Phosa to the rescue

2014-03-30 14:00

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When former ANC treasurer Mathews Phosa was ­appointed honorary president of the World Boxing Federation this month, many must have asked: what does this guy know about boxing?

Stop right there. Phosa is a former boxer from his days at Maripe High School in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga.

Had it not been for his father, who was concerned about his son’s face being roughed up by the brutal sport, Phosa believes he could easily have become a professional pugilist.

This turned out to be a missed opportunity for a man who looked up to local and global greats such as former heavyweight world champion Muhammad Ali and Elijah

Makhathini, who is an Order of Ikhamanga recipient.

The 61-year-old Phosa, who was born in Mbombela township in Mpumalanga, was introduced to the sport in a rather dangerous form, using his bare hands.

But after relocating to the rural area known as Mahushu, near Nelspruit, where his father was a teacher, a boxer was born.

“As boys in the village, among other sports we played was boxing and this one is going to shock you: we boxed without gloves,” revealed Phosa.

“It was rough and guys would always come out bleeding. That is where I had my first taste of boxing.”

After boxing without gloves throughout his primary school days, Phosa got his first pair of boxing gloves in high school.

Barred by his father from further participation in boxing when he went to the then University of the North, Phosa reached the blue belt level in karate.

But he says boxing was always his “number one love”.

He doesn’t speculate on how far he could have gone with boxing, but says: “Like any other athlete, I had dreams of competing at the highest level one day but it was not to be.”

After more than 40 years’ absence from the sport, the former premier of Mpumalanga is back to rescue the beleaguered sport from the ropes.

“The sad story about boxing is that South African fighters have got nothing to show for their efforts,” he says.

He attributes this to promoters who have failed to embrace and protect the product they sell – the boxer.

He says promoters must shoulder most of the blame for the prevailing disastrous state of the sport and says in his view, the solution is for all involved to have a common vision centred on the fighters.

Phosa has hit the ground running, meeting various stakeholders, including an SABC bigwig, and has many ambitious solutions lined up.

His focus is on development, and bringing discipline and professionalism to the sport. He says this is essential for boxing to attract sponsors.

“Boxing must earn respect from spectators, the community and sponsors. We should be under no illusion that the sport is automatically entitled to respect – no one is, including politicians.

“The making of champions takes blood and sweat, so we must understand we are making champions – world champions, not just people you can walk past without recognising.”

Although uncertain about how long his new role in boxing will last, Phosa hopes to make a valuable ­contribution to stabilising its finances.

He stresses the importance of creating opportunities for local fighters, whom he praises for perseverance under the present unbearable circumstances.

“Give anyone an opportunity and they will excel, but if you exclude them they will look incapable. This is a tried-and-tested model.”

Taking us down memory lane, he shares this anecdote: “I was reunited with boxing when I welcomed Muhammad Ali outside Shell House [now Luthuli House] when he visited the country in 1993. I took him inside the building to see the ANC leadership. I felt like a dwarf next to a giant,” Phosa says, laughing.

“Unfortunately, the visit of the greatest boxer of all time was drowned in the tears of the entire nation as we were mourning the passing of political giant Chris Hani.”

As we walk out, I ask what happened to Phosa the political leader?

“One does not have to be on the ANC national executive committee to be a leader,” was his parting shot.

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