonathan Musere

John Akii-Bua: Preparation, Hurdles, Injury, War, and Detention in the Build-Up for the Montreal 1976 and Moscow 1980 Olympics

July 14, 2013

Canada would host the 1976 summer Olympics in Montreal in Quebec from July 17th to August 1st. John Akii-Bua of Uganda, who had won a gold medal in the 400 meters-hurdles and simultaneously established a world record (47.82), started building himself up in late 1975 to defend his Olympic title. The preparation intensified in 1976.

At an international meet in Berlin, on August 22nd 1975, Akii Bua won in the 400 meters-hurdles in 49.2. Significantly, here Guy Drut of France lowered the world-record of the 110 meters hurdles, previously held by American Rodney Milburn, to 13.0.

On June 6th 1976 in Dortmund at a meet, Akii-Bua established the world leading time in the intermediate hurdles by winning in 48.58. Frenchman Guy Drut won in the 110 meters-hurdles in 13.59.

Akii-Bua on June 8th 1976 became the main highlight at a German international meet held in Dusseldorf in Germany when he won in both the 400-flat and the  400 meters-hurdles. The competition, though overwhelmingly of German nationals, was importantly regarded as an Olympics-1976 Games’ qualifier. Akii-Bua’s 400mh win in 48.58 was his personal best for the year. Though excellent and a world-leading time then, it would be reduced to  5th best for the year behind the finishing times of Edwin Corley Moses (USA), Quentin Wheeler and Tom Andrews (USA, 48.55), and Jim Bolding  (USA, 48.57). The sub-49-second finishes had become more common, and they dramatized the increasing competition in the intermediate hurdles!

Akii-Bua’s win in the 400 meters-flat final at the Dusseldorf meet was in a personal best time of 45.82. It was close to Amos Omolo’s Uganda record of 45.33 established at the Olympics of 1968 in Mexico City, in a quarter-final heat in which he won. This heat included legendary Lee Edward Evans who would eventually win the gold and simultaneously establish the first sub-44 world record. It would endure for nearly a quarter of a century.

Akii in Dusseldorf beat upcoming Olympic relay bronze-medalist German Franz-Peter Hofmeister (46.39), and  European record-holder and Olympic finalist Karl Honz (West Germany) who faded into third place. This performance, happening only a couple of months before Montreal 1976, was Akii’s most profound pre-Olympic display of evidence that he was very much in contention for  another Olympic medal. Akii trained in the city Dortmund in Germany as preparation for  the Olympic Games.

Akii, now aged 26 was expected to ably defend his Olympic title, especially given his commendable build-up for the Olympics in Montreal that included the excellent performances at the two track meets in Europe. Near the end of June while in Helsinki, Akii-Bua was injured and was prescribed a two-week non-training rest by doctors there. They told him that he could still make it to Olympic competition if he was patient.The Olympics were merely weeks away! In the middle of July 1976, regarding his pulled left hamstring muscle, Akii-Bua would declare in the Olympic village in Montreal (Associated Press: 1976: 34):

“I cannot snap my foot down off the hurdle at all. The muscle is very sore. I cannot run, Dwight.”

Dwight Stones, the high-jump world record holder, then recommended treatment by California chiropractor Dr. Leroy Perry who was renowned for treating a sizeable number of world-class athletes; and was in Montreal as part of the medical staff attending to Antigua’s team which was here to compete in the Olympics for the first time.

Legendary American high-jumper and Akii’s friend Dwight Stones would comment on Akii-Bua’s prospects of winning at the Games in Montreal (Berger 1976):

“I am not too sure [that Akii-Bua will win] because Akii has been hurt. If he can’t run up to his best, then I’d pick [Edwin] Moses.”

Edwin Moses, running in “tight” lane 2 had in Eugene in Oregon established an American record of 48.30 at the USA Olympic trials on June 21st; although running as an intermediate hurdler was relatively new to him. Moses had raced in the 400mh for only three months, but the 48.30 was then the third fastest time in history–after respectively the Munich and Mexico City Olympic winning performances of Akii-Bua in 1972 (47.82) and the Briton David Hemery in 1968 (48.1).

“Sports Illustrated,” in mid-July 1976 predicted, as was the case in 1972, that Ugandan Akii-Bua would again claim gold. It was predicted that this time Edwin Moses would be second, and that Quinten Wheeler also of USA would be third. But the editors also added that the injury placed a question mark on Akii.

