Amateur boxing takes centre stage in the Eastern Cape, thanks largely to the Sisonke Boxing Club, the breeding ground of some of the country’s finest boxers.
During City Press’ recent visit to Mdantsane in East London, dubbed the Mecca of South African boxing, we were welcomed by young boys and girls, mainly in their early teens, going through their paces in the dilapidated hall that houses the club.
The gym in section NU 8 in the bustling township boasts 14 amateurs, including three fighters who will probably be included in the SA National Boxing Organisation (Sanabo) team earmarked for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro from August next year.
The trio are Luvuyo Siyani (light heavyweight), Sibusiso Bandla (junior flyweight) and Asanda Gingqi (lightweight).
Unfortunately, they were not present at the practice session on the day of our visit.
The youngsters are trained by Sanabo boxing mentor Velile Damoyi in a structure that has been standing since 1982.
The stable also has five professional boxers who train there under the watchful eye of veteran mentor Balekile Sam, the man who has been calling the shots there for 23 years. He shaped the careers of Welcome “The Hawk” Ncita and Vuyani “The Beast” Ncita, both of whom are erstwhile International Boxing Federation (IBF) junior featherweight champions.
Female boxer Noni Tenge, who previously held the IBF welterweight title, is another product of the stable.
But it is the upstarts themselves who caught the eye with their ring talent during our expedition. They seemed unperturbed by the bad state of where they were plying their trade. They threw punches admirably during sparring and made good use of punching bags that had seen better days.
Using old gloves and scales to monitor their weight before the start of their workouts, it was fascinating to see boxers full of dreams going about honing their skills. It was an exhibition of why boxing is the sporting lifeblood of people in this area.
Damoyi hailed his charges for their discipline and dedication, saying some of them were future world champions.
“They take boxing very seriously and give it their all at training whenever they are here. We are going to hear a lot about them in the pro ranks in the future,” said Damoyi.
He said the youngsters trained every day after school. With such enthusiasm, there can be little doubt that boxing is nearly a religion in the area.
The next generation will no doubt pack a serious punch.