How many grannies do you know who are boxing fans? None? Then you have not met Granny Alice from Diepkloof, Soweto.
Granny Alice Sontonga is 83 years old. She is known by the lovers of the sport as the “The Idlozi of Boxing”. Sontonga? Does the surname ring a bell? It should — Granny Alice is the daughter-in-law of the late, great composer Enoch Sontonga. He was the man who gave us our National Anthem, Nkosi Sikelel1 i Afrika.
Granny Alice never met the man who gave the nation such a beautiful song. Old Enoch died before his son and Granny Alice were married.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
So what’s in a name? Quite a lot…the name “Enoch” has been an important one in Granny Alice’s life.
Out of respect for her great father-in- law, Granny Alice named her son Enoch. It was Enoch who came back from school one day and told Granny Alice, “Mama, at school there’s a boy called Enoch who’s training for boxing.”
Granny Alice was immediately interested. After all, The name Enoch meant a lot to her.
The young boxer was none other than Enoch Nhlapo, who was to become a great champion. Nhlapo was given the nickname “Schoolboy” because he began fighting while still at school.
It was through “Schoolboy” that Granny Alice’s interest in boxing began. He was a beautiful boxer. She followed his progress — and before she knew it, she was a boxing fan.
When Nhlapo turned professional, it was Granny Alice and a few of her friends who bought him his professional gown. “We sowed the name “Schoolboy” at the back of the gown. It was beautiful and he loved it”, says Granny Alice.
“BLOOD? WHAT BLOOD?”
But the question must be asked: Why does Granny Alice like a sport where so much blood is spilt? She has a two- fisted answer:
“Blood? What’s so new about blood? In this country we see blood all the time. You go across the street to visit your neighbour, and what do you see? Two men trying to cut each other’s throats with knives. With boxing there’s a referee who is supposed to see that nobody gets hurt. Not so with streetfighting.
“Blood is spilt, anywhere and everywhere. Why must people single out boxing? What about the other dangerous sports where people get injured and sometimes killed? Why don’t we hear about the rugby player who died in a scrum, the wrestler who died when his opponent jumped on top of him, motor racing, any sport?”
Granny Alice feels that boxing should not be singled out — but she does feel there should be stricter rules and that boxing officials should be better trained. By officials she means the referees, the judges, the trainers and the managers.
Granny Alice says she was saddened by the death of Brian Baronet in Durban a few months ago. She does not blame anybody for his death. But she asks: “I wonder what amount of training is given before somebody is allowed to become either a trainer or a manager?”
But when Granny Alice talks about the death of Jacob “Dancing Shoes” Morake in 1985, she drops her guard. Granny Alice loved Dancing Shoes. He was one of her favourites.
She says angrily: “If I had been there on the night of the Morake fight, I would have walked straight to the corner and told the trainer, “Stop the fight, can’t you see a man is dying?” And had they not listened to me, I’d simply have taken a towel and thrown it in the ring. Damn the result!”
Granny Alice does not blame boxer Brian Mitchell for Morake’s death. She has no hatred in her heart for Mitchell, who she calls “a good sportsman and a gentleman.” But to this day, she still cannot bring herself to go and watch Mitchell fight.
“FAIR IS FAIR”
So what’s in a name? Enoch Sontonga, Enoch Sontonga Junior, Enoch “Schoolboy” Nhlapo…….”Baby Jake” Matlala, “Baby Jake” Modise, Jake Morake and Jake Tuli.
All these “Jakes” are just some of the boxers who Granny Alice has loved as if they were her own sons. And she has seen her “sons” getting a hiding more times than she cares to remember — like the time Schoolboy was beaten black and blue by Elijah “Ellis Brown” Mokone.
But Granny Alice never cries “foul” — because to her, there must be a winner. And no matter who one loves, the winner should be the better fighter, not the one the officials or fans think should win.
Sometimes Granny Alice likes both fighters in the ring. She remembers the time Arthur “Fighting Prince” Mayisela fought Harold “The Hammer” Volbrecht. When Volbrecht refused to come out of his corner at the the beginning of the sixth round, the officials called it a “technical draw.”
Granny Alice was unhappy — not because she wanted Volbrecht to lose. “Volbrecht is one of the boxers I love, and he loves me too. But fairness must rule in boxing. It must not matter if a boxer is black or white.”
Granny Alice will be a boxing fan until her dying day — and when that time comes, she has just one wish. She wants her coffin to be carried to her grave by boxers dressed in their fighting gowns.
But that time is still far off. Granny Alice is one of those fighters who never says die. She’ll be around till the final gong.
NEW WORDS composer — someone who writes music immediately — at once, straight-away progress — moving forward, getting better at something a professional boxer — a boxer who gets paid for fighting a technical draw — when a fight is stopped and there is no winner — like when a boxer gets hurt by accident and cannot carry on