Rose of Soweto remembered as symbol of hope

Boxing fraternity pays tribute to ‘great, humble’ Dingaan Thobela

07 May 2024 - 17:50
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Dingaan Thobela. File photo
BIG MAN Dingaan Thobela. File photo
Image: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images

Dozens of prominent boxing figures, celebrities from the music and sporting industry, and politicians paid a fitting farewell to departed champion boxer Dingaan “The Rose of Soweto” Thobela at a memorial service in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

Thobela died on April 29, aged 57, after battling illness.

Held at the Arena Holdings offices in Parktown, Thobela's memorial drew attendees including musicians Mercy Pakela, Winnie Khumalo and Khanyo Maphumulo, former Kaizer Chiefs striker Fani Madida and several politicians under one roof to celebrate the colourful life of the former champion.

Promoter Rodney Berman, retired boxers Brian Mitchell and Jan Bergman, and Boxing SA accounting authority Mandla Ntlanganiso all hailed Thobela as a symbol of hope and inspiration to the youth.

“It is truly a great honour to be given the opportunity to speak,” said an emotional Berman, who promoted Thobela's second WBA title fight against Tony Lopez, which the South African won at Sun City in 1993.

Berman's Golden Gloves also staged the historic WBC championship bout Thobela won against defending champion Glenn Catley in Brakpan in 2000.

That win made him the second South African in history to win the most sought-after green and gold WBC belt after Thulani Malinga.

“We will look into organising an annual event to honour Thobela,” said Berman, who was influential in Malinga's successful career. “Despite his achievements, Thobela was always modest.”

Long-time Thobela trainer Norman Hlabane was too emotional to speak. 

Mitchell, who trained Thobela after he parted ways with Hlabane, said the fighter rated as the best natural boxing talent to come out of South Africa.

There was a huge demand for Mitchell and Thobela to fight, but that matchup did not happen.

“I always said I would have won, and he said he would have won. I want to say it today that now that he is gone that bout has ended now and it is a draw,” Mitchell said.

Bergman shared memories of their sparring sessions.

“Norman told him to take it easy with me, but the man started beating me up and I complained to Norman, who reprimanded Dingaan. We remained good friends until his last day,” said the former WBU champion.

Speaking on behalf of Thobela's children, his son Ndivhuwo said: “I never thought we would talk about 'the Big Man' — I called him that because he did not like to be called daddy — in the past tense as I am today.

“He believed in practising ubuntu and that is why he was always giving without expecting anything back. Big Man was always prepared to listen when we approached him for ideas, and he was forever there to provide guidance. His teachings will remain with all his children.”

Thobela's father sat tight in his chair, so did many legends including Diarora Molefyane, Nika Kumalo, Peter Malinga, Isaac Hlatshwayo, Cassius Baloyi, Phillip Ndou and Andrew Matabola. 

Thobela will be laid to rest at West Park Cemetery in Johannesburg on Thursday. The service will take place at Dlamini Multi-Purpose Hall next to Moroka police station from 8am-11am.


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