Pugnacious Pangaman by Ron Jackson
Norman Sekgapane was a brilliant fighter; a potential world champion. And his nickname contributed in no small way to his popularity.
He was known as Pangaman; a panga being a large knife used to cut sugarcane and other plants. It was also a feared weapon. Sekgapane used his fists to do a similar kind of job.
He was a professional from 1970 to 1980, a time when several SA boxers had colourful, imaginative nicknames. And there is no doubt that he was one of the best junior welterweights South Africa ever produced.
However, by the time Sekgapane fought Antonio “Kid Pambele” Cervantes for the WBA title, he was already in his ninth year as a professional. They met at the Independence Stadium in Mmabatho on August 26, 1978.
Cervantes had been hailed as a living legend and the 8 000 spectators soon found out why.
The taller Colombian, in his 96th professional fight, hardly worked up a sweat through the first three rounds, of which Sekgapane won at least two.
In the fourth round the champion began to apply pressure and dropped the South African for an eight count with a left hook to the jaw.
Surprisingly, Cervantes did not follow up his advantage until the sixth round when he dropped the challenger for three counts of eight.
Cervantes eased off in rounds seven and eight before dropping a bloodied Sekgapane with a left hook early in the ninth.
Pangaman made it to his feet but another left-right combination sent him crashing on the canvas again and referee Luis Zulbaran, from Venezuela, sensibly stopped the fight.
Sekgapane was clearly past his peak. He might have done better had he been given a shot at a world title earlier in his career.
MOVING TO SOWETO
Norman Sekgapane was born on March 12, 1948 at Tafelkop in the Koster district of North West Province. His parents later moved to Soweto.
He was still a youngster when, one day, he was robbed of the little money he had on him. The mugging made him decide to join the Tladi Boxing Club in Soweto.
He made his professional debut on April 4, 1970, winning on points over four rounds against Lloyd Zulu at Natalspruit near Germiston.
Sekgapane won his next six bouts before suffering his first loss in September 1971. He was beaten by Richard Borias, a former SA lightweight champion and a 46-fight veteran at the time
Undeterred, Sekgapane returned to beat Petrus Khavumba and Sparara Quelile before outpointing Shole Mokoena, a former SA featherweight champion, in March 1972. The victory made him the Transvaal lightweight champion.
He won another dozen fights to finish the year unbeaten. His run included an eight-round points victory in a non-title fight against SA junior lightweight and lightweight champion Anthony Morodi.
Morodi, known as Blue Jaguar, was also a former SA featherweight champion.
In 1973, Sekgapane beat Joseph Baloyi and Johannes Zwane but lost to Moses Mthembu in a highly disputed result. He also dropped a decision to Jeremiah Nzelwane before winning the SA lightweight title with a 12-round points victory over Morodi.
He then defeated Joey Archer, Joe Tetteh, Abram Kekhelebane, Isaac Rakhajane and Jonathon Dele before ending the year with a win over Jeremiah Nzelwane for the vacant SA junior welterweight title.
His knockout win over Tetteh, a highly rated Ghanaian, and a points victory over Nigerian Dele earned Sekgapane a place on the World Boxing Council top-ten rankings list.
Despite the punishing schedule, Sekgapane also worked as a marketing manager at a leading concern.
Sekgapane had a text-book style. He cut his opponents down with a steady rain of accurate blows, reminiscent of a “pangaman” at work.
In February 1974 he retained his SA lightweight title with a tenth-round stoppage of Moses Mthembu. He also stopped Simon Nxawe before taking on the much bigger Jorgen Hansen.
The Dane was a top contender in Europe and ranked by some organisations. Sekgapane knocked him out in the ninth round.
This fight was part of an important event in SA boxing, the first “multinational” tournament. It was promoted by Maurice Toweel at the Rand Stadium, Johannesburg on August 17, 1974. On the same bill, Pierre Fourie fought Tom Bogs, Kokkie Olivier took on Roger Zami and Elijah (Tap-Tap) Makhatini faced Juarez de Lima.
