OBITUARY | Mourning the 'senseless' passing of SA judo star Preston Davids

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Preston Davids (Gallo)
Preston Davids (Gallo)
  • South African judo star Preston Davids (28) was stabbed to death earlier this month.
  • The incident has been confirmed to be gang related and two people have been arrested.
  • Davids' tragic passing has resulted in an emotional outpouring from the South African judo community.

In a normal world, Preston Davids would have have been remembering his late mom and celebrating Women’s Day with his fiancée Ravina Govender this week.

But it’s far from normal times in the South Africa we find ourselves in – a country where right now Covid 19, crime and corruption compete for the daily headlines.

Instead, the South African judo world mourns one of its brightest stars in the form of Davids, 28, who died in yet another senseless stabbing in Cape Town last week.

Davids, a former national champion, has left his mark on judo mats around the country and was back visiting his boyhood neighbourhood of Bellville South when he was fatally stabbed with a pair of scissors in an early morning incident earlier this month with two alleged members of a local gang who had apparently long had it in for the community’s beacon of hope.

His death was a morbid mirror of fate, after he lost his own dad to a gang stabbing when he was still a youngster.

I first met Davids at the regional AUSC Region 5 Games in Luanda, Angola, late in 2016 where he was one of two judo coaches.

A nicer guy one couldn’t hope to meet and, like most judo players and management I’ve met over the last 10 years, passionate about his sport, always ready to unravel the mysteries around what is a highly technical and sometimes bewildering code.

As a highly successful competitive career (he won gold at the 2016 Commonwealth Judo Championships and was also an SA Open champion) started winding down, he was finding his way in the coaching/managerial corridors.

Again, he went out of his way to send information on the judoka back to me to update the Team South Africa website from the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games in the Bahamas.

Since his tragic passing the South African judo fraternity are trying to pick themselves up from the floor and took time out to convey the emotional stranglehold the code finds itself in.

Michelle Booyse was part of the management team with Davids in Angola four years ago and painted a figurative picture around her sporting relationship with him.

Said an emotionally-broken Booyse: "Never in my wildest dreams did I think 2020 would bring so much pain and heartbreak. I had the privilege to coach with Preston in Angola.

"I had always known him from both on the mat and as a coach and training partner but that was the first time I had coached him internationally. He was my absolute right hand, be it a a partner, as an uki (the judoka being thrown) wherever.

"One of my favourite memories is from recent SA nationals where all the coaches would look forward to the fights between Preston and Matthew Chase where they would fight for a full five minutes, showing the most amazing techniques and spirit.

"But this year there was no chance to do that. Last year was the last time they fought finals and for many people the finals will just never be the same again."

There were many personal mementos that Preston passed on to her.

"He taught me that it doesn’t matter how difficult a competition is or how big the groups are, just to smile and assist each of our players. It was also very much a case of it not being about who you are but more about the effort etc and never giving up," said Booyse.  

"He was such a sweetheart, always ready with a big smile."

Booyse says Davids' passing has left a huge hold in both her and the judo fraternity.

"Never in our wildest imagination did we know that August would bring such heartache. To start off a new week like that and never being able to say goodbye," she said. 

"He was ripped away from us in such a horrible way, a skollie had to take him out to 'climb the ladder' in that hard and unforgiving community.

"He was born there but said he’d never accept his lot in life and that he had worked his way out to be a better person and to teach others that your circumstances don’t define you."

Booyse concluded by saying life feels almost unreal since the tragedy.

"The news hits right into your heart, into your very bone marrow. I kept on thinking that maybe it wasn’t true, but a week down the line, it’s still true and I know he’s never coming back," she said.

Two of the many young lives touched by Davids were national champions and rising stars, the Tuks twins Thomas and Donné Breytenbach.

"His death has shocked the whole judo community," said Thomas.

"He was really kind and generous when it came to giving his time. He was always there for others, and gave so much to the kids.

"He was an amazing person, and really looked after me and my twin.

"One of his best gifts was teaching us how to focus completely on our sport. His death has so shocked us and community.

"It’s a huge loss to SA. He was one of SA’s most amazing coaches. So much talent and empathy has been taken away from us with no goodbyes. He’ll be greatly missed, he really will be."

Another star to remember Davids fondly, was former national champion, DJ le Grange, a member of Team SA at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland.

"I got to know Preston quite well on training camps and in competitions. We first fought in Vanderbijlpark when he was a senior and I was a junior, (and fought one weight division higher)," he said.

"He was a very technical player, with a good eye and a great judo brain – a very explosive fighter.

"He was just a great guy, never had a nasty word to say about anyone, just a friendly, engaging and caring soul."

Two suspects, aged 26 and 28 were arrested in connection with Davids’ death. 

To his killers, Davids may have just been a number, but to the judo community he was larger than life.

This Monday, SA President Cyril Ramaphosa lauded the efforts of South Africa’s rising MotoGP star Brad Binder who at the weekend won his first MotoGP in the Czech Republic.

Back home, and away from the breaking news headlines, the heart-broken judo community was mourning one of their best mates who had checked out of life, way, way too early.

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