UCT students run perimeter of eSwatini – University of Cape Town News

UCT students run perimeter of eSwatini  University of Cape Town News

Two UCT students ran 640 km in 15 days to circumnavigate the Kingdom of eSwatini to raise awareness of healthcare challenges faced by rural communities.

Anthropology student Kevin Dornbrack and medical student Matt te Water Naude recently set a record for circumnavigating the Kingdom of eSwatini on foot. The two UCT students ran 640 km in 15 days – over 40 km a day – in a bid to raise awareness about the difficulties rural communities face in accessing healthcare.

Dornbrack, who is completing his honours degree in anthropology at the University of Cape Town (UCT), explained that the friends were inspired to combine their academic interests with their love of trail running.

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“Initially we put together a plan to attempt the first-ever circumnavigation of eSwatini’s border on foot as part of an application for funding from the UCT Mountain and Ski Club. We didn’t receive the funding, but we decided to go ahead anyway,” he said.

“We were also inspired by our studies, Matt in medicine and myself in medical anthropology, to include an element of social justice in relation to health. eSwatini has a number of significant health-related issues, including accessibility to healthcare.”

Since the runners were aiming to travel around the country on foot, they decided it would be appropriate to try to understand and raise awareness around how people in rural areas access healthcare and the barriers they face in doing so.

“We hope that this inspires people to push their own boundaries, not only in terms of physical endurance, but generally to challenge accepted limits of what is considered reasonable and possible.”

Over hills, through fences, across rivers

According to Te Water, who is in his final year of medicine at UCT, the expedition was less trail running and more adventure running as it involved “path finding, path making, taking chances going through thick grass, over hills, through fences, across rivers, many times without visible trails”.

Kevin Dorbrack finds some little running mates along the route.

“In addition, there was a stretch of the route which entailed around 150 km of road running, a segment which posed very different challenges, both physically and mentally, to the rest of the circumnavigation where we were often fighting our way through bush to find the trail.”

Both runners remember many highs and lows along the way.

Day four was particularly challenging, recalled Dornbrack.

They had covered 56 km the previous day, starting at sunrise and finishing after sunset, and were feeling fatigued as they moved along the border on a hot day “without seeing any sign of people for hours, fighting through thorn bushes and battling the beginnings of dehydration”.

Mentally it was also difficult, knowing that there was still about 500 km left to run, he said.

Te Water continued: “We were around 42 km in, far from anything on the map, still with a distance to go, both out of water and dehydrated. We saw a tiny hole-in-the-wall spaza shop. In our best SiSwati, we asked if there was anything to drink, and the owner produced ice-cold flavoured waters from a fridge.

“We sat outside, cold flavoured waters in hand, nothing around us for kilometres, backs against the hot shop wall, and laughed with relief and elation.”

“We sat outside, cold flavoured waters in hand, nothing around us for kilometres, backs against the hot shop wall, and laughed with relief and elation.”

Informal interviews

The runners conducted informal interviews with the people they met along the way. They discovered that most people had to travel long distances, often by multiple means of transport to access the closest clinic or hospital.

Kevin Dornbrack (left) and Matt te Water rest up during their 640-km trek to circumnavigate the Kingdom of eSwatini.

“The furthest quoted distance was a 50-km journey for a mother to get to a place where she could safely give birth,” said Te Water.

According to Dornbrack, the majority of people they interviewed lived in homes just off gravel roads, which often became inaccessible during the rainy summer months.

“These gravel roads become impassable for taxis, which are the most common form of transport, leaving many people stranded. People also explained that the clinics were [often] out of stock of the necessary medications. As a result, patients would have to travel to pharmacies to get medication that was often beyond their budget.”

In the end the runners completed the circumnavigation on foot in 15 days, four hours and 46 minutes.

“We hope that people want to take on the challenge to beat this time,” said Te Water.

“We have set checkpoints, including border posts, the highest mountain peak in the country and one community-run mountain camp to constitute it as a route should anyone want to have a go.”

Dornbrack added: “In doing this run, we both far exceeded our expectations of what we thought was possible.

“We hope that this inspires people to push their own boundaries, not only in terms of physical endurance, but generally to challenge accepted limits of what is considered reasonable and possible.”

“We hope that this inspires people to push their own boundaries, not only in terms of physical endurance, but generally to challenge accepted limits of what is considered reasonable and possible.”

Future focus

Both students plan to continue to combine their love of trail running with their future careers.

Dornbrack is working on a thesis focusing on the effects of running as a form of rehabilitation, and specifically how running can be a form of geopolitical and social transgression against inherited societal norms. He hopes to do his masterʼs in anthropology at UCT in 2020.

Te Water will be doing his medical internship in KwaZulu-Natal next year.

“Trail running has been, and continues to be, one of my escapes from my otherwise busy rotations; adventuring into the mountains meets my need to be outside and moving while allowing me to clear my mind and settle my thoughts,” he said.

“The move out to KZN next year comes with the excitement and possibility of running many new trails and exploring big mountains.”


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