Mandela, the Boxer

The former South African leader was a natural, loving a sport he saw as an equaliser.

The range of responses to the death of Nelson Mandela is just as varied as the country’s people. So far in Soweto we’ve been treated to a boxing display, a marching band and the sight of rival political supporters dancing and singing together. 

In the morning the African National Congress’ sound system, mounted on the back of a truck, was turned on. The music blared and supporters gathered in scenes of celebration that have bemused viewers in other countries. 

They were wearing their gold ANC t-shirts. Then the green clad supporters of Agang turned up. In uniform lines carrying single roses, they were orderly and approached the front door of the home Nelson Mandela used to live in in smaller groups. 

Then they joined the ANC supporters and for a few songs they were side by side, a circle of people, some with wildly different political views, brought together by Mandela. Although the ANC is still the dominant force in South African politics, its influence is waning and new parties like Agang are giving South Africans more choice as it gradually moves towards being a more multi-party democracy. 

Then the marching girls came, in pink swirling skirts, the boys were on the drums – they kept a tight formation, eyes fixed to the back of the head of the person in front of them. No sooner had they delivered cards of condolence and disappeared around the corner in a cacophony of stacato beats and stamping feet, than the boxing boys arrived.

In the middle of the street, they were put through their paces by their trainer. Hitting the sparing pads with such force and rhythm we were all impressed. As they sparred I wondered if they knew how much Nelson Mandela loved boxing. His height and stature meant he was a natural. He said he loved it because boxing is an equaliser.

In shorts and gloves in the ring it doesn’t matter where you’re from, how much money you have or what you’re background is you’re only as good as your skill and intelligence – it’s on that alone he wanted all South Africans to be judged. While the world expected only tears at his passing what they’re getting is what Mandela fought for, the freedom to choose how you express yourself.

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