There can’t be very many runners of Comrades who don’t know about Comrades House, but what exactly is Comrades House and how did it come about? I certainly didn’t know enough about it to write about its beginnings so I turned to one of my good friends on the CMA Heritage and Traditions committee and also who is the Convenor of the International Bus Tour portfolio, Brian Swart, to go and do a bit of research into how it all came about and to put it all down so that anybody visiting Comrades House would know the story of this magnificent old building.

My thanks to CMA for the information given for this article and for the photo of Comrades House which is reproduced in this article. My thanks too, to Brian Swart to the time he spent writing the article which follows.





Brian Swart

Once upon a time, there was a patch of open grassland and trees where a kaleidoscope of creatures frolicked in the sun.

It was little more than a staging post… way, way out in the country… a distant two kilometres from the heart of the city… a place of comfort, in out-of-the-way Maritzburg, where tired travellers rested their weary bodies, and exhausted horses, as they made their way to and from the bustling cities of Durban and Johannesburg.

Today… …

It is the home of the Comrades Marathon Museum… a truly Grand Old Edwardian building…. standing tall and proud above the surrounding buildings. It is a fitting tribute to the biggest, and greatest, ultra-distance road race in the world.

Number 18, Connaught Road, Pietermaritzburg.


It was a nondescript, undeveloped stopover point, inhabited solely by wild animals and visited occasionally by commuters in ox wagons in days when travel was possible only along wagon tracks cut through the undergrowth. Later, during the 1860s, they would traverse the bumpy, dusty, dirt road in the luxury of modern, fast stagecoaches until near the turn of the century. It is a by-gone era when pioneer travellers would have sought, and expected, nothing more than a suitable place to unhitch their wagons and draft animals in the wild, indigenous bush. The first building to be erected on the property was still more than forty years away.

The first owner was a Dr W. O’Brien who, in 1903, paid the astronomical sum of £200 for the two-acre tract of virgin land. It is not known when the first building was erected on the property, except that it was built by Michael Henry Guttridge. A fire in the Pietermaritzburg Estates Department, in 1921, ensured that the many early developmental details of the property were, forever, to remain a mystery.

The first eighty years of the 1900s saw numerous changes in ownership, and major building extensions, until the Grand Old Edwardian, that had emerged, was acquired by the Comrades Marathon Association on 4 June, 1986.

The story of the Comrades Marathon House, however, had its roots firmly secured in the fabric of South Africa’s sporting culture, many years earlier. During the late 50s, the 60s and early 70s, the Comrades Marathon was a simple, unsophisticated club event, organised by a handful of members of Collegians’ Harriers Athletic Club in Pietermaritzburg. As the world-wide running boom gathered momentum during the ensuing two decades, the parallel interest in the Race dictated that the acquisition of additional organisational skills were inevitable, to mark time with the phenomenal growth of the Race which led, ultimately, to the formation of the Comrades Marathon Association in 1982.

As the growth continued unabated, it became mandatory that dedicated premises would be required for both storage purposes and the burgeoning administrative duties. In 1985, the Comrades Marathon Association established its headquarters in a large, but basic, storeroom above a supermarket in Alexandra Road. However, in a very short while, it became apparent that those premises would soon prove to be inadequate.

And so… the search commenced.

Two buildings in Pietermaritzburg were evaluated and considered and, for valid reasons, rejected. These decisions have, in retrospect, proven to be both fortuitous and correct in every respect. The one property was in Loop Street (now Jabu Ndlovu Street); the other in Pietermaritz Street. The rampant expansion, in recent years, of the inner city area, and surrounds, would have rendered either venue completely unsuitable, and untenable, for the administration, and survival, of the Comrades Marathon. The search, however, continued and then, in the peaceful residential suburb of Scotsville… Number 18, Connaught Road was discovered.

It was old and dilapidated but, beneath an unsightly veneer, stunningly beautiful. The graceful old house was in need of major reconstruction and refurbishment but its potential was, clearly, unsurpassed.

The Committee was convened. The advantages and disadvantages, the financial aspect and all possible scenarios, were considered and inevitably… a bold step was taken.

An architect was commissioned, designs were accepted, plans were passed and the redevelopment project gradually took shape until, finally, the Comrades Marathon had its own home when, on Wednesday, 16 March, 1988, the Comrades Marathon House and Museum was officially opened.

The task that faced the team undertaking the redevelopment project was all of daunting, enormous and, above all, challenging. The exercise was, essentially, one of blending the ‘olde’ with the new, which was where the three aspects of the ambitious plan revealed themselves.

