Sunday Times

Left hook, right cross

Two rings loom large in the life of An­thony Sit­hole — the boxing arena where he holds a tragic record, and, on one fist, the sym­bol of his happy mar­riage

- By DAVID ISAAC­SON

● There are good an­niver­saries and then there are painful re­minders, but some­how the Sit­holes of Soweto have out­lived tragedy and are look­ing for­ward to a joy­ful milestone.

They will cel­e­brate their 50th wed­ding an­niver­sary in Novem­ber; to­mor­row will mark 47 years since An­thony Sit­hole’s fists be­came the dead­li­est weapons in a mod­ern boxing ring.

In his hey­day Sit­hole fought at just un­der 54kg, less than half the weight of reign­ing world heavy­weight cham­pion An­thony Joshua, and there was noth­ing to sug­gest that his sched­uled 10-round ban­tamweight con­test against Al­berto Jan­galay of the Philip­pines was go­ing to end in­side the dis­tance at the Fes­ti­val Hall in Bris­bane on Oc­to­ber 1 1971.

Sit­hole was on his sec­ond tour of duty in Aus­tralia, con­tracted to a tele­vi­sion net­work there, as were a few other South Africans, in­clud­ing fu­ture world ban­tamweight cham­pion Arnold Tay­lor and wel­ter­weight Jo­hannes Dladla.

Top­pled over

Just over a month ear­lier, the durable Jan­galay, 28, had lost on points over 10 rounds to Tay­lor.

Now, in the eighth round against Sit­hole, the Filipino stung the South African with a cou­ple of blows. Sit­hole re­tal­i­ated with a bar­rage that ended with a dev­as­tat­ing twop­unch com­bi­na­tion. A left hook twisted his op­po­nent side­ways and a right cross lifted him clean off his feet.

Jan­galay crashed to the can­vas, then at­tempted climb­ing to his feet but lost his bal­ance in the process, stum­bled for­ward and top­pled over again. The ref­eree waved that it was over.

Sit­hole never sus­pected any­thing was wrong. Nei­ther did his Aus­tralian trainer, Johnny Phillips, and man­ager, Ed Sil­ver, who wanted to visit the fallen op­po­nent in hos­pi­tal.

But they were as­sured there was no need for panic; Jan­galay had been ad­mit­ted merely for ob­ser­va­tion. The next day, how­ever, he was dead.

Sil­ver went to in­form the 28-year-old Sit­hole. “He was stunned,” the man­ager said at the time. “He just melted into the chair.”

Killing an op­po­nent is a huge psy­cho­log­i­cal blow to any boxer, but for Sit­hole this was the sec­ond time he had sent a foe to an early grave. Lo­cal his­to­ri­ans say the records show he is the only boxer of the gloved era to have killed two op­po­nents.

Once is bad enough. Jo­han­nes­burg star Wil­lie Toweel was haunted for the rest of his life by the 1956 death of Hu­bert Es­sakow, and US world cham­pion Emile Grif­fith strug­gled to come to terms with the demise of Benny Kid Paret in 1962.

Even Brian Mitchell nearly walked away from the sport af­ter the death of op­po­nent Ja­cob “Danc­ing Shoes” Morake.

“It’s like a death in the fam­ily,” said Mitchell. “A pro­fes­sional boxer gets into the ring to win, not to kill some­one. To kill two peo­ple … it must have been ter­ri­ble.”

Killing an op­po­nent is a psy­cho­log­i­cal blow to any boxer, but for Sit­hole this was the sec­ond time

Tee­ter­ing

Grace Sit­hole, 73, says An­thony had al­ready paid her lobola when the first tragedy struck in March 1967.

A young Sit­hole had put his un­beaten record on the line against Lumk­ile “Young Clay” Dun­jana when they met at the Cen­te­nary Hall in Port El­iz­a­beth’s New Brighton town­ship.

The 21-year-old Dun­jana, a for­mer South African ama­teur cham­pion who had never been on the can­vas in the paid ranks, dom­i­nated the bout and was way ahead on points by the time he came out for the sixth and fi­nal round.

Sit­hole, need­ing a knock­out to win, landed a short, sharp punch that briefly left his op­po­nent tee­ter­ing on the ropes be­fore he slumped to the can­vas un­con­scious. Dun­jana died be­fore mid­night.

“I wanted to leave boxing,” says Sit­hole,

75, “but they [his man­ager and trainer at the time] came to me and said: ‘It’s a game, it could have hap­pened to you’.”