On July 18th 1976, the 50 year-old English Queen Elizabeth opened the Games in
Montreal. But alas, many African nations including Uganda boycotted the Games. Their effort to have New Zealand expelled from the Games by the International Olympic  Committee (IOC) was not honored. Lord Killanin the IOC president argued, among other things, that although the New Zealand rugby team was touring apartheid South Africa, rugby was not an Olympic sport; hence the African boycott was not justified. Other notable African athletes like Mike Boit of Kenya and Miruts Yifter, would therefore not compete.

In Montreal on July 25th in the finals of the intermediate hurdles, 20 year-old Edwin Moses, running in favored lane 4, established a new Olympic and world record (47.63). This was the first time for Moses to compete at international level. In a span of 10 years, Moses would claim many victories, including winning an additional Olympic gold medal, winning 122 races consecutively, and breaking the world record four times. Moses established himself as the world’s greatest hurdler.

From 1976, under Uganda’s dictatorial military president Idi Amin, Akii-Bua felt imprisoned in his native country. He was restricted from competing abroad, and when allowed to get out of the country, his wife and children were barred from going along with him. This was to ensure that he would return to tumultuous Uganda.

He recounts: “I think he [Idi Amin] wanted to put me in jail several times, but I guess he didn’t do it because I was too prominent a person. …Since 1975 I had been trying to get out with my family, but there was no way for us to leave together” (Gelband 1979).

The confusion that would evolve as the Tanzanian and Ugandan liberators (many of who were of Akii-Bua’s Langi ethnic group) approached the capital Kampala gave Akii the risky opportunity to whisk his family out of Uganda into neighboring Kenya. Milton Obote, the president deposed in Amin’s coup d’etat of 1971 was of the same Langi group that became overly earmarked and harassed by Amin’s militia and secret service. In the chaotic confusion toward the toppling of Amin, Akii still managed to arrange for his immediate family to be transported east to Tororo which is near the border with Kenya, as he planned to join them later on March 30th.

Akii-Bua was readily recognizable, so it would not be easy for him to escape Uganda. From Kampala he drove out eastwards, dressed in his police uniform as he would routinely do, so as not to arouse suspicion of attempting to flee. About thirty Uganda army soldiers jumped out of the bushes and some demanded that he drive them to Jinja which is 50 miles east of Kampala. He knew that would end up with him being killed or at best foiling his escape plan. The soldiers let Akii-Bua slide by after he lied to them that he was on duty in the police operations and entrusted to repairing a malfunctioning VHF receiver. To look the more believable, Akii turned around to show his heading back to the capital.

The next day, Akii, accompanied by an uncle and in the company of a west German diplomatic convoy attempted to flee again. While on their way, they saw three carloads of State Research Bureau (Amin’s plain clothes security and terror squad) men. The two relatives jumped into their Peugeot, they were pursued by the SRB squad but managed to get away. The two knew they would easily be apprehended if they fled via the main Uganda eastern town Tororo, so they went to where Akii’s wife was sheltered and hid there for three days. The wife Joyce then walked for six miles through the bushes from the border town Malaba and crossed the Kenya border at Amungurha. Akii was able to drive for three miles through the bushes to the Kenya border town Busia, bribing villagers to show him the way (Gelband: 1979).

Akii-Bua, together with other Ugandans many of whom had been Amin’s aides were detained in Busia for a month. Had he stayed home, he likely would have been killed in the heightened bloodbath that followed the defeating of Amin’s forces in March 1979. After being released at Busia, Akii sent his family off to west Germany; and briefly visited Kampala to check on his house and relatives. His house had been looted, and that included his Olympic gold medal.

Akii’s significant achievement in 1978 was the silver medal at the Africa Games in Algiers. His competing had significantly waned. Akii-Bua did not compete at the Commonwealth Games of 1978 (Edmonton) in which Uganda did not participate, nor had he competed in the previous ones of 1974 (Christchurch).

The massive death, destruction, and malfunctioning during and after the toppling of Idi Amin would not allow for Akii to adequately train in Uganda in preparation for the Olympics of 1980 in Moscow. Now aged 30 and significantly slower, Akii moved to Germany to train and was still determined to win another Olympic medal. He would attempt a last stint at the heavily boycotted Olympics in Moscow.

At the Moscow Olympics, John Akii-Bua’s performance was mediocre and he did qualify beyond the semi-finals in the 400mh. The Uganda 4x 400m relay team that Akii was part of did not fare well, either: the team was eliminated in the first round. Akii-Bua’s namesake John Mugabi won Uganda a welterweight boxing silver medal, the only medal won for the nation at the venue. Many countries, including the USA and Kenya, had boycotted the Olympics as they protested the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Works Cited

Associated Press. “Gold Medalist Injured: Akii-Bua May Miss Olympics,” in “Observer Reporter” (July 15, 1976).

