Keynote address of the Minister of Sport and Recreation Honourable, Mr Fikile A Mbalula (MP), on the occasion of the gala dinner hosted by the Golden gloves Promotions to honour Mr Jacob Matlala at Emperors Palace, Johannesburg
27 Jan 2011
‘World Boxing Shortest Giant’ Mr Jacob ‘Baby Jake’ Matlala
Dr Peter Ngakane: Boxing South Africa (BSA) Board Chairperson
Mr Loyiso Mtya: Acting CEO
Mr Rodney Bernan: CEO Golden Gloves
Members of the Golden Gloves Executive Board
Mr Bob Yearhan: CEO Emperor Palace
Mr Graeme Abrahams: Supersport Executive
Ladies and gentlemen
Baby Jake Matlala is one of the South Africa's and world’s boxers who loved and worshiped the sport of boxing. Matlala is an educated sports man who hailed from the theatre of academic fires of the University of Witwatersrand with Bcom degree.
Baby Jake is one of the best role-models that South Africa and the world has ever had and is a highly disciplined cadre of the sports and boxing fraternity. He is exemplary, educated and dedicated to the sport of boxing in particular and sport in general. Matlala is a long serving individual in boxing and in all those years, he made South Africans proud and put them in the world map.
The shortest world champion in boxing history was a South African sporting giant, Baby Jake Matlala, who won four versions of world titles during a 22 year career; the first South African to win four versions of a world title.
‘Baby Jake’, only 1,48m tall and weighing, at the height of his career, 48,99kg, always said the secret of his success was that he never smoked, drank or used drugs. His success was because of his total dedication to his boxing career.
This was observed when he arrived for the first time in East London to face Mveleli Luzipho in a boxing ring.Even young boys, too young to him, weighing plus or minus 40kg will vociferously want to challenge to fight Matlala, wittingly or unwittingly comparing themselves to this greatest “Son of the Soil”.
His career started in Port Elizabeth in February 1980 when the 18 year old Matlala beat Fraser Plaatjies on points. His trainer, from the beginning, was Theo Mthembu, a top-class lightweight in the 1950s who lost a close decision to Gladstone Mahlo for the national title. Mthembu was still there at ringside when Matlala had his last fight 22 years later.
Matlala lost his second fight on points when Kirk Morris beat him. However, he reversed the loss in January 1983 when he stopped Morris to retain the Transvaal junior flyweight title that he had won from Simon Moema.
In only his tenth fight, Matlala won the SA junior flyweight title when he stopped Mveleli Luzipho in eleven rounds in Luzipho’s hometown, Mdantsane, near East London. After one defence, he stopped his first overseas opponent, Jose Badilla, before losing the national title to Luzipho. After an eight-fight winning streak, Matlala failed in a challenge against Luzipho for the title when he was well beaten over 12 rounds.
Ladies and gentlemen, I must confess to you, an experience of losing a fight is not a pleasant one. This makes me to remember one of the stories narrated to me by a close friend of the Acting CEO of BSA. He had this to say, during the fight between Loyiso Mtya and Bruce McIntyre; Loyiso was badly dropped by Bruce and in that split of a moment, Loyiso was found dreaming about a nice smell of a traditionally cooked soft porridge used to be prepared for him by his mother in the morning. At this moment he was impatiently waiting for a morning wake-up call from his mother caring his favourite porridge as usual. At this time, the referee was at the 7th count, going for 8th and 9th, when Loyiso gruesomely jumped up and stood by his feet to receive his favourite meal unaware that he is in a boxing ring. However, the referee, unfortunately, allowed the match to continue and Loyiso lost on technical knock-out; but he still continued to be a Boxer even after that nightmarish experience.
These are some of the experiences that many of our Boxers in the South African Boxing history had to go through. These are unforgettable memories, you can’t erase them they stay with you as long as you live and will stay in the minds of the people as long as they exist.
This you can say about Baby Jake, at some stage of his career Matlala appeared to be going nowhere, twice losing to his nemesis, Vuyani Nene, and dropping a decision to Jaji Sibali, before winning his next eight fights. He then challenged Irishman Dave McAuley for the IBF flyweight belt in Belfast. They met in September 1991 and the South African was knocked out in the tenth round, apparently after he had misjudged the count.
Putting that setback behind him, Matlala recorded a successful defence of the SA junior flyweight title he had won when he beat Wele Maqolo for the vacant title. Ladies and gentlemen, In boxing language and lexicon, we call this zealous comeback of a defeated Boxer, “saved by the bell”, in some Boxing circles this language may refer to a moment in the middle of a hot fight/match when a Boxer things twice whether to throw a towel or to throw himself on the ground to give-up the fight; in that crucial moment the Bell Rings to allow the Boxers to have a rest for a next round and that Boxer comes with a high spirit and vigour for victory. This happened to most of the Boxers who are sitting here tonight.
Ladies and gentlemen, this evening I would like to say to; Baby Jake, you have made us proud and you showed us who you are during difficult times when our nation and people were fighting against a total onslaught of Apartheid Colonial machinery.
