After a number years of not seeing him, it was disconcerting to see Bra Mzi being wheeled into the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Convention Centre in Durban last Saturday.
Although the sight of him brings home fond memories of top boxers he produced in years gone by, Mzimasi “Bra Mzi” Mnguni cuts a disconsolate figure slumped as he is in a wheelchair at the Boxing SA (BSA) awards ceremony.
He is among the VIP guests invited to witness boxers, trainers, managers and promoters, among others, being honoured for their outstanding showing in the square jungle last year.
I join Mnguni for a chat afterwards and he tells me with a disconsolate look how he misses the sport he so dearly loves because of the state of his health.
He now seldom attends boxing contests because of a car accident in East London in 2012.
The 68-year-old has suffered several strokes and is now a pale shadow of the one-time giant he was.
One of the most successful South African manager-trainers of all time, Mnguni now struggles to talk.
For starters, Mnguni, who hails from East London, dominated the boxing scene in the Eastern Cape by producing a number of national and world champions in the past.
He put South Africa on the map by making Welcome “The Hawk” Ncita the country’s first International Boxing Federation (IBF) junior featherweight champion after beating Frenchman Fabrice Benichou in Tel Aviv, Israel, in 1990.
One of Mnguni’s charges, Vuyani “Beast” Bungu rose to fame in the 1990s and remains the only South African pugilist to hold an IBF crown world title a record 13 times.
“I feel sad because I can no longer attend boxing matches like I used to before because of my health.
"Boxing has been my life but because of my condition, there is nothing I can do as I mostly sit at home doing nothing,” says Mnguni.
He says he only watches bouts on television at his East London home.
“Most of the big fights take place at night which makes it difficult for me to attend as I depend on people to drive me and wheel me to fights.”
Mnguni says he misses his days as a mentor. “I always wish that I could be in the corner, but there is nothing I can do.”
Because of his poor health, Mnguni has decided to let his brother Sihle take charge of his Eyethu Boxing Gym in Mdantsane.
This is the same stable that produced world champs in the past.
“There are lots of up-and-coming young boxers in the stable and I’ve decided that Sihle should train them. Who knows, there might be a few SA and world champions to come from there in future.”
Mnguni believes BSA awards returned at the right time to inspire boxers.
In 2011 he refused to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award from the BSA as he felt that he had never been recognised as a promoter when other lesser impresarios than him were nominated for the promoters award.