"I picked out three houses I like," he says, "but the people at the mine tell me nothing. I say, 'Tell me the difference between what you want to spend and the house I want. We can go from there.' "
"He will have his house, but it will take time, and it may not be exactly what he is thinking," says Ray Dibden, personnel director and organizer of the track team at the mine. "Josia has some unreal expectations, I believe. He doesn't understand so much about houses, about taxes, about the costs of a house. He will be moving to Middelberg, a traditionally white neighborhood. We don't want him overwhelmed by costs that he doesn't expect."
Actually Thugwane is not too sure what his expectations should be. He has heard a lot of promises, shaken a lot of hands, but not much has happened in the two months since his win. There have been estimates that he could make as much as $5 million in endorsement income and appearance fees over the next four years as a national hero, an Olympic champion, an international star. He has not seen many advances on that money. A new Mercedes-Benz, part of the reward for his gold medal, came with costly payments for shipping and incidentals. He turned it down. His flashiest new possession is a cellular phone. He carries it everywhere.
"We are fully in charge of the situation," says Banele Sindani, secretary general of Athletics South Africa (ASA), the governing body of South African track and field. "We are making sure that Josia will not be shortchanged. We have a vested interest in his welfare. We will see that every dollar that he earns goes into Josia's pockets."
Is this true? It is a curious situation. The government has taken control of his career. He signed two separate contracts with U.S.-based agents—one in 1991 with Longhurst, another the day after his win in Atlanta with Luis Felipe Posso of Tampa—but both have been invalidated by ASA. Sindani says that ASA will find Thugwane an agent in due time, "possibly at the end of November," when an ASA panel will hear all propositions. ASA will take care of business until then.
"We are concentrating on the major endorsements," Sindani says. "There will be four or five of them, companies who get the whole package: the television, the personal appearances, everything. We will have those in place by the time we interview the agents. The one who is selected will handle the rest: the lesser endorsements, the race schedule, the other things."
There is not even a shoe contract now. The Olympic marathon champion does not have a shoe contract! High schools in the U.S. have shoe contracts! Thugwane wears Reebok some days, Nike other days—whatever is around the house. Adidas apparently has great interest in him. The agents sniff a foul smell around the delay. ASA says it sniffs a foul smell around the agents. None of this helps.
"Josia is being pulled from pillar to post by people who don't care about him," Longhurst says. "I feel very, very sad for the guy. He's being raped and abused. He is probably not going to see one third of the money. Maybe not a fourth. The thing I worry about is the running. He is going to be dragged so many places, he won't be able to train. The running is going to disappear."
"The last time I talked to him, maybe eight days ago, Thugwane told me he was 'tired and confused,' " Posso says. "They have him doing interviews every day. He is not training enough. I know I've had calls from everywhere, from people in England, Japan, France, the States, people who all have been to his house to do interviews. These things have to be organized. Someone has to help. I would like to do it...not because it would make a difference for me, but because it would make a difference for Josia."
All of this would be hard to handle for a Harvard Business School graduate, much less for a product of the veld and the mines. Thugwane is not a dumb man, no, but he is a victim of apartheid as well as a victor over it. He does not read. He does not have good math skills. He is confronted with situations he never imagined, decisions that are hard to make. Everyone has advice, but he has no true adviser. Whom should he trust? Dibden, his superior and confidant at the mine, favors Longhurst. Malan, the coach, is employed by Posso. ASA works its own agenda. Thugwane seems almost paralyzed by his choices.