Berger, Dan. “Track Team To Win Only 5 Golds–Stones,” in “Sarasota Journal” (July 14, 1976).

Gelband, Myra. “Scoreboard,” in “SI Vault”  (July 2, 1979).

Jonathan Musere

John Akii-Bua: Progress, Disappointment, War, Injuries, and Detention in the Hurdles to the Olympics 1976 and Olympics 1980 in Montreal and Moscow

July 14, 2013

Canada would host the 1976 summer Olympics in Montreal in Quebec from July 17th to August 1st. John Akii-Bua of Uganda, who had won a gold medal in the 400 meters-hurdles and simultaneously established a world record (47.82), started building himself up in late 1975 to defend his Olympic title. The preparation intensified in 1976.

At an international meet in Berlin, on August 22nd 1975, Akii Bua won in the 400 meters-hurdles in 49.2. Significantly, here Guy Drut of France lowered the world-record of the 110 meters hurdles, previously held by American Rodney Milburn, to 13.0.

On June 6th 1976 in Dortmund at a meet, Akii-Bua established the world leading time in the intermediate hurdles by winning in 48.58. Frenchman Guy Drut won in the 110 meters-hurdles in 13.59.

Akii-Bua on June 8th 1976 became the main highlight at a German international meet held in Dusseldorf in Germany when he won in both the 400-flat and the  400 meters-hurdles. The competition, though overwhelmingly of German nationals, was importantly regarded as an Olympics-1976 Games’ qualifier. Akii-Bua’s 400mh win in 48.58 was his personal best for the year. Though excellent and a world-leading time then, it would be reduced to  5th best for the year behind the finishing times of Edwin Corley Moses (USA), Quentin Wheeler and Tom Andrews (USA, 48.55), and Jim Bolding  (USA, 48.57). The sub-49-second finishes had become more common, and they dramatized the increasing competition in the intermediate hurdles!

Akii-Bua’s win in the 400 meters-flat final at the Dusseldorf meet was in a personal best time of 45.82. It was close to Amos Omolo’s Uganda record of 45.33 established at the Olympics of 1968 in Mexico City, in a quarter-final heat in which he won. This heat included legendary Lee Edward Evans who would eventually win the gold and simultaneously establish the first sub-44 world record. It would endure for nearly a quarter of a century.

Akii in Dusseldorf beat upcoming Olympic relay bronze-medalist German Franz-Peter Hofmeister (46.39), and  European record-holder and Olympic finalist Karl Honz (West Germany) who faded into third place. This performance, happening only a couple of months before Montreal 1976, was Akii’s most profound pre-Olympic display of evidence that he was very much in contention for  another Olympic medal. Akii trained in the city Dortmund in Germany as preparation for  the Olympic Games.

Akii, now aged 26 was expected to ably defend his Olympic title, especially given his commendable build-up for the Olympics in Montreal that included the excellent performances at the two track meets in Europe. Near the end of June while in Helsinki, Akii-Bua was injured and was prescribed a two-week non-training rest by doctors there. They told him that he could still make it to Olympic competition if he was patient.The Olympics were merely weeks away! In the middle of July 1976, regarding his pulled left hamstring muscle, Akii-Bua would declare in the Olympic village in Montreal (Associated Press: 1976: 34):

“I cannot snap my foot down off the hurdle at all. The muscle is very sore. I cannot run, Dwight.”

Dwight Stones, the high-jump world record holder, then recommended treatment by California chiropractor Dr. Leroy Perry who was renowned for treating a sizeable number of world-class athletes; and was in Montreal as part of the medical staff attending to Antigua’s team which was here to compete in the Olympics for the first time.

Legendary American high-jumper and Akii’s friend Dwight Stones would comment on Akii-Bua’s prospects of winning at the Games in Montreal (Berger 1976):

“I am not too sure [that Akii-Bua will win] because Akii has been hurt. If he can’t run up to his best, then I’d pick [Edwin] Moses.”

Edwin Moses, running in “tight” lane 2 had in Eugene in Oregon established an American record of 48.30 at the USA Olympic trials on June 21st; although running as an intermediate hurdler was relatively new to him. Moses had raced in the 400mh for only three months, but the 48.30 was then the third fastest time in history–after respectively the Munich and Mexico City Olympic winning performances of Akii-Bua in 1972 (47.82) and the Briton David Hemery in 1968 (48.1).

“Sports Illustrated,” in mid-July 1976 predicted, as was the case in 1972, that Ugandan Akii-Bua would again claim gold. It was predicted that this time Edwin Moses would be second, and that Quinten Wheeler also of USA would be third. But the editors also added that the injury placed a question mark on Akii.

