Nelson Mandela the man, the fighter, the legend

By Kevin Davis


Today we lost a great man, a man that can't be put under a title of one world to describe his essence. His autobiography 'the Long Walk to Freedom' that is now a motion pitcure, he details his life as a boxer and the power of sports. “Boxing is egalitarian. In the ring, rank, age, colour and wealth are irrelevant. When you are circling your opponent, probing his strengths and weaknesses, you are not thinking about his colour or social status.”said Mandela, who enjoy the idea of defeating you're opponent by using strategy, rather than thriving on the violence.

“Amateur boxing long commanded my participation and my son Madiba (Thembekile), then 10 years old and I spent most of our evenings in the gym at the Donaldson Orlando Community Centre…and its membership consisted of both professionals and amateurs. Our star boxer, Jerry (Uyinta) Moloi, later became Transvaal light weight champion and number one contender for the national title. He fought top boxers like David (Slumber) Gogotya, Elijah (Maestro)Mokone, Enoch (Schoolboy) Nhlapo, Levi (Golden boy) Madi, Sexton (Wonderboy) Mabena, Jaos (Kangaroo) Maoto, Leslie Tangee and others in the bantam, feather and light weight divisions.” 


The South African President was proud of his country, and it's people and how they had to compete with very dismal conditions, unlike many other fighters. “The gym not only kept me physically fit and busy during my spare time but was an enjoyable form of relaxation and took my mind away from the more serious problems of race relations that harassed us at the time. The next morning I would wake up feeling fresh, strong enough to carry about my body with ease, and ready to begin the new day and face up to all the trials to which life exposes me as a black man in my country. Our club members were very much the product of township life. They carried all the scars oppression inflicts on our people by driving our people into the gutters. But the outstanding feature was that each of them in his own way showed remarkable qualities which survived despite these conditions. Then as now I remain immensely proud of the friendships we developed through our membership of the club." 

“African boxers, like all black sportsmen and artists, have to overcome many handicaps, not the least of which are poverty and the color bar which denies them the opportunity of belonging to white clubs where they could have access to all the equipment and expert advice necessary to produce a first class boxer. Almost all the money they earn goes mainly to buying food, paying rent and purchasing clothing and the average African boxer finds it difficult to invest in boxing equipment and literature. Almost all African professional boxers have full time employment and only start their daily training program after working hours, exhausted and not in a condition to get maximum benefit from training.  Sparring partners are few, either not paid at all or poorly paid and frequently not up to the grade. A sparring partner should offer real opposition to a boxer preparing for a fight and not be a mere punch bag. Sparring sessions are like a rehearsal of a play before the actual performance and each boxer should play his part conscientiously. The conditions under which our boxers train makes it impossible to achieve the high standard of preparation required. “Like most African gyms our[s] was poorly equipped. It had a cement floor which was quite dangerous when a boxer was knocked down in sparring. We could not afford a ring, nor more than one punching bag and a handful of pairs of gloves. Only Jerry and one or two others had a head guard and we had no medicine or speed balls at all, no qualified masseurs, proper boxing trunks and shoes, skipping ropes and even mouth pieces.”

 Trying to survive in the 19 50's and 60's were a trying time in South Africa, and the fear of Mandela was growing to the the fact he was arrested for treason, by it's government. “If we intended [on] working together with the ruling party in formulating the principles that would form the basis of a new South Africa, against whom was the alleged conspiracy directed?”  Unlike his later arrest in 1962, he and his fellow defendants were granted bail after two weeks.  For a variety of reasons, all of them were acquitted in March of 1961.  Even though the wrongful imprisonment in 1956 didn’t end up the way that it would almost seven years later, it was still a trying experience.

The final Rivonia trial in 1963 saw the struggle for true human rights take a bigger role in his life, leaving no time for boxing.   Nelson Mandela’s part in the struggle resulted in him spending over 27 years in prison.  While incarcerated on Robben Island, boxing was forbidden. His son died in a car accident while Mandela was inprisoned, he wasn't allowed to attend the funeral and wasn't told the details of the incident. Those years saw a lot happen in South Africa and Africa as a whole.  Through a combination of the continued domestic struggle, pressure from some foreign quarters and very probably concerns of what would happen to the country if Mr. Mandela died in prison, he was released at the age of 71. When he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by the American Congress in July of ’98, still the boxing  aficionado said “I would like my friend Evander Holyfield to know that today I feel like the heavyweight boxing champion of the world.” at the 36th Annual WBC Convention in Johannesburg, he said “Perhaps the next best thing to being a world boxing champion, which I never achieved, is to have the privilege of opening a prestigious annual boxing convention.” 


He never carried bitterness in his heart, he tried to show his love, by extending it to all, not judged by race, color or creed. He wanted to be known as an extension of South Africa and what the country was about, and now his legacy shall live forever. 

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