His re­li­gious mother, Dora, ad­vised him to pray and he also turned to cul­tural cus­tom to help him deal with Dun­jana’s death, slaugh­ter­ing a goat and speak­ing to his an­ces­tors.

Aus­tralian idyll

But there was no quick fix. In his next bout, barely a month later, Sit­hole suf­fered his first pro­fes­sional de­feat when he chal­lenged for the na­tional black ban­tamweight crown. His record was che­quered for the next 16 months and he failed to score two con­sec­u­tive vic­to­ries un­til Oc­to­ber 1968, shortly be­fore he and Grace were mar­ried.

His rep­u­ta­tion as a boxer made their union a celebrity wed­ding, at­tended by jour­nal­ists and pho­tog­ra­phers as well as plenty of guests and the usual hang­ers-on.

“You know what wed­dings are like in the lo­ca­tions,” chuck­les Ezekiel Mt­shali, their best man half a cen­tury ago.

“He was very fa­mous,” re­calls Grace.

“Even now they re­spect him when they see him in the street. They still call him a champ.”

In his work­ing role, how­ever, Sit­hole was a mod­est mes­sen­ger for a com­pany in cen­tral Jo­han­nes­burg. Not many white South Africans knew him as any­thing else.

Grace, whose child­hood play­mate in Or­lando West was neigh­bour Kaizer Mo­taung, the fu­ture soc­cer star and club boss, was still at school when she met her fu­ture hus­band at a party.

“It was love at first sight,” she says.

The year af­ter their wed­ding, Sit­hole won both the black South African fly­weight and ban­tamweight crowns, and then came the Aus­tralian deal.

Grace, a ma­chin­ist at a cloth­ing fac­tory at the time, joined him a few months into his first stint in Aus­tralia.

The Qan­tas flight to Aus­tralia was her first taste of air travel. “I was scared on that plane,” she re­calls. “But a white lady next to me told me not to worry. She said: ‘It’s just like a car’.”

Just af­ter they landed in Syd­ney, she heard a wel­come an­nounce­ment over the cabin loud­speaker: “Mrs Grace Sit­hole, your hus­band is wait­ing for you in the air­port.”

An­thony had ar­rived in Aus­tralia with a learner’s li­cence and the ring name Qash, an ab­bre­vi­a­tion of his given Zulu name, Ma­cashe­lana.

It is pro­nounced with an Nguni click, a dif­fi­cult pho­netic ma­noeu­vre for

Aus­tralians. Phillips ar­ranged for Sit­hole to get his driver’s li­cence in Syd­ney but the trainer couldn’t get his tongue around the name.

Sit­hole does a dra­matic re-en­act­ment of the con­ver­sa­tion with Phillips:

“What’s your name?”

“Qash.”

“Quash?”

“No! Qash!”

“Squash?”

“No! It’s Qash!”

“No, that’s too dif­fi­cult. We’re go­ing to call you Kid Snow­ball.”

Sit­hole’s first bout af­ter Grace ar­rived was against Jean-Claude Lap­inte, a for­mer French ban­tamweight cham­pion who was con­sid­ered the favourite.

“Kid, you can’t beat this guy,” says Sit­hole, re-en­act­ing an­other con­ver­sa­tion in which his re­ply was: “My wife is join­ing me. There’s no ways I can lose when she’s here.”

Sit­hole stopped the French­man in the eighth round.

Armed with a car and a road map cour­tesy of Phillips, Sit­hole found recog­ni­tion and help in Syd­ney.

“I of­ten got lost, but I would ask peo­ple at garages and they’d recog­nise me. ‘Kid, you’re here,’ they’d say, point­ing at the map. ‘You need to get there.’ ”

Sit­hole al­ways found his way back home, a down­stairs apart­ment at Phillips’s seafac­ing house.

Grace laughs when she re­mem­bers not be­ing able to op­er­ate Aus­tralian ap­pli­ances. “I was us­ing my hands to do the wash­ing. I had to learn to work the wash­ing ma­chine.”

She made new friends, es­pe­cially “The Girls”, five spin­ster sis­ters who lived next door. “We would have tea or go shop­ping, go and see the mar­kets.”

Fate­ful bout

Life was good — and free of apartheid — but they were never tempted to set­tle in Aus­tralia.