On July 18th 1976, the 50 year-old English Queen Elizabeth opened the Games in
Montreal. But alas, many African nations including Uganda boycotted the Games. Their effort to have New Zealand expelled from the Games by the International Olympic  Committee (IOC) was not honored. Lord Killanin the IOC president argued, among other things, that although the New Zealand rugby team was touring apartheid South Africa, rugby was not an Olympic sport; hence the African boycott was not justified. Other notable African athletes like Mike Boit of Kenya and Miruts Yifter, would therefore not compete.

In Montreal on July 25th in the finals of the intermediate hurdles, 20 year-old Edwin Moses, running in favored lane 4, established a new Olympic and world record (47.63). This was the first time for Moses to compete at international level. In a span of 10 years, Moses would claim many victories, including winning an additional Olympic gold medal, winning 122 races consecutively, and breaking the world record four times. Moses established himself as the world’s greatest hurdler.

From 1976, under Uganda’s dictatorial military president Idi Amin, Akii-Bua felt imprisoned in his native country. He was restricted from competing abroad, and when allowed to get out of the country, his wife and children were barred from going along with him. This was to ensure that he would return to tumultuous Uganda.

He recounts: “I think he [Idi Amin] wanted to put me in jail several times, but I guess he didn’t do it because I was too prominent a person. …Since 1975 I had been trying to get out with my family, but there was no way for us to leave together” (Gelband 1979).

The confusion that would evolve as the Tanzanian and Ugandan liberators (many of who were of Akii-Bua’s Langi ethnic group) approached the capital Kampala gave Akii the risky opportunity to whisk his family out of Uganda into neighboring Kenya. Milton Obote, the president deposed in Amin’s coup d’etat of 1971 was of the same Langi group that became overly earmarked and harassed by Amin’s militia and secret service. In the chaotic confusion toward the toppling of Amin, Akii still managed to arrange for his immediate family to be transported east to Tororo which is near the border with Kenya, as he planned to join them later on March 30th.

Akii-Bua was readily recognizable, so it would not be easy for him to escape Uganda. From Kampala he drove out eastwards, dressed in his police uniform as he would routinely do, so as not to arouse suspicion of attempting to flee. About thirty Uganda army soldiers jumped out of the bushes and some demanded that he drive them to Jinja which is 50 miles east of Kampala. He knew that would end up with him being killed or at best foiling his escape plan. The soldiers let Akii-Bua slide by after he lied to them that he was on duty in the police operations and entrusted to repairing a malfunctioning VHF receiver. To look the more believable, Akii turned around to show his heading back to the capital.

The next day, Akii, accompanied by an uncle and in the company of a west German diplomatic convoy attempted to flee again. While on their way, they saw three carloads of State Research Bureau (Amin’s plain clothes security and terror squad) men. The two relatives jumped into their Peugeot, they were pursued by the SRB squad but managed to get away. The two knew they would easily be apprehended if they fled via the main Uganda eastern town Tororo, so they went to where Akii’s wife was sheltered and hid there for three days. The wife Joyce then walked for six miles through the bushes from the border town Malaba and crossed the Kenya border at Amungurha. Akii was able to drive for three miles through the bushes to the Kenya border town Busia, bribing villagers to show him the way (Gelband: 1979).

Akii-Bua, together with other Ugandans many of whom had been Amin’s aides were detained in Busia for a month. Had he stayed home, he likely would have been killed in the heightened bloodbath that followed the defeating of Amin’s forces in March 1979. After being released at Busia, Akii sent his family off to west Germany; and briefly visited Kampala to check on his house and relatives. His house had been looted, and that included his Olympic gold medal.

Akii’s significant achievement in 1978 was the silver medal at the Africa Games in Algiers. His competing had significantly waned. Akii-Bua did not compete at the Commonwealth Games of 1978 (Edmonton) in which Uganda did not participate, nor had he competed in the previous ones of 1974 (Christchurch).

The massive death, destruction, and malfunctioning during and after the toppling of Idi Amin would not allow for Akii to adequately train in Uganda in preparation for the Olympics of 1980 in Moscow. Now aged 30 and significantly slower, Akii moved to Germany to train and was still determined to win another Olympic medal. He would attempt a last stint at the heavily boycotted Olympics in Moscow.

At the Moscow Olympics, John Akii-Bua’s performance was mediocre and he did qualify beyond the semi-finals in the 400mh. The Uganda 4x 400m relay team that Akii was part of did not fare well, either: the team was eliminated in the first round. Akii-Bua’s namesake John Mugabi won Uganda a welterweight boxing silver medal, the only medal won for the nation at the venue. Many countries, including the USA and Kenya, had boycotted the Olympics as they protested the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Works Cited

Associated Press. “Gold Medalist Injured: Akii-Bua May Miss Olympics,” in “Observer Reporter” (July 15, 1976).

