A people’s champ adored all round 

If it is true, is it not odd that a famous sports personality of the stature of Dingaan “The Rose” Thobela, a former three-time world champion nogal, could be found dead in an apartment in Mayfair, Johannesburg? 

The thought of Thobela being “found dead in an apartment” is hard to fathom; it conjures up the idea that he died alone. 

A troubling thought; not a nice and cosy thought. Do we all not want to die surrounded by family and friends?  

Thobela was boxing royalty, loved by many. His boxing skills brought joy to many of his fans. 

Even in retirement, in deference, many doffed their hats to him. Yes, words of endearment and gestures of hugging from those who loved him, and valued his -talent, made him our special and prized commodity, even as he was no longer -active in the sport. 

We remembered the good days. We saw him enter the ring with aplomb and confidence, prancing this way or that way as if to intimidate his opponent. 

Yes, we were right. He was the Rose of Soweto, and deserved our adoration, as Muhammad Ali in life and death continues to hog honour and respect. 

We mourn a great fighter. Death is final and permanent, and so we spend time trying to get to grips with its sting. 

That aside, Thobela’s life as a boxer was illustrious, a rarity for a South African to have not only won a world boxing title but did so in three divisions sanctioned by four credible world boxing bodies – the World Boxing Organisation (WBO), the World Boxing Association (WBA), the International Boxing Federation and the World Boxing Council (WBC). 

Thobela claimed a stake to the WBO lightweight champion in 1990, beating Mauricio Aceves, and three years later in 1993, won a split decision verdict against Tony Lopez in a closely contested bout to earn the WBA lightweight title. 

Moving two divisions up in later years, as a bloated super-middleweight, he stopped Britain’s Glenn Catley in a round 12 stoppage in 2000 to earn the WBC belt.  

Although at this time, seven years -later after winning his second title, he was -already in the twilight of his career, he still carried enough dynamite in his fists to have stopped the Briton. 

I recall it was Junior Motsei, now deceased – a former boxing writer at Sowetan and City Press – whose writing of Thobela was passion-filled, predicting in one of his boxing articles that the Chiawelo-based prizefighter was destined for greatness in the sport governed by the Marquess of Queensbury rules. 

It came to pass, and true to Motsei’s prediction, Thobela would quickly reach the peak of his career, impressing and -making every boxing scribe notice the great boxing skills he possessed. 

The sweet science of boxing was to be his forte as he steadily climbed the boxing ladder, and steadily made inroads in the game on his path to super stardom. 

Skillful and deftly quick, Thobela possessed heavy boxing artillery and the heart and courage to take punishment as much as he dished it out. He was a great boxer, able to absorb punishment, but in the end prevailed. 

Champions are made of sterner stuff, and our Rose of Soweto had this in abundance in his boxing toolbox – attributes such as resilience, guts, tenacity and skill. 

Yet success is a human construct. But like everything in life, human experience has its limitations. There are moments of decline, felt by all, as there is also degeneration and death. 

Ali died on June 3, 2016, at the age of 74, the one idolised by the world, including Thobela. 

As the darkness descended upon humanity with the death of Ali, their idol, so did millions across the world experience a sinking feeling of great pain and loss. 

Today, it is our turn, who knew Thobela (57) and idolised him, who must endure the same sinking feeling; it is our turn to feel the pangs of death. 

So biological or physiological life has ended for the Rose of Soweto. Death came to him, “Dingaan Thobela found dead in an apartment”. 

That hurts. But we salute you, our beloved Rose. 

You brought us joy, and now you return to dust, to connect with your ancestors. 

Hamba kahle, Rose of Soweto. 

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