One evening in Cape Town 20 years ago, the great Enoch ‘Schoolboy’ Nhlapho fought a guy called Phillip ‘Kid’ Sibeko.
In the eighth round, ‘Schoolboy’ threw a righthand to Sibeko’s body. Sibeko stopped the punch with his elbow – and broke ‘Schoolboy’s’ arm. But ‘Schoolboy’ said nothing. He didn’t want the referee to see. And for the last three rounds, he fought with one hand. He won the last three rounds. And he won the fight.
Enoch ‘Schoolboy’ Nhlapho was a brave boxer. And he was a great boxer. Some people say he was the greatest boxer ever born in South Africa.
He fought for 20 years. And he fought the best of them. He beat most of them. And he lost to a couple of them. He won three South African titles.
He was the junior welterweight champion, the welterweight champion and the lightweight champion. And when the great ‘Schoolboy’ gave up boxing in 1972, he was still the junior welterweight and lightweight champion. He was 42 years old and still a champion.
If you meet Enoch now, you would never believe he was a boxer. He lives a quiet life in Soweto. He stays at home a lot. He likes to spend time with his wife and two young daughters. And he loves to work in his little garden.
And Enoch is not ‘punch drunk’ like so many other old boxers. His brains are not like scrambled eggs. He talks gently and very clearly. And he works in a job where he needs his brains. He is a proofreader at a printing company. He checks the spelling and language in newspapers and magazines. He really must have been a great boxer!
THE FIRST FIGHT
They called him ‘Schoolboy’ because he started boxing when he was still at school. “I was staying with my grand parents in Sophiatown at the time,” says Enoch. “My parents sent me there to look after them.
“I had this friend Henry Seabelo. He was a boxer. He was called the ‘Sophiatown Fighting Machine’. One day in 1948 Henry took me a long to the. gym. That’s where I started to box.
“I liked boxing. And I also felt safer on the streets. In those days Sophiatown was a wild place. But the guys didn’t give boxers much trouble.
“A guy called Matthew ‘G Man’ Sathekge was our trainer. He taught me a lot about boxing. He is still around – he sells potatoes at the old market.
“I had my first fight in 1949. I remember that fight well. I fought this guy Ezekiel Mogotsi. Man, I was scared that day. My legs were shaking.
I· didn’t want to leave my corner. I lost my first fight.
“I felt bad after that first fight. I felt ashamed. I couldn’t look at anybody. I decided I must not lose again.”
And the ‘Schoolboy’ did not lose again for a long, long time. He fought bravely and with much spirit. He was a great body puncher. “I always went for the body first,” says Enoch. “It’s like slow poison. You first weaken the body. Then you go for the head.”
When Enoch passed matric, he began to fight for money. He sometimes got 50 or 100 pounds for a fight. But he also got a job. He worked in a furniture shop for three pounds a week.
Why didn’t he leave his job and just fight for a living? “In those days black people couldn’t fight for a living,” says Enoch. “If I only wanted to fight, I needed a ‘daily labour’ stamp in my pass. But they wouldn’t give this stamp to me. So I worked in the day. And after work I went to the gym.”
In 1957 ‘Schoolboy’ fought his old friend, the ‘Sophiatown Fighting Machine’. “That fight was a great fight,” says Enoch. “Henry was not a boxer. He was a fighter. He rushed like a bull. And when he caught you, you were finished. But I was too clever. He never caught me. I stopped him in the eighth.”
‘Schoolboy’ meets ‘Wonderboy’
Most people say ‘Schoolboy’ greatest fight was his fight against Sexton ‘Wonderboy’ Mabena in May 1961. They were fighting for the lightweight title. Over 10 thousand people went to the old Bantu Sports Ground in Johannesburg to watch the fight.
‘Wonderboy’ was a clever boxer. He didn’t waste any punches. And when he did punch, the other guy always felt like he was kicked by a horse.
The fight began. And ‘Wonderboy’ started to give ‘Schoolboy’ a boxing lesson. ‘Schoolboy’ was in a lot of trouble. After the ninth round, he was a long way behind on points.
But in the tenth round, ‘Schoolboy’ came out strong. He must have suddenly remembered his very first fight. He went for ‘Wonderboy’s’ body. He knew what he had to do.
By the eleventh round, the slow poison had got to ‘Wonderboy’. He was weak. And he was dizzy. Then ‘Schoolboy’ went for the head.
Now ‘Wonderboy’ was in trouble. He leaned on the ropes. And he couldn’t fight back. When the fight ended, ‘Schoolboy’ had done enough. He won the fight on points.
One time ‘Schoolboy’ fought this guy Mngadi. He was the Natal Champion. “I was giving him a hiding,” says Enoch. “Then in the last round some body turned the lights off. So they stopped the fight. The fight was a draw – and I never saw Mngadi again.”
‘Schoolboy’ did a lot of fighting. He fought in 125 fights altogether. How come he spent 20 years fighting and he still needs to work? “Let me put it this way,” says Enoch. “I remember one fight. After the fight my uncle the promoter bought himself a brand new blue Jaguar. He gave me the change.”
‘Schoolboy’s’ last fight was against MacKeed Mofokeng. By this time people had a new name for ‘Schoolboy’. They called him ‘Old Bones’.
But ‘Old Bones’ showed these people a thing or two. By the time he was finished with Mofokeng, nobody was calling him ‘Old Bones’ anymore. They called him ‘Schoolboy’ again. And even today, people still call him ‘Schoolboy’. Maybe they are too scared to call him anything else!.