Berger, Dan. “Track Team To Win Only 5 Golds–Stones,” in “Sarasota Journal” (July 14, 1976).

Gelband, Myra. “Scoreboard,” in “SI Vault”  (July 2, 1979).

Marilyn Neufville of Jamaica: World Records, Controversy, and Injuries in the Athletics Career of a Young Woman

June 3, 2013

Introduction

As an elite black Jamaican athlete in the United Kingdom during the tumultuous years of racism and black power movements during the 1960’s and 1970’s, controversy would swirl around slender Marilyn Fay Neufville.

A south London resident who had migrated from Jamaica when she was eight years old, and even competed for Britain internationally, she had “defied British officials and missed a meet against East Germany in order to train with the Jamaican team” (Associated Press: 1970). Neufville had ran for the Cambridge Harriers of southeast London during her teens after she had arrived in Britain in 1961 when she was 8 years old. Four months before the summer Commonwealth Games of 1970, Neufville had represented Britain and won the 400m title for Britain. She was born in Hectors River in Portland (Jamaica) on November 16th 1952. She started as a short-distance sprinter, and it was at the end of 1969, that she started concentrating on the 400m.

1967

Neufville first became significantly recognized at national level when in 1967 she won two Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) of England sprint titles in the under-15 group: the 100 and 150 yards (in 17.3 seconds).

1968

Again as a junior, in 1968, she won in the 220 yards in the AAA under-17 group in 23.9 seconds–a new national record in this category. The AAA, reputably the oldest athletics’ national governing body in the world, was established in April 1880. The championships are regarded as the British National Championships, though they have been open to foreign competitors.

1969

As an intermediate (under-17), Neufville won the English Schools Championships title in the 150 yards, improving her personal best to 16.6 seconds in Shrewsbury. She would progress to the women’s AAA championships in 1969 and was just beaten into second place (24.3) by 28 year-old legendary Dorothy Hyman (23.7) in the 200m; Val Peat, the previous champion, won the bronze medal (24.3). Hyman, a multiple medallist at the European Games, Commonwealth Games, and the Olympics is regarded as Britain’s greatest sprinter.

During 1969, 16 year-old Neufville was ranked 27th in the 400m in the world, courtesy of her personal best (54.2) executed in London on October 9th. Earlier, on August 23rd 1969, running for the track team Cambridge Harriers, Neufville ran a 54.4 in the 400m which time still places her among the top ten British youngsters among the under-17 group. In September, Neufville was part of the winning 4x400m relay team that won in the track meet versus West Germany in Hamburg. Also on September 6th 1969, she won the 300m in London, in 38.3 seconds. This time  is still listed as among the best among United Kingdom youngsters under 17 years of age.

1970 and the Commonwealth of Nations’ Games in Edinburgh

As a British runner, Marilyn’s personal outdoor best in the 400m would become 52.6 achieved when she won the The Internationales Stadionfest (ISTAF) 400m title in 1970. Here, in Berlin, she smashed the British record. The silver and bronze medallists were West Germans Christel Frese (54.3) and Inge Eckhoff (54.5). Neufville’s personal best indoors was her 53.01 world record breaking and winning performance that is mentioned below.

At the 1970 European Athletics Indoor Championships held in Vienna (March 14th to 15th), Neufville, representing Great Britain, won impressively in the 400m (53.01). This, established on March 14th, was a new indoor world record; a timing more than a second below her previous personal best (54.2). The silver medallist was Christel Frese of West Germany (53.1), followed by the previous (1968) Olympic gold medallist Colette Besson of France (53.6). The indoor record would be reduced by Nadezhda Ilyina (Nadezhda Kolesnikova-Ilyina) of the Soviet Union, in 1974.

On May 17th 1970, Neufville participated in the Britain vs. Netherlands Women’s meet in Sparta Stadium. In the 200 meters W. Van den Berg of the Netherlands won (23.7), Neufville was second (23.8), and M. Cobb also of Britain was third (24.1). As for the 4x400m relay, Marilyn ran the last leg flawlessly with ease, and the British (3:45.1) beat Netherlands (3:50.8).

Also early in 1970, Neufville won the 400m title in the British AAA indoor championships in 54.9 seconds, establishing a new national record. Jannette Champion (56.5) was second, and Avril Beattie (57.1) won the bronze medal. Neufville would participate in the same championships during the next year 1971, but this time representing Jamaica. This time the winner was Champion (now Jannette Roscoe) in 56.1, Marilyn was second (57.3), and Maureen Tranter of Britain (57.5) was third.

