Basil Meintjes - by Pete Moscardi

Basil Meintjes presents a fascinating example of a human oxymoron. The 53- year-old quietly spoken full-time preacher, and former middleweight and light-heavyweight boxer, has a past that contrasts vividly with his present life and lifestyle. To say that he had a “troubled youth” would be understating a disruptive and often violent past which saw him on a free-fall into skid row. But there is not a trace of bitterness – or even regret – when he recounts his spiralling plummet into a life of boozing, brawling and police cells. Instead, what comes across when he tells you of his past and present lives is a sense of deep peace, contentment and satisfaction with the world around him. But it was not always like this.

Today Basil lives in a happy family home in Winchester Hills in the South of Johannesburg. He has been married to Gloria for 26 years and the couple have three children – Andrea (24), Calcy (18) and Basil (16). But while his present life reflects a picture of contented domesticity, Basil Meintjes will tell you with frank honesty that he grew up in a dysfunctional family environment and “was out of control” in the early part of his life. “When I was six-years-old my brother took me along to the Booysens Boxing Club where Herbie Vermeulen took an interest in me. Fighting was part of my life. I got regularly bashed up at home by my brothers and elder sister, and got into fights on the playground and in the street. Boxing provided me with a means to work out my anger and to learn to protect myself, and I was hooked from the moment I walked into the club,” he explains.

Sport, he says, was what kept him out of jail. “I was good at all sports right from an early age. I loved playing soccer and other sports, and while I was doing this it helped to keep me out of constant trouble – although when I was not on the sports field I would go looking for trouble.” Basil excelled in boxing in his amateur career, winning Transvaal colours and also OFS colours when he was stationed in Bloemfontein where he was a paratrooper when doing his military service. He was also a contestant in the SA championships.

Turning professional in 1978, Basil joined forces with Alan Toweel who trained a large stable of professional fighters. His first professional fight, in June 1978, was a four round points victory over Gerrie Pienaar at the Jack Eustace Hall.

Boxing in the late ‘70s and ‘80s was very different to the sport today. “It was hard to get fights, and the money was not great,” he says. Basil had 10 scheduled four round contests between 1978 and 1981, of which he won eight – dropping two decisions to Neels de Beer and the much more experienced Morgan Moledi. One of his wins was over hard man Sakkie Enslin who he outpointed over four rounds in a fight in Errmelo in March 1980. When he was elevated to his first six round contest the result was a disaster. “I was up against the hard punching McDonald Shezi at the Kwa Thema Civic Centre in Springs. He caught me with a punch on the side of my jaw in the first round which landed on a nerve and I could not move my left leg. The referee fortunately spotted the predicament I was in and stopped the fight,” Basil recalls. But during this time Basil’s life outside the ring continued to be anything but trouble free. “My spare time was spent in trawling the night clubs in Hillbrow, drinking heavily and getting into brawls and street fights. It was in one of these ‘unsanctioned’ fights that I broke my hand, and the joints never healed properly as I neglected to have the necessary medical attention,” he says. In spite of this major handicap, Basil continued with his boxing career – and with his wayward lifestyle.

In 1981 a disagreement with Alan Toweel saw Basil leave the famous Toweel camp and head off to Pretoria where he joined forces with the late Billy Lotter. One of the fighters in the Lotter stable was the late Brian Baronet and Basil found a soul-mate and close companion in Brian. “Together we went on a tear-up – but although Brian was always up to mischief he was not into the bar brawls and nonsense that I was into and thus he did not fall foul of the law like I did,” Basil recalls. Following the Shezi setback Basil forged ahead under the guidance of “Oom” Billy Lotter to notch up eight straight wins – one of which included a win over Samson Mohloai for the Transvaal middleweight title. But two factors mitigated from Basil’s career taking off. The first was the injury to his hand – which was progressively getting worse – and the second was an introspective and soulsearching look into himself and the life he was leading – and the dramatic twist that his life was to take from this.

“One morning in January 1983 when I was in Durban I woke up and experienced a Metanoia (NB: The writer was unfamiliar with this obscure word and hurried to a comprehensive dictionary. The definition given is: “an ancient Greek word that reflects a conscious decision to reorient your life in a way that your whole being – body, soul and mind, moves in a new direction”.

Not bad articulation coming from a boy from the ‘Deep South’ with a skimpy cultural and educational background).

Then in April that year I met a young lady who was the daughter of a pastor and whose name was Gloria - and who today is my wife. She was not into my lifestyle and did not approve of the way I was carrying on. Just two months later I said to myself there and then that I would change my ways and I decided to give my life to the Lord. This took my focus off boxing, and after one more fight – a loss to Gregory Clark in December 1983 – I retired at the age of 25.”

Basil’s course of direction then took a hairpin bend and he joined the Salvation Army in whose ranks he served for the next 22 years. His boxing career and his wayward ways were a thing of the past as Basil dedicated his life to spreading the word of the gospel and helping those who were less fortunate. Then in October 2006 another significant event occurred in his life which was again to change the course he was on. Explains Basil: “I was attending a boxing fund raising event at the Carousel with Herbie Vermeulen and his wife, Cathy. God spoke to me when I was at this tournament and told me that the people there were the ones to whom I should reach out. At the end of the evening Cathy came up to me and, without any prompting from me – and without any knowledge of the message God had given me – told me I could ‘plant’ a church in the Booysens Boxing Club. The message to me was crystal clear, and I went ahead and in October 2006 I established the church in the hall of the Booysens Club where I conduct services every Sunday morning”

So that, in a nutshell, is the Basil Meintjes story. Today he can talk of his past life with a brutal and open honesty. But it is just that – a past which has no place in his life today. Basil devotes any spare time he has from his pastoral duties to his family, and he manages to play a game of golf once a week – which he does off a 14 handicap. He credits John Maxwell for giving him his philosophy in life, quoting Maxwell as saying: “There are two things which shape your life – the books you read and the people you spend time with”. Basil is an avid reader. “I read anything from books to the Readers Digest and manage to get through two newspapers daily. This has hugely improved my command of the English language and my levels of articulation, and has kept me well informed” he says. “If I had my life all over again I would be a boxer. I have no regrets about my boxing career,” he concludes.

This writer opened this story by describing Basil Meintjes as “a fascinating example of a human oxymoron”. From a brawling, boozing, tearaway who spent many weekends in Police cells, to a quiet living and deep thinking pastor and family man. Could there be any better example of a human oxymoron?