Remembering Nelson Mandela

By Robert Ecksel on December 5, 2013
Remembering Nelson Mandela
No matter how celebrated, Mandela was a terrorist, or freedom fighter if you prefer.

“Boxing is egalitarian. In the ring, rank, age, color, and wealth are irrelevant. I never did any real fighting after I entered politics…”

“I did not enjoy the violence of boxing so much as the science of it.”—Nelson Mandela

We bestow the honorific “hero” a tad too liberally for my taste. We water down its true meaning at the same time as we create a fiction against which to measure our paltry accomplishments.

History has shown, to those willing to look, that one man’s villain is another man’s hero, and that applies to those on the right as well as those on the left. But most agree, whatever their political persuasion, that the word is fitting when it comes to Nelson Mandela.

No matter how celebrated Mandela has been in his lifetime, he was a terrorist, or freedom fighter if you prefer, and was the scourge of white supremacists for decades. He worked wonders in South Africa, which has been never better and never worse since the ignominy of apartheid ended with a whimper.

But of greater interest, or at least equal interest, to those of our persuasion is the fact that he was a heavyweight boxer before taking up arms to fight the fight.

In honor of Mandela’s boxing career, a five-meter tall steel sculpture was unveiled last May in Johannesburg. The sculpture is by South African artist Marco Cianfanelli and is appropriately titled Shadow Boxing. It is based on a 1953 photograph of Mandela sparring with professional boxer Jerry Moloi on the rooftop of the South African Associated Newspapers building in downtown Joburg.

In Long Walk to Freedom (1994), Mandela’s autobiography, he describes his connection to boxing.

“I did not enjoy the violence of boxing so much as the science of it,” he writes. “I was intrigued by how one moved one’s body to protect oneself, how one used a strategy both to attack and retreat, how one paced oneself over a match. 

“Boxing is egalitarian. In the ring, rank, age, color, and wealth are irrelevant…I never did any real fighting after I entered politics. My main interest was in training; I found the rigorous exercise to be an excellent outlet for tension and stress. After a strenuous workout, I felt both mentally and physically lighter. It was a way of losing myself in something that was not the struggle. After an evening’s workout I would wake up the next morning feeling strong and refreshed, ready to take up the fight again.”

The statue, with its painted steel plates in shades of grey, black and charcoal, is a thing of beauty, as befits the late Nelson Mandela and boxing.

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  1. Eric 01:57pm, 12/07/2013

    @Clarence George,  Will definitely look into purchasing , “The Great Betrayal.” Thanks for the information. I’m quite disturbed by what is happening in South Africa especially when many of the victims are innocent children.

  2. George Thomas Clark 01:23pm, 12/07/2013

    I like Mort Zuckerman’s one-word characterization of Mandela last night on PBS: Incandescent.

    Viva Mandiba

  3. Ted 01:18pm, 12/07/2013

  4. BIKERMIKE 12:58pm, 12/07/2013

    Hey Ted…..F W de Klerk had seen what happened in RHODESIA…and he knew the gig was up….

    as for comparisons with Dr Martin Luther King Jr…....drawing a long bow…..but still ...same area of target for social change.
    Dr King was never imprisoned for thirty yrs…..nor contracted TB….but he knew change was needed…..and South Africa…....if change didn’t come soon…..riots and slaughter would follow…

    Sadly….Dr King was murdered…...Nelson Mandela lived to survive his imprisonment ..and become Leader of South Africa.

    He did NOT take vengance…payback…and contained the violence…..had it been for someone else….there would have been millions slaughtered

  5. Ted 11:39am, 12/07/2013….0…1ac.1.32.img..0.12.1014.yQZg0i6em1Y

  6. Ted 11:37am, 12/07/2013

    Unlike Martin Luther King, Mandela believed like Malcolm X to wit: By any means necessary. However, he was fortunate in having a cooperative and equally unifying dance partner in cross-over hero F.W. deKlerk. Together, they lived reconciliation and shared the Nobel prize.