Still in 1970, Marilyn Fay was a notable fixture at the South of England Championships that were held in London.  Here, she won the 200m and 400m in 23.9 and 52.0 seconds, respectively–both new records in the annual event. She would return to the Championships the next year 1971 as a Jamaican, and would retain the 200m title, winning in 24.2 again in London.

On July 23rd at the Commonwealth Games, the 17 year-old long-legged and slim Neufville established a new 400m world record of 51.02, and then the next day at a press conference refused to comment on the accomplishment in which she had just lowered the record, that had been jointly held by the French women Colette Besson and Nicole Duclos (set in Athens in 1969), by a massive seven-tenths of a second. The 51.02 would endure as Neufville’s personal best. Neufville had won by a full twenty seconds ahead of the runner-up Sandra Brown of Australia (53.66), in a time one second faster than she had ever ran in the event!  The performance was the day’s highlight at the Commonwealth Games. Judith Ayaa of Uganda was third (53.77).

On July 24th, “at a bizarre news conference,” Neufville, “…sat with her Jamaican team manager, Norman Hill…and just silently shook her head at every question” (Associated Press: 1970). In the extraordinary scene, Hill had brought her into the room that was lined with forty newsmen and ushered her into the reserved seat of honor, and then declared that she was not going to answer to any questions and comments. As for her silent passive response, the manager Hill explained that Neufville was warily tense about uttering anything that would possibly jeopardize her future in athletics. Indeed she had ran for Jamaica, though she had formerly ran for Britain to which she was tied under the international rules of athletics.

Would Neufville be in trouble with the British Amateur Athletic Association for which she had competed in world events? She had been allowed by the Association to tour Europe with the Jamaican team, as long as she would return and be part of Britain’s team to be pitted against East Germany. Neufville defiantly stayed with Jamaicans, she did not show up for the European track meet executed two weeks earlier. Hill was even evasive in replying about whether Marilyn Fay, in maintaining silence, was protesting British officials’ attitude. Marilyn would later compete in the 4x100m relay: the Jamaican team finished fifth.

Though the Commonwealth Games were held in Edinburgh, right in the United Kingdom, “Neufville was not jeered or beaten, though her preference for representing Jamaica while she was a resident in London angered many, especially as many [blacks] sought…British [sports] titles but were prevented from doing so by a rule that specified that a…contestant ‘has been resident in the United Kingdom for a period of not less than ten years'” (Cashmore 2010: 242).

It would take two years for Marilyn’s world record to be equaled–Monica Zehrt of GDR on July 4th 1972 in Paris. It would be nearly exactly four years later (July 22nd 1974 in Warsaw) that superwoman Irena Szewinska of Poland broke Neufville’s world record, down by more than a second (49.9) and the first ever below 50 seconds.

Near the end of July 1970, about a month after her Commonwealth triumph in Edinburgh, British track officials convinced that she was bent on competing for Jamaica, declared that they would not include Neufville on the British team that would soon participate in the European Cup competition. They would not object to Neufville’s defection to Jamaica, but would defer the matter to the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) for approval. Neufville even nursed the option of studying at an American college. After he Commonwealth performance, there was jubilation in Jamaica, she was officially congratulated by Prime Minister Hugh Shearer and also accorded a civic reception in her home parish Portland on the north coast of Jamaica. Neufville left Jamaica for London in late August, only days before her athletics’ national affiliation and situation would be decided by the International Amateur Athletic Commission in Stockholm. It would be decided that international athletes could henceforth be able to switch from one country after one year after competing, instead of every three years.

1971

In Toronto, on February 5th 1971, Neufville won in the 300 yards (35.7).

At the 1971 Central American and Caribbean Championships held during mid-July in Kingston, Marilyn Fay won in the 400m and established a course record (53.5). She was followed by Carmen Trustee of Cuba (54.0) and the bronze was captured by Yvonne Saunders of Jamaica (54.3). Neufville was also part of the Jamaica 4x400m relay team that won the silver medal (3:41.0), behind gold medallists Cuba (3:38.6, a new course record), and ahead of bronze medallists Trinidad and Tobago (4:03.2).

Only weeks later, on August 3rd, Neufville won a gold medal at the 1971 sixth Pan-African Games (held from late July to early August in Cali in Colombia) in the 400m–the first time the event was contested at these Games. Her winning time was 52.34 (51.34?), and the team-mate Yvonne Saunders was third (53.13). The two were also part of the Jamaica 4x400m relay team that also included Ruth Williams and Beverly Franklin and won the bronze medal (3:34.05). Jamaica was beaten by the United States (3:32.45) and silver medallists Cuba (3:34.04). Fay’s 400m performance in Cali was her personal best of 1971, and the second best in world annual ranking. Here in Cali, Carmen Trustee of Cuba finished second (52.8).

