‘Baby Jake’ Matlala shared more than a love for boxing with Mandela

2013-12-12 08:17

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Nelson Mandela’s love for boxing was not the only connection he had with boxing legend “Baby Jake” Matlala.

This emerged during the memorial service for Matlala – who died shortly after Mandela – at Nasrec in Johannesburg today.

Some of the other passions shared by the two are:

» Promoting the culture of education:

Fikile Mbalula, the minister of sport and recreation, hailed the former four-time world champion for “giving his last cent to the education of his children”. His eldest son, Tshepo, holds an honours degree in international trade and development from the University of Johannesburg.

» Fondness of children:

As a boxer, Matlala was known for his famous jogging sessions in the streets of Soweto with a group of kids in his company. According to fellow former World Boxing Association super featherweight champion Brian Mitchell, the 1.47m tall Matlala mastered the art of understanding kids.

“One time I remember him asking a kid: ‘How old are you?’ The kid told him ‘I’m 11’ and he said: ‘I’m 11 too’ and kids believed him because of his size,” said Mitchell.

» The jolly smile:

The former World Boxing Organisation (WBO) flyweight champion was always smiling, even in the face of adversity. Phillip Ndou, a former world champion in his own right, who once fought against Floyd “Money” Mayweather, described Matlala’s smile as the most genuine he knew.

» Discipline and humility:

“He’s the most disciplined boxer of all time,” said Lebohang Maile, Gauteng MEC for Sport. Veteran boxing administrator Dr Peter Ngatane also praised Matlala for having been a loyal and disciplined family man in the face of negative publicity he received at times, while Mbalula described Baby Jake as someone who “loved and never harmed anyone”.

» Passion to serve people without expecting financial reward:

Several speakers echoed each other that Matlala had heeded the call to appear and serve in sports and social cohesion events without pay. This, Mbalula said, he did for the love of the sport and his nation as a “great compatriot”.

» Willing to bend the rules and defy a popular stance for a good cause:

Matlala, on his way to clinching his first world championship in 1993, defied the then sports boycott campaign which galvanised all athletes to stay away from competing overseas to put pressure on the apartheid government.

He went to Glascow and defeated Pat Clinton in his own backyard for the WBO flyweight belt.

“Through this he displayed true leadership skills, just like Mandela did, and that fight made him the great champion of the world and cleared the path for others after him,” said Ngatane.

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