Moving tribute to SA boxing world champ
Hundreds pay last respects to Baby Jake Matlala as Mbalula praises him as ‘man of substance’
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.
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