Tap Tap Makhathini, the peoples champ by Ron Jacson
Not a lot of fans know that a South African beat ring legends such as Curtis Cokes and Emile Griffiths during an outstanding career. Very few will be able to name him.
He was, of course, Elijah Makhathini, who also beat Jan K ies and Charlie Weir. No wonder he became a ring legend who was elected, two years ago, to the SA Sports Hall of Fame.
Some classy SA boxers have earned headlines and a place in the limelight in recent years but few came anywhere near the popularity that “Tap Tap” Makhathini enjoyed. He was a true people’s champion.
Elijah Makhathini, a quiet-spoken fighter from Stanger in KwaZulu-Natal, made history when he became the first South African to win a “supreme “title. That was on November 27, 1976, when he stopped Jan Kies in the third round in Johannesburg.
Makhathini was also part of another history-making event when he and Norman “Pangaman” Sekgapane beat Juarez de Lima and Jorgen Hansen, respectively, in the first international “non-racial” bouts in South Africa in August 1974.
The southpaw Zulu became one of the biggest black draw-cards during the first years of what was known as non-racial boxing. Born at Eshowe on October 3, 1942, he had little formal education and started working at an early age to help support the family.
After an uneventful amateur career, Makhathini joined the professional ranks at the advanced age of 29 under the guidance of Chin Govender, who became his lifelong manager and trainer.
In his first professional fight, in February 1971, he stopped Phuthuma K uboni in the first round. That same year he also beat Abram Sibeko, Wilfred Dlamini, Derrick Mnowango, Maxwell Malinga, Joe Joka, Henry Sedumo, Jethro Luhlongwane, Gordon Goba, John Fighter and Joseph Hali.
In 1972, he moved quickly, winning the Natal middleweight title when he outpointed Joseph Sishi. He beat former SA middleweight champion Gordon Goba and added a seventh-round knockout win over national middleweight champion Sydney Hoho in a non-title fight. His success continued as he beat former world welterweight champion Curtis Cokes on points. However, in a return fight with Hoho, this time for the SA title, he was beaten on points. It was his first defeat as a professional.
And in December 1972 he lost again when Maxwell Malinga beat him on points over ten rounds. The next year, Makhathini remained on the wining track, beating classy American fighters Willie Warren and Billy Douglas.
But in January 1974, he lost to Hoho again when he challenged him for the SA middleweight title. The fight was stopped in the eleventh round as a result of a bad cut above one of his eyes.
Through 1975, Makhathini impressed with victories over former world welterweight and middleweight champion Emile Griffith and American import Manuel Fierro. He also drew with Joseph Hali, but lost on points to Carl Speare of England.
On April 10, 1976,. Makhathini won the vacant SA middleweight title with a seventh-round stoppage of Victor Ntloko before he won the supreme title when he stopped Kies. His only loss that year was to an experienced American, David Love, who beat him on points over 10 rounds. After successful defences against Hali and Morgan Moledi he lost the SA title to Doug Lumley.
Makhathini was unbeaten through 1978, with wins over K ies, Maxwell Malinga, Moledi, Howard Mills from England, Bonifacio Avila from Columbia and American Tommy Howard. He also regained the national middleweight title when he knocked out Daniel Mapanya, who had dethroned Lumley.
In February 1978, SA junior middleweight champion Gert Steyn handed Makhathini a boxing lesson over ten rounds. However, he came back in his next fight to score a spectacular knockout over the highly touted Charlie Weir.
After a fourth round knockout win over American Gary Guiden, Makhathini travelled to Monte Carlo for his first fight outside South Africa to face Alfredo Cabral of Argentina on June 30, 1979. The fight was stopped, controversially, after 2 minutes 54 seconds by British referee Roland Dakin. Makhathini and Govender complained bitterly, saying Makhathini was fully aware what was happening and he had not been given the benefit of a count.
The veteran continued but the spark was gone. In his next two fights he was knocked out in two rounds by Bruce McIntyre and beaten on points over eight rounds by Terrence Makaluza. After losing to Daniel Mapanya and being outpointed by Lumley (on May 19, 1980) Makhathini retired with a record of 46 wins, 13 losses, one draw and 21 wins inside the distance.
Makhathini was originally called “Tap Tap 100%” by his friends because of his fitness and physical ability, but the “100%” was later dropped.
A father of 13 children from two wives, he invested his ring earnings carefully and became the owner of a thriving shop, bottle store and taxi business near Stanger.
In October 2004, he received the Order of Ikhamanga, silver, for his contribution to and achievements in SA boxing, and in 2007 was elected to the SA Sport Hall of Fame.