    When DeKlerk saw the frightening gyrating snake dancing crowd of millions coming out of Soweto with raised fists, he quickly realized that no matter how much fire power he had, it would never be enough to ward off what truly would have been a slaughter. The million in that crown would have grown to astonishing proportions. It scared everyone including Mandela who also realized that something had to be done. The country really could have gone either way. It was a tricky time. Violence was everywhere. Even after Mandela walked out of prison, the country was in peril.

    It was their coming together that sealed Mandela’s greatness.As De Klerk said yesterday, “Nelson Mandela’s biggest legacy was . . . his remarkable lack of bitterness.

  7. BIKERMIKE 03:51am, 12/07/2013

    Nelson Mandela was indeed , a boxer in his day…not a bad one either.

    Mandela was jailed for some 27 yrs….for opposing a race based apartheid administration….where some 4 million white people held thirty million black people in ‘enslavement’...

    Not only did the strength and character of Mandela keep pressure on this administration…from domestic and international sides…......and cause it to collapse…....but had it not been for Mandela….there would have been a huge slaughter…...payback if you want.

    Mandela…who had every right to give a little payback himself…was responsible for as peaceful a transition as it was.

    If somebody kept me in prison for thirty yrs , where I contracted tuberculosis….I’m not so sure I would have had the strength of character as Mandela showed.  I would have done some payback…I’m sure

  8. chuck h. 02:19am, 12/07/2013

    JOE LOUIS was a true hero. He became the hopes and dreams of a downtrodden people struggling to survive in a then hostile environment. He later was cast into the role of representing everything that was good and righteous about the free world against the evil tyranny of the fascists in the most important sporting event in history with almost all of America (black + white) hoping for him to be victorious in what was thought to be a violent dress rehearsal of a coming war.
    Sociology classes should teach a course on Joe Louis and be aware that there were at least 43 recorded songs (most of it wonderful Blues, Jazz and Folk arrangements) dedicated to the exploits of Louis during his reign at the top of the sports world, opening doors and making it possible for the others like Jackie Robinson + Larry Doby to Chuck Cooper to successfully follow in the gigantic shadow of Joe Louis.
    *(thanks to the research of Rena Kosersky and Don Cogswell for these numbers).

  9. nicolas 10:17pm, 12/06/2013

    As far as the idea of sports stars as heroes, though they may have not been mine, I can very well see a man like Jack Johnson (a black man who was heavyweight champion at a time that blacks were very badly treated, and perhaps whose victory gave hope to many black people not just in the USA, but perhaps around the world), Joe Louis, who by being a conformist somewhat allowed the black man to become world champion, after over 20 years when the establishment did not feel it wise to allow blacks to have that honor, and of course Mohammed Ali, who basically said he would not conform to what “white America” wanted. A reporter after the Ali-Holmes fight relates to a man who was attending the restrooms in Las Vegas, who said he bet on Ali to win that fight, he told that reporter, “Ali gave me my dignity”. Of course there are other black athletes who can be looked upon as heroes, such as Baseballs Jackie Robinson, and as someone else mentioned Jackie Robinson. Athletes can be hero’s, when they rise above certain circumstances that may block them from being heroes. Perhaps the one man who could be a hero-athlete is Vitali Klitschko, with his being in Ukraine. Many black athletes today have no political motivation except there greed, compared to some in the past like Bill Russell or Jim Brown, Tommie Smith or John Carlos who seem not to stand for anything. In Texas in appears from an article that I have read that a black man guilty of murder will possibly be executed because a so called expert said that blacks are more likely to murder again or something like that. While I don’t know the whole story, what if some of those black athletes who will play in Texas, would come out and say we are going to not play in Texas, perhaps boycott one game, and suffer the consequences.  While I don’t want to say I sympathize with this murderer, I would at least have some admiration for these athletes, and admire something of a heroic stand they have taken, whether they be black or white.

  10. Clarence George 07:18pm, 12/06/2013

    Eric:  I’ve placed “Into the Cannibal’s Pot” in my Amazon shopping cart.  By the way, an excellent book on what happened to Rhodesia is Ian Smith’s “The Great Betrayal.”