“The re­porters used to say we must go live there, but I’d say, ‘What about our fam­ily? We’ve got par­ents, sis­ters, brothers, chil­dren — we can’t’,” says Grace.

She had to cut her trip short and re­turn to SA when her father died.

Sit­hole fin­ished up in Aus­tralia soon af­ter­wards with a points win, then headed back to Soweto.

He sur­ren­dered his South African ban­tamweight crown on a sur­prise loss to Joe “Green Co­bra” Gumede at the Jab­u­lani am­phithe­atre, af­ter which he re­turned to Aus­tralia, where he beat Wil­lie Cor­dova, lost on a close de­ci­sion to Aus­tralian ban­tamweight cham­pion Paul Fer­reri, and pre­pared to face Jan­galay in that fate­ful bout. Two op­po­nents dead in 35 fights.

“I think the sec­ond time it was even worse,” says Grace. “For him and for us.”

On learn­ing of Jan­galay’s death, she raced to com­fort her mother-in-law in Rockville — and to be com­forted. Re­porters ar­rived there to find both women in tears and un­able to speak to the me­dia.

“His ca­reer went down af­ter that,” Grace says, sit­ting in the lounge of that same

No, your name is too dif­fi­cult for Aus­tralians. We’re go­ing to call you Kid Snow­ball

house, which now be­longs to her and An­thony. “I think he didn’t want to go through that again. I think he didn’t throw his punches like be­fore.”

Sit­hole’s last bout in Aus­tralia was against Shin­taro Uchiyama of Japan for a world rank­ing, but he was well beaten on points, fail­ing to win even one of the 10 rounds.

Back home he lost a re­match to Gumede and then fought 20 more bouts, win­ning nine, be­fore re­tir­ing in 1975.

Tragedy stalked the Sit­holes out­side the ring, too. They have buried two of their four chil­dren. Son Vin­cent, whose daugh­ter was just a year old when he died, was mur­dered by thugs on the streets. Daugh­ter Jac­inta, who was mar­ried and liv­ing in Frank­fort in the Free State, died of nat­u­ral causes.

Grace, a de­vout Catholic, is philo­soph­i­cal about the hard­ships they have faced.

Their son’s killers were caught but they had no de­sire to at­tend the trial. Grace says: “What’s the use? The next thing they’re show­ing the pho­tos of what hap­pened. No. We just leave it as God will see fit. The hard­est was our daugh­ter in the Free State, be­cause it’s very far. It is our cus­tom to visit the ceme­tery and clean up, but we have to make spe­cial ar­range­ments to go there.”

Vin­cent’s daugh­ter has spo­ken about ar­rang­ing a party to cel­e­brate their Novem­ber 23 an­niver­sary, al­though they don’t have an inkling of what will ac­tu­ally ma­te­ri­alise.

A ro­man­tic

Even af­ter more than half a cen­tury to­gether, Grace says An­thony is still a ro­man­tic.

“Every time I come in he says, ‘Kiss me’. Also when he goes out. Even when we’re at the church, when we’re part­ing — maybe he’s go­ing for a meet­ing or I’m com­ing home. I can say he is ro­man­tic.”

Their house har­bours no sign of the pain they have ex­pe­ri­enced, but ev­ery­where there is ev­i­dence of hap­pi­ness. Dur­ing the in­ter­view, one of their six great­grand­chil­dren is brought around, hav­ing been pulled out of crèche for the day be­cause he was feel­ing ill. Grace takes care of him with great ten­der­ness.

An­thony, who still runs to keep fit, tries to re­mem­ber only the good side of boxing. A few times he starts throw­ing punches while shout­ing the in­struc­tions he would have re­ceived from his trainer.

“Jab, Kid. Jab!” he yells, shuf­fling for­ward as he hunts an imag­i­nary op­po­nent, his left hand prob­ing for open­ings be­fore his right fin­ishes the bout.

Qash al­ways knocks them out, but this way they never die.

 ?? Pic­tures: Moeletsi Mabe ?? Boxing leg­end An­thony Sit­hole in the gym where he used to train in Jabavu, Soweto.
Pic­tures: Moeletsi Mabe Boxing leg­end An­thony Sit­hole in the gym where he used to train in Jabavu, Soweto.
 ??  ?? Sit­hole, right, with vet­eran boxing pro­moter and trainer Ezekiel Mt­shali.
Sit­hole, right, with vet­eran boxing pro­moter and trainer Ezekiel Mt­shali.

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