By Ron Jackson
Not many books have been written about South African boxers, but a new one has reached the shops just in time to make a fine Christmas gift. The story of Dingaan Thobela is similar to that of many of fighters who rose against the odds and went on to achieve success. None, however, has had such an inspirational influence on people who followed his career as that of Dingaan Thobela. The tale of Thobela’s humble beginnings in Chiawelo, one of the poorest parts of Soweto, and his successes, including winning three world titles, is told in a recently released book. Rose of Soweto – The Dingaan Thobela Story was written by Deon Potgieter and is published by Penguin Books. It has 288 pages and comes in paperback format.
Thobela is possibly the most talented and charismatic fighter ever to come out of South Africa. However, he did not reach his full potential, mainly because of his fluctuating weight, the result of unwise eating habits. No other SA fighter has won a national junior lightweight title and then jumped six divisions to take the super middleweight title.
Thobela also won the WBO and WBA lightweight belts and, against the odds near the end of his career, became the first South African to win a WBC belt in his home country.
That was the night he knocked out Glen Catley with only seven seconds remaining in the fight on September 1, 2000.
Thobela was born at the Baragwanath Hospital near Soweto on September 24, 1966. His parents separated soon afterwards. His mother still lived with her parents and already had a son from a previous relationship.
She was in no position to raise another child and the new baby was cared for by his grandmother.
She brought him up in a four-room house that was shared by his father, his grandmother and two grandfathers; one his grandmother’s husband and the other her brother.
Dingaan’s mother, Maria Kofa Mahlangu, later told him that she had registered him as Bongani Mahlangu.
Ironically, this led to his grandmother renaming him Dingaan, as his father already had another son named Bongani who lived with them, on and off, in his childhood years.
Thobela later decided to keep the name Bongani and registered himself as Dingaan Bongani Thobela.
As a teenager, he showed promise as a soccer player but with the opening of the Sanyo Boxing Academy in Soweto he and his friends caught the boxing bug.
The skinny youngster joined Norman Hlabane at his gym in New Canada, and the shrewd trainer guided him through 83 amateur fights, of which Dingaan lost only three.
It was the beginning of a long relationship between Hlabane and Thobela, who remained with his mentor through most of his professional career.
Early in his professional career, Thobela decided to model himself on the Mexican WBC featherweight champion Salvador Sanchez, who died in a car accident in August 1982 when he was at the height of his career.
Hlabane and Thobela spendt hours at my house watching video tapes of Sanchez, especially the one when he stopped a young Azumah Nelson in the fifteenth round in a ring classic.
The book reveals the intense rivalry between Brian Mitchell and Thobela, from the time a young Dingaan sparred with the WBA champion, who was five years older.
Soon after their first sparring session, talks started of a fight between the two. The rumours continued until Mitchell retired in 1995.
Thobela’s personal life was not always rosy. He and Basetsana Makgalamele sadly parted ways after a seven-year relationship because she was crowned Miss South Africa and both became too involved with their careers to stay together.
Boxing took Thobela to many highs and lows, but he emerges as a genuinely nice guy who has earned his place amongst the legends of the ring.
Unfortunately, the author let too many errors slip in, such as stating that Mitchell had 53 fights, even though he had only 49.
Former SA bantam and featherweight champion Sexton Mabena is called Sexun and Enoch “Schoolboy” Nhlapo had 119 fights, with 100 wins, not 116 fights with 99 wins.
Promoter Jaap de Villiers promoted under the name of Proboks not Springbok Promotions.
Gerald Isaacs, who won the SA featherweight title, was not a two-time national champion.
Manning Galloway was a WBO welterweight champion, not junior welterweight, and Danilo Cabrera was not a challenger when he fought Brian Mitchell. It was a non-title fight.
In 1990, Sugarboy Malinga lost to Lindell Holmes for the IBF super middleweight title, not the light-heavyweight title. And Malinga won the World Boxing Federation super middleweight title when he stopped Frederick Alvarez, not the World Boxing Foundation title.
Phillip Holiday was the IBF lightweight champion, not the WBA champion. And when Thobela lost to Cornelius Carr in London it was on a majority decision not a split decision.
M’tendere Makalamba of Malawi was the one eliminated by Roy Jones Jr in the 1988 Seoul Olympics (knocked out in the first round), not Mtendele Makalambi.
However, the book tells a good story and is a welcome edition to my collection of boxing books.
It is available at bookshops at R140 per copy.