  11. Eric 02:29pm, 12/06/2013

    Sorry for turning a boxing thread into a political rant, but I’m very passionate about doing my part in EXPOSING what is happening in South Africa. BOYCOTT SOUTH AFRICA. Maybe I can get Bruce and Bono to join me? Hey Bruce, call me.

  12. Eric 02:13pm, 12/06/2013

    South Africa is a cesspool right now. I would be the first to condemn the “apartheid era” and its version of White on Black racism, but what baffles me is the silence on what has been happening in South Africa for quite awhile.  South African Whites, even the elderly and children are butchered routinely by Blacks and not a peep from all the so-called “anti-racists” who were so upset over apartheid back in the day. As bad as apartheid was, I don’t recall reading about thousands of White on Black rapes, murders, or gangs of South African Whites murdering families including infants because of their skin color. IF all those so-called “anti-racists” like the aforementioned Bruce Springsteen, Bono, or any other celebritard were so vehemently opposed to “racism,” then why are they so silent now?

  13. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:31am, 12/06/2013

    Mandela’s heir is President Jacob Zuma, a genocidal racist who is a staunch proponent of redistribution of wealth, not by circumventing the Constitution, dictatorial fiat, and theft by taxation but by the old fashioned way…. slaughter, rape and pillage.

  14. Robert Ecksel 08:15am, 12/06/2013

    I’m not sure being opinionated or politically incorrect is pretentious, let alone “PRETENTIOUS!!” How better to serve the memory of Nelson Mandela? Solemn reverence? Lockstep homilies? Should we act like programmed robots? Should we jettison critique if it fails to conform to the status quo? Mandela wouldn’t have done it that way. If he had, he wouldn’t have been Mandela. How would you rather have it, Andrew? And I ask without being snide or dismissive.

  15. ANDREW 07:08am, 12/06/2013


  16. Pete The Sneak 05:39am, 12/06/2013

    I think the point of this article from Mr. Ecksel was to connect Mr. Mandela with Boxing (after all, this is a boxing site). So I think mission accomplished there. I won’t go into any political rants or opinions as this is not the forum for that. I would say that seeing this quote from Mr. Mandela…”“I did not enjoy the violence of boxing so much as the science of it,” he writes. “I was intrigued by how one moved one’s body to protect oneself, how one used a strategy both to attack and retreat, how one paced oneself over a match.”...I would definitely believe that he (Mr. Mandela) would have been a huge fan of Guillermo Rigondeaux…One last thing about sports and heros. Yes, that word is used to often to describe sports stars these days and I agree with Toro that word should be reserved for ‘special’ people only. However a person you cannot deny was truly a great sports star and Hero, was Mr. Roberto Clemente…Peace.

  17. Clarence George 04:44am, 12/06/2013

    An interesting discussion, to be sure, though I’d prefer to talk about Sammy Mandell or the delightful work of Julian Mandel, which I’m sure you would appreciate, Irish.  I’d love to write an article connecting those two gentlemen, but I have yet to come up with a way.

  18. Greg 02:11am, 12/06/2013

    This is a cute article, the comments ignorant at best.
    I lived in South Africa for 12 years, from my experience Mandela is a good, brave man who changed the fate of a nation. Boxing is a sport, and being a good sportsman does not make one a hero. Dear fanboys, you cannot equate everything/everyone in life to boxing, I suggest not commenting on subjects you know nothing about.

  19. Darrell 01:27am, 12/06/2013

    Well, what can I say, it’s trite & slightly corny but….being a boxing lover &, as a New Zealander, steeped in rugby (the mythic 2nd religion of the Boer) it is a sad day.  The rugby thing is a slightly stronger than tenuous link in the psyche of New Zealanders towards South Africa, our greatest & most respected rival in that great game.

    As a fellow (well, once upon a time…) Commonwealth linked nation I feel a surprising amount of emotion at the death of this great man.

    That he has known the nakedness of the boxing ring & been forced to display, & come face to face, with his “deeper” waters in it is just another thing to admire about him.

    Communist or whatever, he knew the right, and with unflinching belief conquered his enemies with a gentlemanly forgiveness that was rare in history…..I salute him.

