Sugarboy’s greatest fight was against misfortune

2012-02-04 15:19

Sometimes the accidental by-products of misfortune are philanthropy and compassion.

These have been embodied in the life of Thulani “Sugarboy” Malinga (55), one of the greatest boxers South Africa has produced.

The one-time fighter was inspired by the plight of his son, Leth’ukuthula, who died at the age of 32 after suffering from a brain tumour.

Malinga, the only local to wear the World Boxing Council’s most prestigious belt twice, says his son’s situation triggered his generosity and tenderness.

Wheelchair-bound Leth’ukuthula ultimately died in 2009 after causing his family heartache for years.

As a result, KwaZulu-Natal’s Malinga is in the process of establishing an organisation meant to relieve the suffering of orphans, the disabled and the aged.

The organisation has already been named after his son, Leth’ukuthula Foundation Home Base.

Ironically, the name Leth’ukuthula loosely translates to “may tranquillity prevail”.

Malinga says witnessing the psychological and physical agony of his son motivated him to lessen the pain of the afflicted.

Disasters have inundated the Malingas. The boxer’s house in Benoni burned down in 2000 after an electrical fault. The family lost everything.

The greatest suffering was the death of Malinga’s six-year-old grandson, Sihle, who did not survive the fire.
Asked what stabilised him in these times of trial, Malinga, a lay preacher at Ladysmith’s Voice of Victory Church, said it was his faith in God.

South Africa’s sole two-time World Boxing Council champion trains boxers at Sugarboy Boxing Academy and at schools in KwaZulu-Natal.

Tragedy has transformed the one-time devious-as-a-serpent boxer into a tenderhearted and humble dove.
Boxing connoisseurs are still awed by Malinga’s breathtaking performance when he dethroned Nigel Benn in the Englishman’s back yard in 1996.

Malinga, who was written off as “a hopeless 40-year-old man”, confounded the critics with his superb display.

Hard-punching Benn, Malinga’s previous conqueror, was then regarded as one of the best pound-for-pound punchers in the world.

Convulsed with laughter, Malinga says: “You reporters said I was too old at 40 and did not have an iota of a chance. Benn involuntarily shadow-boxed because he could not nail me, and each time he missed, I made him pay.”

Malinga says this was his greatest achievement, “almost putting me in the elite league of Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns”.

A fearless Malinga desperately needed to face the household quartet but did not get the opportunity. He later lost the crown against Vincenzo Nardiello in Manchester in 1996.

Malinga, who boxed with an awkward, crab-like stance, regained the title against another Briton, Robin Reid, in London in 1997.

He subsequently surrendered the diadem against Reed’s fellow countryman, Richie Woodhall, in Shropshire in 1998.

The boxer and his family relocated from Gauteng to KwaZulu-Natal last year.

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