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Alba Iulia
Friday, August 14, 2020

YOTAM MULEYA: The Zambian barefoot runner who shocked the world.

Columns YOTAM MULEYA: The Zambian barefoot runner who shocked the world.

Yotam Muleya
Yotam Muleya

YOTAM Muleya was only 19-years-old when he died, yet he has a government school and road in the capital city, Lusaka, named after him.

Yotam Muleya Road in Libala stretches along David Kaunda Technical School, joining Independence Avenue to Burma Road.

In Lusaka’s Emmasdale area, there is also a primary school named after him.

Muleya was a long-distance runner who represented Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

He was born and grew up in Mudukula village in Choma where for many years he had been racing with his hunting dogs as a small boy.

After he completed his primary education, Muleya proceeded to Munali Secondary school in Lusaka. He then qualified to Hodgson Training School now Lusaka Trades where he enrolled as an apprentice motor vehicle mechanic in early 1958.

It was at Lusaka Trades that Muleya got noticed as a runner having won a number of races including national competitions.

60 years since his death, many know his name but are not aware of the heroics that earned Muleya a legendary status.

He broke racial barriers and opened a new era in Rhodesian sport when he beat the famous British four-minute miler, Gordon Pirie, by 100 yards in a three-mile race at Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia in December 1958.

On May 27, 1958 thousands of spectators filled the arena to Gordon Pirie win the race as he had always done – he was a world champion.

Unknown 18-year-old Muleya was to take part in the race after almost being prevented by a South Africa-born William DuBois, a dedicated white supremacist who served as chairman of the Southern Rhodesian Amateur Athletic and Cycling Union

“Mister whatever-his-bloody-name-is – this ‘Kaffir’ – has never even sent in a formal application. And if he had, it would have been turned down,” said DuBois who when reminded of Muleya’s record, added scornfully, “We do not count Kaffirs’ performances.”

The association overruled DuBois and declared that Muleya would be allowed to compete but not wholeheartedly as he was excluded when it white competitors were presented to the Governor before the race.

Muleya thus became the first African ever permitted to run in a track meet of the Southern Rhodesian Athletics Association.

As the race got underway in the muddy terrain, Muleya took to the track without shoes.

He kept pace with Pirie and eventually overtook him to win the race by 100 yards and in the process, he set a new Rhodesian record of 14:48.5.

Muleya became an instant hero as joyful spectators, black and white alike, bore him from the track in triumph on their shoulders, with one white tobacco farmer stating: “He may be black, but, by God, he’s a Rhodesian.”

Officials presented Pirie with a plaque to mark his visit and he brusquely handed it over to Muleya.

Muleya’s victory was reported in the popular American magazine Sports Illustrated as making “a nice crack in Rhodesia’s grim racial barrier.”

Muleya’s appearance not only broke the color bar, but his performance led to an educational exchange grant in the United States.

On 16 November 1959, Muleya and, white track star, John Winter, the Southern Rhodesian quarter-mile champion, set off on 3-month scholarships at the Central Michigan College from Salisbury Airport.

They arrived in the United States three days later and were scheduled to take part in their first sports meet on 23 November 1959 at East Lansing. They started off for East Lansing in the morning accompanied by American athlete Leroy Zimmer and a driver.

At 8:30 AM with the highway slippery and visibility reduced due to thick fog, their vehicle collided with another car near Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. Muleya, Winter, Zimmer and the driver of the vehicle were seriously injured while the two occupants of the other vehicle died in the crash.

Doctors unsuccessfully attempted to save his life and Muleya died that same evening while Winter died five days later.

Muleya’s remains were transported back home and after the church service at Sikalongo mission, he was buried in his home village.

He was given a state funeral and his younger brother Jesse represented the family at the open-air memorial service which was held at Hodgson Technical College.


    • He looks like Ba Edgar.
      That is how we looked at 19 years old, and still look same. Check Ba Edgar’s pictures, he has not changed. Not you today toys, there is no 19 year old who can run a mathon in Zambia, can’t even kick the ball.

    • MULEYA tragedy: Great men do not stay long. Its only Imbeciles like Kaizer Zulu and Sharon who live longer!!!!!This life – Awe

      I hope he was not murdered by racists

    • Tribalism’s brother is Racism. Only the blood of Jesus can wash it from hearts of TRIBALISTS and RACISTS. If UPND members were in countries which thrive in racism they would be racists. Not all UPND members are tribalists but all tribalist are UPND in Zambia. HAZALUZA HAGAIN. Now put another article about KALU and TRIBALISTS will begin to fit!

  1. Yesterday was his 60th anniversary. If he lived he would be aged 79 years. This piece of literature s so cool that tells us something interesting, devoid of politics that always seem to take lead most human achievements. Twalumba cipati ba blaza!

  2. He was becoming a world champion. Am saddened to learn about Yotam Muleya. Like someone yes this piece of information should have been part of our school literature.

    • I totally agree with you – he over deserves to be in our school literature. He is not in the school literature because he is from Southern Province.

  3. What a touching story of a hero who really deserve to be honoured. If it were up to me Zambia Olympic Youth Development Centre, could have been named after him; being a pioneer to win international recognition. Yotum Muleya Olympic Youth Development Centre.

