Pietermaritzburg – When Robert Lembethe decided to take part in his first Dusi Canoe Marathon in 1984 he was unaware of the repercussions his actions would have so many years down the line. With a determination to grow canoeing amongst the underprivileged communities his legacy lives on years after he passed away in 2006.
Lembethe’s canoeing career started in the early 1980’s and as one of very few black paddlers around in the 80’s He was determined to take the sport to the underprivileged and he became the father paddling figure to a number of Kwa-Zulu Natal’s best black paddlers due to the fact that he was the man responsible for introducing them to the sport.
Lembethe enjoyed a long Dusi Canoe Marathon career having paddled in his first in 1984 and completing 16 others in his career which included a win in the Masters section with Tim Cornish in 1998. Lembethe’s career did not end with the Dusi; he became a respectable sprinter as well as marathon racers in the veteran and masters classes.
It was a historic moment for more than one reason when Lembethe was selected for the South African Olympic team for their first post-isolation Olympic games in Barcelona in 1992.
After the Games Lembethe made the decision that he was going to focus his attention on coaching and from them on he dedicated his time and his effort into developing the underprivileged children at Nagle Dam and Midmar Dam – where canoe clubs were set up.
The Nagle Dam club flourished under his guidance and became known at the Robert Lembethe Canoe Club. It was only a matter of time before Lembethe became one of the country’s top coaches and specialised in the art of technical coaching.
The influence that Lembethe had on developing the sport of canoeing amongst the underprivileged has been substantial and the benefits of his canoeing club are being seen now with the likes of Thulani Mbjanwa who won the K2 title with his other mentor, Martin Dreyer, in 2008 becoming a massive force to be reckoned with on the national canoeing scene.
The Dusi Canoe Marathon, which takes place from 13 to 15 February 2014, is focussing on the pioneering feats of the characters who started the race 63 years ago, profiling the contributions that icons like Ernie Pearce, Graeme Pope-Ellis, Robert Lembethe and Gordy Rowe played in getting the famous race to where it is today.