  20. nicolas 12:34am, 12/06/2013

    In learning of the death of Nelson Mandela, I was struck by the term used for his death as “tragic loss.” Hell, the man was 95 years old. How many of us writing here today will live to 95? Was he a hero. Considering that he was in jail for some 26 years, though the last third I understand were not so bad, I would say “yes”. He suffered for the cause he believed in. I would also point out as Clarence George mentions, he was a communist. While I never voted for Reagan, Ronald should also be looked as a sort of person who helped get Mandela out of jail, and the end of that apartheid. Without the fall of Soviet Communism, and the eastern block end, I don’t think that Mandela would have been freed, and that whites would have relinquished the power that they had. ALso Zimbabwe at that time looked okay to the white community at the time. Boy, what if they had waited many years later? I would also point out to Clarence and Mike, I am no friend of communism, my father was from Poland, and my Mother was from what would alter be East Germany, and I had relatives in both countries, and can say I was anti-communist. But I would point out, I am sure that the three of us did not have to walk in the shoes of Nelson Mandela, and perhaps not his “nasty wife” Winnie either. Perhaps also, some of the sports opportunities that the communist system made for some, and the film industry they spawned, for some of those countries might have been attractive. Finally, I always found that South African Rugby movie that Clint Eastwood made about as weird as his Republican speech. Eastwood probably was oblivious to the fact that Mandela was involved in trying to get an affirmative action plan for Rugby, which would have been discriminatory against whites there.

  21. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:41pm, 12/05/2013

    South Africa is a seething cauldron of racial resentment and hatred. This cesspool of immorality is the murder and rape capital of the world with the highest number of child and baby rapists per capita and the highest number of people infected with HIV on the face of this earth. In other words it’s a veritable Progressive Utopia.

  22. Clarence George 09:18pm, 12/05/2013

    And if that was a reference to Howie Mandel…I really don’t have an opinion of him one way or the other.

  23. Ted 09:02pm, 12/05/2013


  24. Clarence George 08:59pm, 12/05/2013


  25. Ted 08:55pm, 12/05/2013

    No. It was because I could not stand CG’s guts back then but I have grown quite fond of him. It was a misunderstanding that should never have happened and I take full blame for it. CG is one of the most candid, funniest and foulest persons I have had the pleasure to confront in recent times—even if his position on Mandel and the Klits is manifestly, well, foul.

    That said I’m out of here. Enjoy.

  26. Clarence George 08:45pm, 12/05/2013

    I appreciate Ted’s sentiment, but I agree with Robert.  Speaking for myself, I unhesitatingly stand by what I wrote here in May.

    While I don’t take the slightest satisfaction in Mandela’s death (what purpose would such brutishness serve?), I was always appalled by the deification, and am bracing myself for the worshiping to go into full throttle.

    I join those who have pointed out, without defending the former regime, that South Africa is in an abysmal state.  The same, by the way, is true of Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia).

    We can applaud or decry Mandela’s actions, as we see fit.  But for whatever is written upon Mandela’s soul, that is for God alone to read…

    And for God alone to judge.

  27. Robert Ecksel 08:41pm, 12/05/2013

    Sorry about that Ted. No offense intended. Was it to resume the discussion in light of today’s news, rather than picking up where we left off?

  28. Ted 08:32pm, 12/05/2013

    Robert, you missed my point.

  29. Mike Schmidt 08:12pm, 12/05/2013

    Eric I have a buddy who was a cop 25 years ago in Johannesburg where he was born and raised. He came to Canada, got his citizenship along with his wife and he has never gone back, not once. White, black, the whole damn atmosphere made him disgusted and he did not see it changing at least not in his lifetime. If I even start talking about the “old country” he just shakes his head and it usual ends with “it’s disgusting and it’s a shame.” Adios Sir.

  30. bob 08:09pm, 12/05/2013

    Great tribute to a great man. The word hero is way overused these days, but Mandela certainly fit the bill.