 The outcome of the 1921 fire meant that the exact age of the building was not known and, at an estimate, must have been in the vicinity of seventy-five to eighty years old when acquired by the Comrades Marathon Association. Over such a long period, numerous extensions to the original building had been carried out, at different times and with building materials that were concurrent with the era in which the extensions were effected, creating the ‘unsightly veneer’ that was apparent at the time the initial inspection of the property was undertaken.

The main shell of the building, whenever it was erected, was built with beautiful old ‘Maritzburg Reds’; bricks, made from local rich, red clay, with which many historic buildings in the city are built.

When the work commenced, walls subsequently built with newer, darker bricks had to be demolished. Steel window frames, that had replaced the original sash windows, were removed. Concrete beams, that had replaced original carved wooden beams, were broken down and the dilemma facing the architect was where to locate ‘olde’ materials to restore the building to its former glory.

The ingenuity of the team came to the fore when sufficient quantities of Maritzburg Reds and discarded sash window frames were located during visits to scattered demolition sites, builder’s supplies merchants and numerous other, similarly, obscure sources, over an extended period.

After many months of toil, patience and, at times, moments of true genius, the culmination of a dream was unveiled; a majestic monument to the Comrades Marathon of which both the Comrades Marathon Association and the City can be, justly, proud.

Outstanding craftsmanship and the exquisite, aesthetic beauty of its red clay brickwork, blended to create an architectural tapestry that led to the house, justifiably, being listed as a National Monument.

Initially, the refurbished building housed both the administration office, on the top floor, and the museum at ground level. Despite the substantial increase in available floor area of the new premises, the inevitable, once again, slowly and assuredly, reared its unwanted head; more space would be required. In time, the two houses, adjacent to the original house, were acquired for administration purposes, leaving the main Comrades Marathon House, exclusively, as the home of the Comrades Marathon Museum.

Inexorably, time marches on and, as it does, it demands that progress marches alongside it. The new millennium has made its presence felt. Man has to move in concert with it and the Comrades Marathon cannot afford to be left trailing in its wake. It must walk boldly into the future and, as an initial step in that direction, the Grand Old Edwardian, and the Museum, is undergoing extensive renovations that will ensure that it takes its rightful place, amongst the finest, in the hi-tech world of the twenty-first century.

Once upon a time, there was a patch of open grassland and trees where a kaleidoscope of creatures frolicked in the sun.

There was just a rickety, little old farmhouse standing there… where travellers unhitched their wagons, locked their oxen and horses in the stables and slept peacefully overnight, while the stars kept a silent vigil above.

Today… …

In that same place, we can gaze with pride and awe upon the grandeur of the… Comrades Marathon House.




Tommy Malone was a young man when he came to South Africa in 1962 and he answered the call of the Comrades Marathon four years later. He wasn’t really known beyond the running world in what was then the Transvaal and a few runners in Natal but it wasn’t very long before the diminutive runner from Coatbridge between Glasgow and Stirling in Scotland soon became known as the “Flying Scot”.

It’s 50 years ago exactly since Tommy Malone won his Comrades Marathon as a novice so what better time than to chat to Tommy about that day on the 31st of May 1966 and the lead up to it.

DJ:      When did you first start running and what was it that attracted you to Comrades? 

TM:     When I was 16 I started all disciplines in school and I developed a liking for cross country. I came to South Africa in 1962 and in the 1963/64 cross country season won 13 from 15 events at inter club events and then made South African team in 1964 and ran against then Rhodesia in Bulawayo.

I read everything possible about running and eventually started following Jackie Mekler’s career after his second place to Scotland’s Joe McGhee in the 1954 Empire Games Marathon. I had been in touch by letter with Joe McGhee while I was still in Scotland but when I came to South Africa I decided to try to get in touch with Jackie Mekler which I did and I met up with him and I have been friends with Jackie ever since, over 50 years now. Obviously with my interest in Jackie’s career and then getting to know him and getting into road running Comrades was always going to follow, and it did.


DJ:      Despite a fair degree of success in races in the 5 months leading up to Comrades 1966 starting with the Magic Trophy in Pietermaritzburg you were relatively unknown to the general public prior to Comrades 1966 where you came in as a novice. Tell us about your race successes in the first half of that year.

TM:     I went down to Pietermaritzburg in January for the Magic Trophy which was a very tough 32Km and I won that and after the race Manie Kuhn came up to me and introduced himself and said that he had heard through the grapevine that I was thinking of running Comrades and that if that was true he had a friend in Johannesburg who would be happy to come round and break my legs. That was the start of a lifelong friendship with Manie despite many fierce battles on the road. He was a good man and I still miss the many laughs we shared whenever we got together.

In 1966 and prior to Comrades,  I also ran the SA Marathon Champs in Bloemfontein and despite not being 100% well I managed to finish in third place there. And then six weeks before Comrades I ran in, and won the Korkie that used to be run from Centurion to Germiston and in that race I broke Jackie Mekler’s record.


