By Ron Jackson
Ronnie van der Walt, who challenged Willie Ludick for the SA welterweight title in June 1963, has died in Jamaica. He was 77 years old. Van der Walt, who was born in Cape Town, is still regarded as a tragic victim of the SA race classification laws. A British journalist, John Pilger, told the story in his book Heroes, published by Jonathan Cape in 1986. In 1967, Van der Walt received a letter from the interior ministry, informing him that he had been classified as a “coloured” person in terms of the Population Registration Amendment Act. But Van der Walt had been a pupil at a “whites only” school and had always fought as a white. The same letter was sent to the Cape Boxing Control Board and because “mixed sport” was illegal in South Africa at the time, Van der Walt was withdrawn from a tournament to be held at the Green Point Stadium in Cape Town.
He appealed to the Race Classification Board and set out to prove that he was of European descent. But he soon realised that an investigation would reveal his wife’s “coloured” ancestry and that they could be charged with contravening the Immorality Act.
He then took his family to Britain and never returned to South Africa. He moved to Jamaica after spending many years in the UK.
Van der Walt made his professional debut in Cape Town on September 30, 1959 and stopped Kenny Lloyd in the third round.
In his fourth fight he lost in the third round to Hansie “Boerboel” du Plessis, who later won the SA welterweight title. He also lost to Charlie Els and Bill Dollery, who both went on to win SA titles.
Van der Walt fought Ludick in Durban in December 1962. Ludick was still in his first year as a professional but was fighting in his sixth bout. He was well ahead on points when his nose was so badly cut that the referee stopped the fight in the fifth round.
After beating Sam Stewart and Roy Louw, Van der Walt met Ludick in a return match for the SA title.
Ludick had won the vacant welterweight title in April 1963 when he stopped Du Plessis in the third round and was making his first defence. He avenged his only defeat by knocking out Van der Walt in the second round.
Van der Walt ran a small farm near Cape Town in between travelling around the world as a seaman on cargo boats.
After losing to Ludick, he had five more fights before deciding to settle in Britain. In his first fight abroad, he was knocked out in the first round by Ray Charles, who later became British and Empire welterweight champion.
Van der Walt had nine more fights, of which he won only three. In his last fight, on December 17, 1968, John Charles stopped him in the first round. Van der Walt then retired with a reported record of 12-14-2, with 9 knockouts.