Deep in the heart of Hillbrow, in a boxing gym, I got to see real development take place. Not the publicity-seeking kind that our Minister of Sport, Fikile Mbalula, has been chasing lately. The proper hands-on kind.
It’s been a week since boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather Jnr was in South Africa, and as expected, the hype surrounding his visit, and the supposed reasons behind it, has died down. It was to be expected.
But at The Bronx Gym, an appropriate name considering its location, I got to witness a group of young fighters, some of whom showed their talent – in Mayweather’s absence I might add – at the Dube Boxing Club in Soweto last week, to learn from a world champion.
A group of 20 boxers ranging in age from about seven to 18 were invited to train with former world champion Takalani Ndlovu and learn from a fighter who has held three versions of a world title, with the prestigious IBF belt among them, as well as a national title.
“I’ve been fighting for 23 years and been professional for 13. I’ve achieved what I want and I must give back now,” Ndlovu told me after he had gone through a range of drills with the group. His father Stanley, who I often bump into given that he runs a boxing gym around the corner from where I live, would have been proud.
It was a gesture that said a lot about the passion that the people at the coal-face of the sport have. This wasn’t a case of a giant having it’s slumber interrupted. This was a demonstration of the deep-seated love that people have for the sport. Something Mbalula doesn’t appear to show too often.
Passionate as he may be, he appears to lack the type of love and commitment that these individuals, who gain nothing but satisfaction from running programmes like this and often without financial backing, demonstrate.
While he sits in his ivory towers these youngsters, some of whom had to borrow skipping ropes and gloves to take part, are learning among champions.
A highlight was when Ndlovu opened the cases containing his title belts and laid them on the floor of the gym. “If you work hard you’ll have a chance to get these,” he told the group as their mouths opened in awe.
Some even posed for photos with the belts draped around their waists and shoulders, others turned to the mirrors lining the walls, picturing what they would look like with the same treasures hanging from their bodies.
“It’s something to drive them as champions. When these youngsters see this it should inspire them. Not some guy from overseas. Here at home. This is what can be achieved,” Ndlovu said.
It was a magic moment.