    • This is incredibly educative…I lived along yotam muleya road for years but didn’t know about the history behind muleya…Thanks for this information..May his soul continue resting in peace.

  4. His name has always been and will always be an inspiration in Zambian sports. It is so unfortunate how he that he lived and tragically died in an era when Africans were considered subhumans by self-proclaimed hate-masters of the universe.

    Like Jesse Owens, his legacy tells of the unconquerable spirit and will power to perform against all odds and succeed, whether in sports or in any other endeavour one chooses in life.

    • Because he was not a politician. Our politicians are narrow minded because they are selfish. They think all heroes are politicians. They don’t think other walks of life can also provide heroes

  5. Am so delighted to learn about Yotam Muleya. I used to think he was one of the leading freedom fighters. I have always believed excellence is the cure for racism and sexism. If you’re good you good. Majority of Caucasians are not racists. If the authorities then overruled those who did not want Muleya to participate, then they were reasonable people.

  6. That Picture of Muleya does not look 19 to me. He should have been over 30 years when he died. Simple logic to us maths analysts.
    He was a great man though.
    Thanks for the brief and to the point Bio.

  7. Man of God (MOG).
    I Would like to officially report this tragic accident to the Zambia Traffic Police, to the Honorable Minister of Transport Hon. Kafwaya Mutotwa, the Honorable Minister of home affairs His Exellency Stephen Kampyongo and Honorable Joseph Malanji Foreign Affairs to OPEN an inquiry in the death of our forFather YOTAM MULEYA against the USA I FEEL OUR HEROE did not just …was he given a life compassation if yes how much are they receiving 1958 is not too far to fail to investigate this accident.

  8. Those of us of a certain vintage have heard of Muleya. However, this article is very welcome. Thanks for the memories. I once read about him in Orbit magazine. Those were the days!

  9. This is a story that should not just die like this. I went to Muleya Winter Primary School in Mufulira where i did my First Grade through Seventh Grade before moving on to go to Kantanshi Secondary school. God willing i would soon Produce a movie about this guy (Yotam Muleya)

    • I also grew up in Mufulira but got confused with the name because it was called Muleya Winter. I have now known from the article that it was jointly named after another athlete called Winter, a white Southern Rhodesian athlete.

  10. Unsung national heroes for ask a seventh grader who Yotam Muleya was I wonder what answer would be given. Come to think of it, there are many names whose bearers impacted the Zambian nationhood but hardly mentioned unless they were in a fight for independence.

  11. I remember when we were young in the 60’s we used to run in play ground and impersonate MULEYA and say ” CHINO MWAICE WANDI,CHILABUTUKA ,BANONO,NINE MULEYA INE,I CAN RUN LIKE A JEEP ,” and with the little knowledge at that time all we knew he was just a super human great runner in Northern Rhodesia and was murdered by white people because of his unmatched splinting speed at that time.MHSRIP

  12. I have seen the Yotam Muleya road and school but never knew there was such a painful ending history to it . MHSRIP

  13. All you know is criticize his age, look at the bigger picture here.
    This here is a national pride, wish he could have done more for the country continue to rest in eternal peace son of the soil.

  14. Besides government schools and roads being named after him, Yotam Muleya is also eulogized in song by the Big Gold 6 band.. Indeed he will never be forgotten.

    • This could be copy of a very touching traditional rendition done by some bemba women for znbc then zbs . it’s through it that I first learnt about the man. And from the way it was sung we were made to believe he was bemba, the name notwithstanding. One Zambia…indeed

  15. It’s makes a sad reading learning the fact that he died a painful and trajedic death in foreign land and only his remains were sent for burial… How sad!
    I therefore, take opportunity to proposed to government of the day and the department of history education curriculum/syllabi in Zambia as well as the ‘Archives’ to take into consideration documenting and taking account of such fallen heroes of country.

    Instead of subjecting us to learning and studying on “too much world history”(ya bena Bismarck, Molini, Hilter and the like… Why can’t we intensify study’s on our very own Zambians who have had made a mark in history like ‘Yotam Muleya’ and the rest.

    I bothers me to learn that we have so much rich history in Zambia yet we’ve embraced so much of Western history and…

  16. Thanks for deleting illiteracy in me. Continue testing peace. Our source of pride even when colonialism was at the core.

  17. This article has wrong unresearched data on William DuBois
    1. He was not born in South Africa
    2. He was not white, he was African American
    3. He was not white supremacist. He became the first black American sociology professor at Harvard. He was an anti-racism icon and made several jabs at white supremacists.
    LT what type of poor journalism is this?

    • Hey you have your facts mixed up. The African American never lived in Africa. This Dubois cited here was a boer.
      This is why all black people must have African names because when digging up information after they are long gone we will mistake them for our colonisers.

  18. What a hero, no one mentions his name, writer create a Facebook page in his honor then we lobby His Excellency to nam the Olympic youth development center in his honor. What has IAAAF done

  19. FYI – There is a Yotam Muleya stadium in Bwacha compound in Kabwe. Many Kabwe United (Kabwe Mine Soccer team) players started out at Yotam Muleya stadium. This is the kind of history we should never forget. Thank you for sharing.

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