Neufville left Britain for Jamaica in July 1971, amidst the storm of controversy in which she claimed she had been mistreated and that she would therefore continue to run for Jamaica. She denied that she was leaving London because of racial prejudice. It was argued that under IAAF rules, Marilyn Fay would be eligible to compete for Jamaica in the forthcoming Olympics, but that she would not be eligible to under the International Olympics Committee (IOC) rules.

From September 1971, she lived near Los Angeles with multi-world record-holder Chi Cheng (Chi Cheng Reel) of Taiwan and her husband and coach Vince Reel who also coached Neufville and was the coach at Claremont College.

1972 and the Olympics in Munich

The ninth annual Albuquerque Jaycees Invitational track meet was held in the middle of July 1972. Here Carol Hudson, a native of Albuquerque, ably beat Marilyn Fay and also Karin Lundgren of Sweden in 600 yard run. Hudson’s performance was new American record (1:21.8)

On January 24th 1972, Neufville competed in an indoor track meet in Los Angeles, in the 600 yards. Unfortunately, she fell near the end of the race. She was visibly in great as she was helped up. With a severed tendon, she became scheduled to undergo an operation at Glendale Community Hospital. The officials were pessimistic about her chances at recovering quickly enough to compete in the forthcoming summer Olympics in Munich. The track doctor Jerome Bornstein said that it would depend on how significant the tear was. He said that if the tendon was badly severed, it would incapacitate Neufville for at least six months–a condition that would spoil her regimen of adequately building up for the Olympics.

She was helped to foot her medical bill: “World record holder Marilyn Neufville became the first claimant to receive payment for expenses caused by athletic injury under the AAU’s optional athlete’s insurance program, which went into effect January 1. …a total of $1000 has been sent to Ms. Neufville and Glendale Community Hospital….” (Amateur Athletic Union of the United States 1972: 9).

It became doubtful that Neufville would participate in the Wills-Qantas Olympic fund-raising meetings that were scheduled for mid-March in Sydney, Adelaide, and Melbourne. She was to have been a feature attraction at the meets.

In the middle of July 1972, Neufville was listed in the 27-member track and field team that would represent Jamaica at the Olympics. There were still hopes that she would recover from the snapped Achilles tendon that had disabled her from competing since the fall in January. In the second week of August, it was declared that Marilyn Faye had not sufficiently recovered and so would not compete at the Olympics.

Monica Zehrt of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) had equaled the world record held by Neufville. The latter was injured and unable to compete at the Olympics in Munich in 1972, but 19 year-old Zehrt, “[seemingly] unaffected by the pressure of her opponents or by her role as favorite” (Wallechinsky 2000: 206), went on to win the gold in the event, setting a new Olympic record (51.08).

1973

In the middle of January 1973, in Winnipeg, 18 year-old Joanne McTaggert of Canada won in the 300m (40.2) in the first time she had competed in the distance. She beat the big names Yvonne Saunders, Kathy Hammond, and Neufville.

At the Sunkist International Invitational Indoor Track Meet in Los Angeles, Neufville and Chi Cheng Reel, running for the Los Angeles Track Club, were part of the sprint relay that won in 1:14.3.

At the end of January 1973 Neufville, again representing the Los Angeles Track Club in the Albuquerque Invitational Track and Field meet, won the 300 yard dash in 35.4 seconds.

On February 23rd 1973, the USA Indoor National Championships were held in Madison Square Garden in New York. Neufville, representing the Los Angeles Track Club, finished third in the 440 yards (56.2), behind Brenda Walsh of Canada (55.5), and Kathy Hammond of the Sacramento Road Runners (55.7).

In the first week of June, Neufville set a Kennedy Games record of 55.1, in winning.

Near the end of June 1973, at the Women’s AAU meet held in Irvine in California, Neufville was beaten into second place in the 440 yards. She was second (54.5) and the winner was Olympian Mable Fergerson (54.1).

The Pacific International Games were held early in July 1973. in Victoria in Canada. The winner in the 400m was Charlene Rendina of Australia (52.4). Neufville disappointingly finished sixth.

On July 19th 1973, Neufville together with the other Jamaican world record hold Donald Quarrie were included on the Jamaica Amateur Athletic Association’s team scheduled to participate in the Central American and Caribbean Athletic Championships to be held during July 26th to 29th in Maracaibo in Venezuela. Injuries prevented Neufville from competing.

