Journalist Nechama Brodie is the author of The Joburg Book and has been known to go a few rounds in the ring. Here is her round up of what you need to know about boxing in Joburg.
“Shake hands and come out fighting” could be an unofficial motto for Johannesburg – and, indeed, the city has a long and rich tradition of fisticuffs, some of which even happened inside the boxing ring.
Like many other activities, for most of the 20th century boxing in South Africa was segregated (first by the British colour bar system, later by apartheid laws). “Non-European” bouts were often staged at the Bantu Men’s Social Centre – one of the famous fighters to step onto the canvas there was heavyweight champ Ezekiel Dlamini, whose story was captured in the Sophiatown jazz musical King Kong (Dlamini’s ring name). When inter-racial matches were allowed after 1973, this ushered in a new golden age of world-class South African boxers, including fighters like Charlie Weir – whose title bouts could fill Ellis Park Stadium; Brian Mitchell (also known as the “road warrior”, as he had to defend all his titles outside of apartheid South Africa); Dingaan Thobela, the “Rose of Soweto”; and flyweight champion Jacob “Baby Jake” Matlala.
Although boxing’s popularity has waned in recent decades – hamstrung by an inept sports administration, and eclipsed by the spectacle of “extreme” MMA fighting – Joburg is still centre stage for the country’s new crop of contenders, including “the littlest boxing champion in the world”, minimumweight title holder Hekkie Budler. White collar boxing – aka “Yuppie Boxing” – has also seen the sport win over legions of new fans, as ordinarily desk-bound suburbanites (myself included) have discovered the fitness benefits and pure thrill of learning how to give (and take) a punch. While most large gyms now offer some form of “boxercise” or punch-bag and pad-work routines, if you really want to learn the sweet science of bruising there’s no substitute for a session with a real boxing trainer."
"Voted the WBF’s Trainer of the Year in 2012, trainer and manager Alan Toweel comes from South African boxing royalty – the Toweel family have been “ring” leaders since the 1920s, and can lay claim to several national, international and Olympic boxing victories. Alan, who trains current WBF light welterweight champ Zolani “Untouchable” Marali and up-and-coming star Tumelo Pedi, also offers individual and group boxing training sessions at his home gym in Linden – where you can work up a sweat surrounded by photographs and posters of the world’s international boxing greats."
– Nechama Brodie
"Andrew Matabola started boxing at the age of 12 and at 33 became the South African WBC Champion (Feather Weight Division), holding the title for four years. When you meet him you’ll be struck by his mild manner and it’s only when you see him demonstrate on a punchbag that you realise the mastery in those hands, and the power of that left hook that brought him 21 wins. Trained in sports management he left the ring for a career in boxercise, combining fitness training with the demands of boxing - stamina, strength and smarts. Part of Team Castellan Boxing Gym he favours training kids from seven years up, “to build confidence, fitness and self-respect”.
– Laurice Taitz
"George Khosi has devoted his life to training future boxing champions at the Hillbrow Boxing Club. This after a brutal attack 14 years ago derailed his dream of becoming a boxing champion. Many of the people he trains are street kids who have come to Hillbrow and Yeoville from other parts of Africa, just as George did years ago. The Club – a converted petrol station on Claim St., is George’s life. To keep it going George trains people like me – people who love boxing but aren’t looking to become professionals and who want to work with a legendary boxing trainer. Several mornings a week, he offers 07:00 rooftop boxing workouts in trendy Maboneng where you get to watch the windows of Jozi’s skyscrapers turn flame-orange with the morning sun while you train."
– Heather Mason (photo by Heather Mason at 2summers.net)
JOBURG'S MOST FAMOUS BOXER
The city’s most well known fighter – who never fought a title bout – is Nelson Mandela whose image as a boxer was captured by Drum photographer Bob Gosani in 1952 as he sparred with Jerry Moloi on a downtown rooftop. The photograph inspired well-known Johannesburg sculptor Marco Cianfanelli’s Shadow Boxing, a 6m-high painted metal sculpture of Mandela that dwarfs the Johannesburg Magistrates Court where Mandela fought for justice as a lawyer at the city’s only black law practice in the 1950s, Mandela and Tambo Attorneys. The statue faces Chancellor House, where the law practice was located, now a Mandela museum capturing his time in the city.
The statue can be found at 25 Fox Street, Ferreirasdorp, City Centre.