Sekgapane then beat Morodi for the fourth time to retain the SA lightweight title and finished off a successful 1974 when he outboxed Everaldo Costa Azevedo. The Brazilian welterweight lost only one of his next 18 fights and earned a shot at WBC welterweight champion Carlos Palamino. He lost on points over 15 rounds.
After retaining his SA junior welterweight title against Victor Tshabalala, Sekgapane was well beaten by Carlos Giminez on a misty night at the Goodwood Showgrounds in Cape Town.
Sekgapane’s management made a mistake by matching him with the tough Argentinian who, in October 1974, had outclassed SA “white” lightweight champion Andries Steyn after dropping him twice in the first round.
Pangaman bounced back to knock out a classy Rhodesian, Tadios Fisher, and outpointed Adriano Nani Marrero from Santa Domingo before once again beating Anthony Morodi to retain the SA lightweight title.
In 1976, he retained the SA lightweight title against Rolly Xipu and his SA junior welterweight belt against Jack Jim before taking on one of the legends of the SA ring, Nkosana “Happyboy” Mgxaji in Port Elizabeth.
The fight was abandoned in the sixth round and declared a draw after rioting among the spectators.
In a return fight in East London, Mgxaji won on points over ten rounds.
On January 29, 1977, Sekgapane met Dirk van der Westhuizen for the vacant SA “supreme” junior welterweight title.
Van der Westhuizen boxed well in the first two rounds but when Sekgapane got going with his perpetual-motion style it became a one-sided fight.
In the fourth round, Sekgapane caught Van der Westhuizen with a blow to the stomach. It hurt but Van der Westhuizen did not go down. Referee Peter Lock turned to warn Sekgapane and Van der Westhuizen suddenly dropped to his haunches grimacing with pain.
Lock gave him time to recover before telling him to box on. Van der Westhuizen refused, saying he was in too much pain. Lock gave him more time to rest but Van der Westhuizen refused to resume the fight and was disqualified.
Sekgapane then beat Langton Tinago, possibly the best fighter to come out of what was then Rhodesia and is now Zimbabwe.
FIGHT OF THE YEAR
However, Pangaman lost on points over ten rounds to Harold Volbrecht in bout that was voted the SA Fight of the Year for 1977.
In April 1978, Sekgapane won the vacant SA “supreme” lightweight title in an outstanding match-up. He outpointed Andries Steyn, one of the best lightweights in SA boxing history and a triple national champion.
Apart from being the first black South African to challenge for a world title, Sekgapane also topped the first multinational bill held in Cape Town. He was the first boxer to hold two “supreme” SA titles.
After losing against Cervantes, Sekgapane was given a return match with Steyn. They met at the Ellis Park Tennis Stadium in Johannesburg on November 11, 1978, with the SA lightweight title at stake.
They came close to matching the excitement of their first bout.
Pangaman was dropped in the seventh round and most ringsiders agreed that Steyn had done enough to win. But Sekgapane took the decision badly, leaving the ring without acknowledging his opponent. The bout was voted Fight of the Year, nevertheless.
Sekgapane never reached those heights again. In 1979 he beat Elias Diraditsile and Justus Josephs but lost to Evans Gwiji, who later won the SA junior lightweight title. He also lost on points to Tsietsie Maretloane, a former SA featherweight champion.
From there it was downhill. In 1978, Sekgapane lost to Bramley Whiteboy, Bennie Nortman, Mzwandile Biyana (losing the SA junior welterweight title) and Nkosana “Happyboy” Mgxaji.
His last fight was in Durban on March 2, 1981. He was beaten on points by Gregory Clark, who went on to win the SA junior middleweight and middleweight titles.
Sekgapane retired with a record of 51 wins, of which 21 came inside the distance, 15 losses and 2 draws.
He remained active in boxing, being a referee and judge for the North West Amateur Boxing Organisation. He also coached young fighters and served as a board member for the North West Province.
In later years, Sekgapane was supervisor of the Independence Stadium in Mafikeng.