'People's champion' hailed

Baby Jake Matlala (Gallo Images)
Baby Jake Matlala (Gallo Images)

Johannesburg - The death of Jacob "Baby Jake" Matlala signals the end of a golden era in boxing, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula said at a memorial service in honour of the legendary boxer in Nasrec, Johannesburg, on Monday.

"Boxing will never be the same again.

"Just like his idol and hero Nelson Mandela, such people come once in a lifetime," Mbalula said of the four-time world flyweight champion, who died in Johannesburg on Saturday, aged 51.

"He was not a mediocre sportsman. He served the nation with dignity and pride. He was also a good family man who ensured that every cent he got he invested in the education of his two boys."

Mbalula had some scathing words for unscrupulous boxing promoters.

"Many promoters are living a life of luxury and opulence at the expense of boxers. We are aware there are some crooks in boxing, but your days are numbered. We will find you and push you out."

Broadcasters too did not escape his wrath as he urged both SABC and SuperSport to stop paying peanuts to screen boxing.

"I don't want people to be exploited. Many of our boxers are dying poor. There is no former rugby player who is buried a pauper."

To Matlala's family though, he only had kind words to say and promised them a lasting legacy.

"Your beloved will not go unnoticed. We must recognise him, even if it means we must name a street or gym after him."

Mbalula recounted Matlala's last moments with his family.

"His beloved wife Mapule brought him the Friday newspaper in bed, and he looked at it quietly for a long time after reading about Madiba's death.

"Jake remarked that 'all the good people are dying because they have done their bit', and little did South Africans know he too would be bowing out in a matter of hours.

"He was a true people's champion. We talk about South Africa as a winning nation today because of people like Mandela and Matlala."

Family, friends and fans of Jacob “Baby Jake” Matlala are invited to share their memories and tributes, and to light a candle for him, on his profile at Remembered.co.za.

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