You make me to remember at dawn in 1961, ‘a pamphlet was drawn and distributed in our communities. In this pamphlet, encouraging and heroic message was reverberated, I quote, “the time comes in the life of any nation when there remain two choices; to submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We will not submit, but, fight back with all means at our disposal in defence of our rights, our people and our freedom.”
These words were echoed at the time when ‘white minority power’ rested on the most heavily armed and equipped military machinery in Africa; and where an effective and civilised democratic channels to peaceful settlement of conflict was never been explored or tried by the then ruling elite. However, with the determination and resolve of our people we managed to defeat the apartheid war against the people.
Our people did not throw the towel, they did not give-up the fight, and they kept going day-in-day-out in their match into a national democratic society.
You can throw everything in the course of war or fight when you are thoroughly beaten-up from pillar to post. But Baby Jake, at this moment, the nation begs you. Do not ‘throw the ring bucket’. The nation knows you have the fighting spirit!
One of the precious values of South Africans is the value of humanness. Our ‘war cry’ in moments of dismay and complexity, we say, I quote: “umntu ngumntu ngabantu.” We are gathered here this evening, not because of manna from heaven, but because of the humanness of others. Some South Africans who gathered together came with this brilliant idea. They did not do so for fame or favour, but out of humility for humankind.
It is fitting that we appreciate and welcome the initiative by 702 FM and all the people who rallied around our boxing legend like ‘heavy rocks kraal’ specially designed and built to protect the people against a stormy tsunami. This shows without pretence that the spirit and real growth of a vision of South Africans, united in their diversity, is bearing fruits through people coming forward to lay a helping hand.
We are moved and encouraged by the resolve of many South African, black and white, male and female, religious or non-religious, to stand together and say ‘not one of our own’. This attitude talks directly to the heart of the values of social cohesion, unity, nation building and patriotism.
We are all aware of the economic status of many South African boxers. Their different situations are disturbingly unacceptable. You will think and conclude that all of them are engaged in a ‘wealth exhibition walk-about’ when they afford to the detriment of under-saving or not saving at all. On contrary, what do you explain to a young boxer that only manages to secure three or less fights a year? What do you do to a young boxer who lacks basics education and illiterate and come from heavily poor background? These are some of the questions we need to grabble with before throwing stones in a glass-house.
South Africa needs to wake-up and stand by our sport and recreation leaders, heroes and heroines, and legends. We are pleased to know that over the past few years Boxing SA have been seized with a programme to help boxers, through Lotto funding, to undergo courses in different fields, including life skills, financial management skills, etc.
We are seized with work to turn-around Boxing SA. We will be announcing a new CEO due course and table a turn-around strategy and the implementation plan that will make Boxing a sport that we all love and respect.
We are not prepared to throw this ‘precious heritage’ of our people, Boxing, into the hands of ‘modern vultures and scavengers’ who prey on the unsuspecting boxing legends and heroes; sucking their innocent blood; tarnishing their flesh and breaking down their fragile bones; only for personal and selfish gains and glory.
We said when we came into office that, we won’t tolerate corruption and chaos. We want all sport administrators and managers in sport and recreation to comply and promote good governance, accountability and transparency. This is what we said to BSA and we are on top of things.
We are here today to honour Mr Jacob ‘Baby Jake’ Matlala, we are doing this because of your enormous contribution in the history of boxing in South Africa; and we believe that yourselfless contributions should be carefully recorded and shared with many generations to come.
Normally, people say many good things about you when you are no more, but, we felt that it is fitting to honour you whilst you are still with us.
We are indeed inspired by your comeback to the sport of boxing, this time not to fight, but to assist the SRSA to get the sport back into schools. We would like this schools sport development programme to produce boxing talent with punches that will keep our people glued on the small screen on weekends.
We want boxing and any other sport to become fashionable and be part of our nations’ culture and leisure to watch television on Sundays with a vigour like the days we used to watch the likes of Baby Jake Matlala, Johny du Plooy, Jan Bergman, Ditau ‘Diarora’ Moerane, Thulani ‘Sugarboy’ Malinga, Peter ‘Tsipa’ Skhosana, Dingaan Thobela, Harold Volbrecht, Brian Mitchell and many more who made our boxing ring a centre stage for outstanding boxing personalities in the country and the world.
The boxing outstanding personalities refered to above epitomised South Africa as one of the best boxer producing country. Our country’s flag has been flying high internationally and this made us proud as South Africans, because of these boxing legends, especially the legend in a small package and many more of his stature.
We celebrate the sport of boxing and the contribution of such stalwarts while they are still with us. All of you, including Baby Jake, you are legends, you are heroes and you are living monuments of boxing in South Africa.
Yesterday we prayed and crossed fingers to you to bring International Belts home; we looked upon you in times of need. And we believe it is time that we offer our collective wisdom as South Africans and extend a warm hand of appreciation to all our boxing heroes and do anything in our power to support and help our sportspersons.
We believe, the nation owe you a lot. You showed us those left, right punches coupled with uppercuts and returned to our shores with many belts and trophies. You made us proud in difficult and happy moments of our lives and put us high on the world centre-stage.
For that we thank you.
Source: Sport and Recreation South Africa
Issued by: Sport and Recreation South Africa
27 Jan 2011
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