DJ:      Apart from the races what sort of training did you do and did you turn to anyone for advice on Comrades 

TM:     I logged 6 months from 1 Dec and did 3200kms as Comrades training in that period including races. I ran 7 days a week and sometimes twice a day. My long training runs were 30Km, 56Km and one 64Km and a lot of it alone. I did do a few runs with 1957 winner Mercer Davies. One strange thing though was that despite my very long friendship with him I never ran any training runs with Jackie nor went to him for race advice that I can remember.


DJ:      The field was small in those days – probably not much bigger than around 500. What was your strategy from the start?

TM:     I approached it with caution. I had no pre race strategy and decided to rely on how I felt on the day. I was acutely aware of the fact that I was the novice and that I was surrounded by experienced Comrades runners and at a function the day before the race, one of the pre race favourites, Frikkie Steyn made no secret of the fact that he was going to win in 1966. He actually never won Comrades although he was a Gold medallist. I was also very aware of Manie Kuhn and his Comrades credentials and the fact that these guys all knew the route well and trained on it so I decided that I would go out in a group with them.


DJ:      You ended up with a very big gap between you and second placed Manie Kuhn at the finish – some 18 minutes. When did you start to make your move and when did you realise that the race was yours?

TM:     At around Bothas Hill, I was around 5th about 2 minutes off the pace and saw Jackie Mekler who was standing at the side of the road and said “Keep it going Tommy the race is still young”. I could never in my wildest dreams imagine that the man who had finished second to Joe McGhee at the Empire Games in 1954 and at that stage four time winner of Comrades (he would still go on to win it again) would be standing at the side of the road encouraging me.  

At Harrison Flats my second said to me “Do you want anything”? and my reply was “I want Manie Kuhn”. Manie had at that stage led the entire way and I had made my way up to 2nd place.

By the time we reached Camperdown I had caught him. I didn’t bother to slow down or to say anything to him as I passed him and there was no exchange of any sort between us. I eventually reached the downhill section towards the Tumble Inn and a spectator on a motorcycle came up alongside and my second asked him where Kuhn was and we were told that he was about 4Km behind. That meant that in some 12Km I had moved 4Km ahead and I hadn’t increased my pace so Manie was in trouble. 

DJ:      It must have been fairly lonely running out there – particularly with the size field and being an up run with few spectators until you actually got into Pietermaritzburg. 

TM:     Not through the towns. There were lots of spectators there but between towns very little in the way of people. There was one amusing incident that happened although it wasn’t very amusing at the time. I was running up Polly’s and as I didn’t want to run on the camber of the road I moved to the centre of the road and anybody who has run Comrades will know that the camber on Polly’s is severe, when an over enthusiastic marshall came rushing up to me, finger wagging and told me that if I didn’t move to the edge of the road and run facing the traffic he would immediately disqualify me!

I immediately moved to the side of the road and when I got to the top of Polly’s I was met by two motorcycle traffic policemen from Pietermaritzburg who then escorted me whilst I ran – in the middle of the road – to the finish!

I ran into the finish some 18 minutes ahead of Manie Kuhn in second place and that is still the second biggest winning margin in the last 50 years and the biggest on the up run in the last 50 years.


DJ:      You had two competitive Comrades and then you didn’t run Comrades for some four years before coming back to complete your remaining 8 Comrades for your Green number. Whilst you ran all of those in silvers what many people don’t know is that it was injury that took you out of competitive running.

TM:     Sadly yes. Both my Achilles Tendons gave in after the 1967 Comrades and I couldn’t run Comrades again for 4 years and then when I did come back it was a case of hobble more than run the way I used to run but I have still been involved with running in many ways since then.


DJ:      Looking back over those 50 years since your win in 1966, you must have seen massive changes to Comrades. You come back virtually every year.  The attraction is obviously still huge to be at Comrades.

TM:     I’m coming up for my 50th Comrades that I’ll be attending this year and it’s the meeting up with old mates and seeing people like Jackie Mekler and Mick Winn and others and swapping Comrades “war stories” from years gone by is really great and that’s what’ll keep me going for as long as I’m able to do so.



There are always less published stories about Comrades and the one from Tommy’s Comrades win is fantastic.

Sitting in faraway Scotland, his Mum, Elizabeth, was biting her nails wanting to know what was happening to Tommy in this road race at the southern tip of Africa and she had an idea. She picked up the phone and called the Glasgow Herald and got through to the Sports Desk. The call we’re told went like this.

“I wonder if you could help me please. My son was running this race in South Africa today…………


You must be Mrs Malone! Tommy won the Comrades Marathon today”.