Remembering Nelson Mandela
“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.