Fighting for positive change

Coach and founder of the Overstrand Whale Boxing Club (OWBC) Mzi Damesi has big dreams of taking boxing to local communities with a ‘pop-up’ boxing ring. “Boxing is a great sport: it teaches youngsters discipline, courage, self-defence skills and the resilience to handle life’s challenges,” he says.

Mzi, who hails from Ilinge near Queenstown in the Eastern Cape and has been boxing since 1990, is also the chairperson of the Overberg Open Boxing Organisation. He started the Zwelihle-based club in 2007 and offers classes for free to the 40 members, all boys aged between 8 and 25. He not only has five children of his own who depend on him, but is also a father figure to many of the OWBC members who hail from single-mother households.

The boxing gym at the Zwelihle Sports Grounds in Lusiba Street comprises three repurposed shipping containers set around a central concrete square. One of them contains weight-lifting equipment, another houses punch bags and is used for sparring, while the third serves as a kitchen/office. Classes are held every weekday between 17:00 and 19:00.

“Most people in Zwelihle don’t have money or jobs and they can’t afford to pay for boxing lessons, so the club runs as a charity,” says the coach.

“We are appealing for funding to enable us to promote boxing all over the region. We would love to do boxing clinics in Stanford, Gansbaai, Hawston, Sandbaai and Mount Pleasant, and many other places in the Overberg.”

On 9 March, Mzi took 10 boys to Dunoon, Cape Town for the regional boxing tournament, returning with five gold and two silver medals. The Junior gold winners (age 15-16) were Akhule Mgoqi and Siyakholwa Nxanti. Gold medallists in the Youth category (17-18) were Atang Sikiti and Siphamandla Damesi (Mzi’s nephew), while Thando Zongezile (11 years) brought home gold, and Mabini Kase and Lutho Likho (both 14) each brought home silver in the Junior category.

“We’ve been competing as a team since 2008, including the national championships in Johannesburg and we have achieved a lot,” says Mzi. “That year, Phumlani Damesi, who is also my nephew, won bronze as a junior at the nationals. Many of our members have won gold in national and provincial competitions. Others competitors are scared to fight my boxers because they know they will lose!”

Recently, at the Dunoon regionals, Akhule beat South African Junior champ, Sixolise Lupindo. Akhule, now 15, has built up a stellar boxing CV in recent years: in 2015, aged 12, he was elected captain of the SA Cadet (12-14) boxing team.

A former OWBC member, Tanner Metodes from Onrus, was national champion three times (in 2015, 2016 and 2017) between the ages of 15 and 17, and was selected to Team South Africa for international fights.

“If we put up a ring, an open boxing club, people will show up… and in this way the sport of boxing can grow. It’s such a great way to keep fit and stay away from the negative influences of drinking, drugs and crime,” says Mzi.

The main stumbling block for the club, however, is funding for new equipment (gloves, punch bags, boots and weights), transport, tours and a ‘pop-up’ boxing ring (the latter costs R54 000 new, without the cost of transporting it from Johannesburg to Hermanus). To date, the club has been surviving on haphazard financial and material donations, mostly sourced in the last two years by Hermanus businesswoman Carole Dods, who volunteers as the club’s spokesperson and fundraiser. She also allows Mzi to use the telephone and e-mail at her shop, the Jol Emporium.

“If 30 people or local businesses – preferably more – gave the club R100 a month, like NSRI donations, the club would be just about viable. It costs us R2 500 a month just for the taxi fares to enable our top 15 boxers to attend tournaments in the Western Cape, and that doesn’t include the nationals twice a year,” says Carole. She says Mike and Elaine Bayer, owners of The Beanery coffee shop and roastery, have been particularly supportive of the club in recent years.

Last year Elaine donated R20 000 to the club that was raised during the No Frills Walk, while Mike donated R2 000 from a service award he won from the hospitality sector. The OWBC also received R20 000 from last December’s charity artwalk, ‘Night of a Thousand Drawings’ which it used to buy new and second-hand equipment. “Mathew Browne from ProActive Fitness helped to source the equipment for us at cost and when the kids went to the nationals, he let them train at his gym,” says Carole.

David Bellairs, director of the Cape Town Cycle Tour, donated seven of the Pedals for Peace bikes, an AfrikaBurn initiative, to the club’s top seven gold-medal boxers last year. “The kids were overwhelmed. Most of them don’t even have running shoes, and when they go to competitions they often have to borrow shorts and T-shirts from friends,” says Carole.

The club has five second-hand punching bags, but they are quite worn now and need to be replaced. “The main thing we really need, though,” says Mzi, “is transport in the form of our own vehicle as we travel a lot as a team and hiring a taxi for a long day in Cape Town, for example, is very expensive. Sometimes we get last-minute invitations to attend a practice, sparring or mini tournament. It would be great to be able to go if we wanted to.”

The club has had many SA champs in the past five years. Akhule, Siphamandla, Atang and Siyakholwa all qualified for the inter-provincial tournament in Queenstown from 26 – 27 April, but again, finding the funds to attend is a challenge. “I’d love to take our boxers there, to give them more experience,” says Mzi.

If you would like to donate money or equipment to the OWBC, contact Carole Dods on 082 890 5749 or 028 313 2769. See also the club’s Facebook page (Overstrand Whale Boxing Club)

This article first published at https://thevillagenews.co.za/fighting-for-positive-change/

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