Book Review: Dingaan Thobela - by Ron Jackson
Not many books have been written about
South African boxers, but a new one has
reached the shops just in time to make a fine Christmas gift.
The story of Dingaan Thobela is similar
to that of many of fighters who rose
against the odds and went on to achieve
None, however, has had such an inspirational
influence on people who followed his
career as that of Dingaan Thobela. The tale of Thobela’s humble beginnings in Chiawelo, one of the poorest parts of Soweto, and his successes, including winning three world titles, is told in a recently released book.
Rose of Soweto – The Dingaan Thobela
Story was written by Deon Potgieter and is
published by Penguin Books. It has 288 pages and comes in paperback format. Thobela is possibly the most talented and charismatic fighter ever to come out of South Africa. However, he did not reach his full potential, mainly because of his
fluctuating weight, the result of unwise eating habits. No other SA fighter has won
a national junior lightweight title and then jumped six divisions to take the super middleweight title.
Thobela also won the WBO and WBA
lightweight belts and, against the odds
near the end of his career, became the first
South African to win a WBC belt in his
home country. That was the night he
knocked out Glen Catley with only seven
seconds remaining in the fight on September
Thobela was born at the Baragwanath
Hospital near Soweto on September 24,
1966. His parents separated soon afterwards.
His mother still lived with her parents
and already had a son from a previous
relationship. She was in no position to raise
another child and the new baby was cared
for by his grandmother. She brought
him up in a four-room house that was
shared by his father, his grandmother and
two grandfathers; one his grandmother’s
husband and the other her brother.
Dingaan’s mother, Maria Kofa Mahlangu,
later told him that she had registered him
as Bongani Mahlangu. Ironically, this led to his grandmother renaming him Dingaan, as his father already had another son named Bongani who lived with them, on and off, in his childhood years. Thobela later decided to keep the name Bongani and registered himself as Dingaan Bongani Thobela.
As a teenager, he showed promise as a
soccer player but with the opening of the
Sanyo Boxing Academy in Soweto he and his friends caught the boxing bug. The skinny youngster joined Norman Hlabane at his gym in New Canada, and the shrewd trainer guided him through 83 amateur fights, of which Dingaan lost only three. It was the beginning of a long relationship between Hlabane and Thobela,
who remained with his mentor through most of his professional career.
Early in his professional career, Thobela
decided to model himself on the Mexican
WBC featherweight champion Salvador Sanchez, who died in a car accident in August 1982 when he was at the height of his career.
Hlabane and Thobela spent hours at my
house watching video tapes of Sanchez,
especially the one when he stopped a young Azumah Nelson in the fifteenth round in a ring classic.
The book reveals the intense rivalry between
Brian Mitchell and Thobela, from the
time a young Dingaan sparred with the WBA champion, who was five years older. Soon after their first sparring session, talks started of a fight between the two. The rumours continued until Mitchell retired in 1995.
Thobela’s personal life was not always
rosy. He and Basetsana Makgalamele sadly
parted ways after a seven-year relationship because she was crowned Miss South
Africa and both became too involved with their careers to stay together.
Boxing took Thobela to many highs and
lows, but he emerges as a genuinely nice
guy who has earned his place amongst the legends of the ring.
Unfortunately, the author let
too many errors slip in, such as
stating that Mitchell had 53
fights, even though he had
Former SA bantam and
featherweight champion Sexton
Mabena is called Sexun
and Enoch “Schoolboy” Nhlapo had 119 fights, with 100 wins, not 116 fights with 99 wins.
Promoter Jaap de Villiers promoted under the name of Proboks not Springbok Promotions.
Manning Galloway was a WBO welterweight
champion, not junior welterweight,
and Danilo Cabrera was not a challenger when he fought Brian Mitchell. It was a
In 1990, Sugarboy Malinga lost to Lindell
Holmes for the IBF super middleweight
title, not the light-heavyweight title. And Malinga won the World Boxing Federation
super middleweight title when he stopped Frederick Alvarez, not the World Boxing
Phillip Holiday was the IBF lightweight
champion, not the WBA champion. And
when Thobela lost to Cornelius Carr in London it was on a majority decision not a split decision.
M’tendere Makalamba of Malawi was the
one eliminated by Roy Jones Jr in the 1988
Seoul Olympics (knocked out in the first
round), not Mtendele Makalambi.
However, the book tells a good story and
is a welcome edition to my collection of
boxing books. It is available at bookshops at R140 per copy.