  31. Eric 08:04pm, 12/05/2013

    White South Africaners are being butchered every week in the most vile and horrific ways. Blacks are drowning infants in boiling hot water, raping children, disemlboweling whole families, shooting the mother of children and making the children watch. Dragging victims for miles behind vehicles. And yet the World Cup Soccer event went on there a few years ago and no one protested of boycot South Africa at all. Is seperate drinking fountains and wash facilities more disturbing than children getting disembowelled by machete wieilding thugs? Where is Bono? Where is Bruce? Where are the “reverends?” All this is going on the media doesn’t cover it for sheet, and most of the world is clueless to a friggin genocide going on right now.

  32. Robert Ecksel 08:00pm, 12/05/2013

    The only way to start fresh would be to kill all the previous comments. Just six months have passed since they were written. Anyone who chooses to revise and update their comments can do so. But the death of one man, even a man of great distinction, shouldn’t fundamentally alter who we imagine ourselves to be.

  33. Ted 07:42pm, 12/05/2013

    These posts are somewhat outdated. Some of us had some differences back then that have been resolved in a positive manner. My suggestion would be to start the thread fresh

  34. Eric 07:27pm, 12/05/2013

    This is a boxing website and I try to never bring up politics but Johannesburg is one of the most crime riddled cities in the world. And racism is just as prominent today if not more so than in the “Apartheid era.”  A good book on this subject is, “Into The Cannibal’s Pot” by Ilana Mercer. Black on White violence is a disturbing issue in South Africa.

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  36. Ted 02:42pm, 05/28/2013

    Robert Ecksel, any discussion on values must be on a differtent thread and it might beat the record for comment counts whatever that record is.

    It’s all about core values for me, by the way. Group think is not a part of my DNA. In fact, I sense it’s not a part of many on

  37. B Red 02:32pm, 05/28/2013

    Clarence George=David Duke

  38. Ted 11:24am, 05/28/2013

    Yes, Meinhard, that is a hero. When one puts themselves in harm’s way to help and/or save others, they get my attention real quick as heroes. When those who are helpless fight to survive, they get my attention. DeKlerk crossed over to stop the potential bloodbath. In that regard, he was a hero because he knew it would mean the end of him politically, but he also knew what the greater good was all about. He was a hero. Same for Sadat who was assassinated. MLK was a hero and so was Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, James Meredith, and Steve Biko. Some might argue that Ali was a hero outside of the ring. Maybe. I don’t know.

    To me, my father was a hero because he was a combat veteran of WW1. My brother was a hero because he was a combat veteran of WW 2. They made great sacrifices along with millions of other Russians, Brits, Canadians, Aussies, etc, etc. We each have our own heroes. That doesn’t mean that they are better or worse. Just our own and we should not, in my view, negate the opinions of others when it comes to this subject. Chris is my all-time hero but that’s because I am a devout Christian, but I certainly don’t expect others to necessarily hold this view. In short, the concept of a hero is one predicated on a highly individual feeling. One person’s hero might be another person’s villain.

  39. Meinhard Schmidt 09:31am, 05/28/2013 this is my definition of a hero guys!

  40. Clarence George 09:11am, 05/28/2013

    That worked, Mike.  Yes, I had a vague awareness of the group.  What Jung would call “Synchronicity,” given that I watched yesterday, and for the umpteenth time, “The Dirty Dozen.”

  41. Mike Casey 09:03am, 05/28/2013

    If this one doesn’t work, Clarence, just put ‘The Sons of Lee Marvin’ in your search engine:

  42. Clarence George 09:01am, 05/28/2013

    Robert’s comment reminds me of James Thurber’s “The Greatest Man in the World,” about how the powers-that-be handle a hero who doesn’t have quite the right attitude.

    By the way, gentlemen, I agree that “Hero” (much like “Artist”) has been devalued to the point of virtual meaninglessness.  I don’t consider Orlando Cruz a hero, for instance, and the fuss made over Greg Louganis some years ago was vomit-inducing.  Still, I do indeed think that a boxer as a boxer can be in a valid sense a legitimate hero.

    Mike:  Nothing happens when I click on your link, but I think I know what it is.  Given my uncanny resemblance to Errol Flynn, I don’t know if they’d have me.

