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Theo Mthembu (1927 - )

The Order of Ikhamanga in

Theo Mthembu (1927 - ) Awarded for:
His excellent contribution to the development of boxing as a professional fighter, trainer, writer, and to the struggle for non-racial sport in South Africa.

Profile of Theo Mthembu

Theo Mthembu was born in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal on 27 February 1927.

Mthembu’s boxing career started at the age of 16 at Inkamane College in Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal and later at the Adams College at Amanzimtoti where he trained under the legendary Khabi Mngoma.

Mthembu turned professional in 1948 after enrolling at the Bantu Men’s Social Centre Boxing Club in Eloff Street, Johannesburg. In 1950 he was instrumental in establishing a boxing club at Entokozweni Family Welfare Centre in Alexandra Township, which produced three Transvaal provincial champions in its first year of operation. Mthembu’s active boxing career was cut tragically short the following year when he was caught in the crossfire of a gun-fight and badly wounded.

Although Mthembu could no longer box, his love for the sport led him, a few years after the shooting tragedy, to pursue a career as a trainer and later as a boxing writer. In 1955 he moved to Dube Village, Soweto where he set about establishing a boxing club, at first using a classroom at the Orlando West Primary School as a venue. Two years later, the club moved to the corner of Mahalefele and Sandile Streets in Dube, where it has remained until today.

Mthembu, together with Dennis Brutus, Rev. Sigamony, Essop Pahad and a few others helped to found the first non-racial sports movement in the then Transvaal. As a trainer, Mthembu proved to be a godsend to the youth of Soweto. Despite the severe lack of equipment and relatively primitive facilities he devoted himself to helping local youngsters and to nurturing the talent he saw, whilst struggling to improve amenities at Dube.

He was handsomely rewarded when he produced the world-rated Anthony “Blue Jaguar” Morodi, the S.A bantam, junior light and lightweight champion as well as Levy “Golden Boy” Madi, the S.A featherweight champion. His burning desire and ambition to produce a world champion was realized when he took in a scrawny 10-year-old youth whom he painstakingly cultivated. Today Jacob “Baby Jake” Matlala - the shortest fighter in professional boxing - is a legend who became the first South African to win three world titles.

Mthembu, an excellent writer, analyst and critic, promoted the sport brazenly in his journalistic career. When in the mid-70s Mthembu started a newspaper for Black miners called Mining Sun, he advanced the cause of boxing by giving it much exposure, a move which led directly to the introduction of amateur boxing in the mining industry.

Mthembu has won many awards and prizes for his contribution to sport and boxing. In 1998 he was presented with the Jack Cheetham Memorial Award for contribution to sport. He was also awarded the President’s Sports Award (Silver) by former President Nelson Mandela, the Life-Time Achievement Award presented to him by Boxing South Africa, the King Kong Meritorious Award, and the Special Recognition for Achievement (2003) by the Gauteng Provincial Government. Few men have devoted themselves to the sport of boxing in South Africa as unconditionally as Theo Mthembu has. This accomplished gentleman has remained faithful to and passionate about his sport over the course of a long career as a boxer, a trainer, a manager and a journalist. South African boxing has been the richer for Mthembu’s presence.

Mthembu who is retired, follows boxing as eagerly as he did during his youth and still writes on the subject.