1974 and the Commonwealth of Nations’ Games in Christchurch

Marilyn Fay at 21, would travel to Christchurch in New Zealand to represent Jamaica at the Commonwealth of Nations’ Games in 1974. The injuries plagued her and she would only afford a sixth place finishing in the 400m (54.04). The gold medallist was her former team-mate Yvonne Saunders (51.67) who had become a naturalized Canadian, followed by Verona Bernard (51.94), and bronze medallist Charlene Rendina of Australia (52.08).

1975

As a University of California at Berkeley student, Neufville finished fourth in the 800 yards, in the AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) Outdoor Championships.

1976 and the Olympics in Montreal

On July 25th 1976, 23 year-old Neufville competed for Jamaica in the 400m at the Olympics in Montreal. Here, in the third of the six heats of the first round and running in lane 3, she finished fourth (52.93) behind Ellen Strophal-Streidt of East Germany (52.56), Christiane Casapicola-Wildschek of Austria (52.65). and Judy Canty of Australia (52.88). Though Marilyn Fay qualified for the next round (quarter-finals) to take place in the evening, this would be the first and end of her Olympic presence as injuries discouraged her from competing any further.  Still, the 52.93 was her personal best for 1976. This timing is the fourth personal best all-time performance among the 400m University of California at Berkeley (California Bears) women track stars. The time is also the oldest only 1970’s PB timing that is among the top ten best in the quarter-mile sprint. The best California Bears’ PB’s were established by Latasha Gilliam (52.53, 1996), Alima Kamara (52.75, 2010), and Marian Franklin (52.90, 1980).

As a student competing for UCB, Neufville’s collegiate personal best was 54.08, also established in 1976. This timing is listed seventh among UCB performances, behind Latasha Gilliam, Marian Franklin, Kim White, Chantal Reynolds, Connie Culbert, and Kelia Bolton. Marilyn attended the University of California at Berkeley between 1972 and 1983.

In Montreal in the Olympic finals of the 400m, 30 year-old Irena Szewinska-Kirszenstein of Poland, also an outstanding short-sprinter and long jumper as well as multiple Olympic gold medallist, established a world record (49.28), ten meters ahead of runner-up 18 year-old Christina Brehmer of East Germany (50.51), and 23 year-old Ellen Strophal-Streidt also of GDR (50.55). In 1974, Irena Szewinska-Kirszenstein had become the first woman to officially run the distance in less than 50 seconds.

The Aftermath

Marilyn Neufville has for many years been employed as a social worker both in the United States and the United Kingdom. She has worked at Local Authority Social Services in London, in a mental health care division. In March 2013, 60 year-old Neufville filled a claim over unfair dismissal in 2010 by the Richmond Council in London (Bishop: 2013). Accused of mishandling a case that involved domestic violence, she had been fired.

In the United States, Neufville lived and worked in and around Haviland and Halstead in Kansas, Martinsville in Virginia, and in Ballwin and St. Charles in Missouri. She lived in Oakland while attending UC at Berkeley. She was also affiliated with Tilastopaja Oy Athletics, St. Columbas School in Kilmacolm (Scotland), and the South England Athletic Association. After he win at the Commonwealth Games, national stamps with her image were issued.

Jamaica women’s 400m record, established by Lorraine Fenton on July 19th 2002 in Monaco, is now 49.30. Neufville is still the only Jamaican woman to have ever held a world record in outdoor athletics. From 1978 to 1982, Marita Koch of East Germany lowered the 400m world record six times, from 49.19 to 48.16 in Europe. Her dominance was interrupted by Jarmila Kratochvílová of Czechoslovakia who in August 1983, lowered it to 47.99 in Helsinki. At 1:53.28, Jarmila Kratochvílová still holds the 800m world record that was also established in 1983. The 400m world record (47.60) was re-established by Marita Koch in October 1985 in Canberra.

Neufville was officially listed as 5’5″ and 125 pounds. She did not have the commonly significant build of a sprinter, and her thinness made her prone to injuries. As a result she was unable to perform at many international competitions and her performance deteriorated. But she was perhaps Britain’s first elite black athlete.

Works Cited

Associated Press: “‘M’ Student Takes First,” (July 24, 1970) in “Michigan Daily.” 

Amateur Athletic Union of the United States: AAU News Volumes 43-46, 1972.

Bishop, Rachel. “Social worker claims unfair dismissal from Richmond Council,” (March 1, 2013) in “Richmond & Twickenham Times.”

Cashmore, Ellis. Making Sense of Sports. London: Routledge, 2010.

Wallechinsky, David. The Complete Book of the Olympics. London: Aurum Press, 2000.

Jonathan Musere