  43. Mike Casey 08:30am, 05/28/2013


  44. Mike Casey 08:29am, 05/28/2013

    Clarence will love this if he doesn’t already know about it:

  45. Mike Casey 08:23am, 05/28/2013

    How depressingly true, Robert! And yes, woe betide the hero who isn’t suitably photogenic! Broadening the scope a little, Lee Marvin was a special one - immensely brave and not too shabby at the acting game either.

  46. Robert Ecksel 08:18am, 05/28/2013

    What about Charles Ramsey, the guy who singlehandedly facilitated the rescue of the three women held in captivity as sex slaves in Cleveland for a decade? His actions were heroic by any measure, but he was mocked in many quarters because, with his bad teeth and bad hair, didn’t look the part. Does that suggest that appearance is more relevant than facts? I think it does. Scratch the surface, and our values, such as they are, are more indicative of groupthink than anything approaching objective analysis.

  47. Mike Casey 07:59am, 05/28/2013

    Barney Ross - legitimate hero, in and out of the ring. Make sure Tiggy doesn’t move his ball, Ted.

  48. Ted 07:55am, 05/28/2013

    Have not gone yet. Will play 19 heroic holes, especially the 19th with Tiger showing they way.

  49. Clarence George 07:52am, 05/28/2013

    What did you play, one hole?

    Boxers, as the epitome of masculinity, are father figures.  And what is a father but a hero?  Not the only definition of the word.  Maybe not even the best.  But perfectly valid nevertheless.

    As to which boxers are heroes…all of them.  It depends on who’s doing the looking.  For one, it may be Jack Dempsey.  For another, Tony Zale.  For a third, Pancho Villa.

    “As the triumphant boxer left the ring to pass up the aisle, an ecstatic fight fan, male, followed closely after him, wiping all he could of the sweat from the boxer’s body onto himself.”

  50. Mike Casey 07:46am, 05/28/2013

    Yes, Ted, I think your point is a valid one. I think any kind of athlete has also got to do something special outside his domain to reach genuine ‘hero’ status - walking into a fire to save someone or whatever. ‘Hero’ another word that we now devalue. Nowadays, you’re a hero if you can blow your nose without consulting an analyst.

  51. Ted 07:37am, 05/28/2013

    Winnie has no place in this discussion, and I’d love to know what boxers were heroes as boxers. I’m not being contentious; just curious.

  52. Clarence George 07:18am, 05/28/2013

    Indeed, Mike—only in a world gone mad could Winnie Mandela be considered a heroine.

  53. Ted 07:16am, 05/28/2013

    I repeat, to refer to an athlete as a hero makes me gag. There are exceptions, but the attribution is not found from activity on a playing field IMO. .

    I once wrote a long piece on this subject for a newspaper and my thrust was that heroes were those who risked everything to achieve for the greater good. Crossover types like Begin and Sadat, in particular. Lech Walesa was a hero in my mind. More of this later.

    Golf beckons.

  54. Mike Casey 07:10am, 05/28/2013

    I don’t doubt that Mandela was fighting for a just cause in the long run, but he was still a terrorist. His old lady Winnie was even worse. Burning tires (‘necklaces’) around the necks of your fellow brothers and sisters who don’t happen to agree with you? Not my way of winning an argument.

  55. Clarence George 07:06am, 05/28/2013

    Oh, I think boxers and representatives of lesser sports can indeed be heroes, albeit certainly not in the sense that, say, Audie Murphy was.

    I won’t mar the beauty of boxing with something as vulgar as politics or ideology, but I’ll say this much:  Mandela’s no hero of mine.  He was a communist and a founder and leader of the terrorist organization Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation).  Besides, if Oprah Winfrey likes him…I don’t.

    And don’t get me started on Gandhi!

  56. Ted 06:50am, 05/28/2013

    “Hero” has been used all too often. To refer to an athlete as a hero is bile-inducing unless that athlete was happens to have been a Jackie Robinson or Larry Doby. Those who have risked their well being and even their lives are heros in my mind. Combat soldiers are heros; boxers are not. Children fighting leukemia in some hospital in Philadelphia are heroes; Michael Jordan is not.

    Mandela defines what a hero is all about. Gandhi was a hero. But even those on the other side who came across to end the Apartheid were heroes.

    Nice article Robert.

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