Mov­ing trib­ute to SA box­ing world champ

Hun­dreds pay last re­spects to Baby Jake Matlala as Mbalula praises him as ‘man of sub­stance’

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - NONI MOKATI

A JU­BI­LANT but highly emo­tional at­mos­phere pre­vailed at the fu­neral of four-time fly­weight world cham­pion boxer and leg­end Ja­cob “Baby Jake” Matlala, whose box­ing gloves atop his gold cof­fin pointed to the sport for which he was so fa­mous.

Matlala died at the Char­lotte Max­eke Aca­demic Hos­pi­tal last week, fol­low­ing a long ill­ness.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple turned out to pay their last re­spects to the box­ing icon at the Rhema Bi­ble Church in Rand­burg, in­clud­ing for­mer boxer Din­gaan Thobela, his neigh­bour.

They all spoke of Matlala’s courage, great­ness, tenac­ity and hu­mil­ity.

Sports and Recre­ation Min­is­ter Fik­ile Mbalula and Joburg mayor Parks Tau joined Or­lando Pi­rates chair­man Irvin Khoza, Kaizer Chief chair­man Kaizer Mo­taung, mu­si­cians Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Sipho “Hot­stix” Mabuza, and politi­cians and fans joined in singing hymns and hear­ing mes­sages of con­do­lence from near and far.

In a mov­ing trib­ute to his fa­ther, Matlala’s el­dest son Tshepo said he imag­ined that Nel­son Man­dela and Matlala were to­gether in heaven.

“I can imag­ine Je­sus say­ing we need more cham­pi­ons in heaven, ask­ing Man­dela who should be called out of his three favourite box­ers. I can imag­ine him say­ing there was no other but Baby Jake…,” he said, weep­ing.

He said he and his younger brother Masego had been blessed with a de­voted and lov­ing fa­ther.

A love let­ter from the box­ing leg­end’s wife Ma­pule Matlala was also read out. She thanked her late hus­band for be­ing a great fa­ther to their two sons, and for be­ing her hero. She also thanked him for be­ing pa­tient in their re­la­tion­ship when she gave him a hard time, and for lov­ing her un­con­di­tion­ally.

She called him her pil­lar of strength through the dif­fi­cult and good times they shared.

Ma­pule’s long-time friend and In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral Com­mis­sion spokesman Kate Bapela re­minded her of the ster­ling role she played as the boxer’s wife, prais­ing the love she showed her hus­band.

Other speak­ers joked about Baby Jake’s love for Steers ice­cream and re­called his ad­mi­ra­tion for Moroka Swal­lows.

Mbalula said Matlala was “no fake plas­tic, but rather a per­son of great sub­stance”.

Mbalula also an­nounced the re­nam­ing af­ter Matlala of the Dube Box­ing Club, where the boxer trained as a young­ster.

He was buried at the West Park ceme­tery’s He­roes Acre.

PIC­TURES: BOXER NG­WENYA

FI­NAL JOUR­NEY: The hearse car­ry­ing Ja­cob ‘Baby Jake’ Matlala’s cof­fin was draped with flow­ers and dec­o­rated with pic­tures of the late boxer with Nel­son Man­dela.

GOLDEN: The boxer’s cof­fin stands in the Rhema Church in Joburg.

LEG­END: Baby Jake Matlala

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