Nelson Mandela was born a day like today in 1918. The hero who fought for equality in South Africa and became a world icon, was also closely linked to boxing and saw the Sweet Science from a very particular perspective.
For Mandela, Boxing was not only a distraction or a sport, but a way to cope with his hardest years, especially when he was unjustly imprisoned for his struggle against the Apartheid.
During his sentence of 27 years, the stress and tension generated by the confinement were mitigated by the practice of a discipline that for “Madiba” was admirable. The art of dodging the fists of the opponent, having the cunning and intelligence to survive in a ring and carrying out a strategy to win were elements that caught the attention of Mandela, who always reflected on this sport and stressed the teachings that it left him.
“I did not enjoy the violence of boxing so much as the science of it. 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”, Mandela points out in his autobiography.
He never fought, he simply devoted himself to practicing and talked about the difficult conditions in which the sport would develop in those years. Little work equipment and the danger of training on the concrete itself due to the absence of canvas, are some of the things that Mandela mentions in his biography, but always with the doors open to the practice of boxing.
“Boxing is egalitarian. In the ring, rank, age, color, and wealth are irrelevant. When you are circling your opponent, probing his strengths and weaknesses, you are not thinking about his color or social status”, is another of the quotes from his book.
For Mandela, equality among human beings was always vital. Gilberto Mendoza, President Emeritus of the WBA, visited South Africa and managed to contact this great leader in a demonstration that boxing and equality go hand in hand.
Other great figures like Muhammad Ali also had a good relationship with Mandela. The African leader made his contribution for the world to see boxing as what it is, a science and a vehicle for social improvement.