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Early life on the mean streets

Tracing Happyboy Mgxaji’s early years to his life as one of the most respected boxers in the country, the Daily Dispatch published this article in 1978


THE son, a 17 year-old boy, Nkosana Mgxaji, had got a holiday job at a dry cleaning factory in Union Street, East London, and the boxer, Lawrence Ndzondo, had helped him to get it. Nkosi told Ndzondo, the first Cape boxer to fight as a professional: "I cannot go to school because my mother cannot afford it. I want to train to be a professional boxer and earn something to help my mother make ends meet."

Like all boys in the township he went to the Duncan Village Community Centre to see other boxers fight and soon took an interest in the game. "I went to the Community Centre for some time but after going to Peacock Hall one afternoon, I decided it was nearer home and in any case most youths from Miller Street, where I lived, were training in Peacock Hall".

One of the boxers who impressed him at the beginning of his career at Peacock Hall was Lennox Makapela. "He seemed to do so much what I thought boxing was all about and I have always admired his style," [Mgxaji recalled]

Happyboy first hit the big time when he competed in the South African amateur championships in Port Elizabeth in November 1963. He was competing among the juniors but people were so impressed with his style, ring craft and speed that officials were talking about the boxing wonder from East London.

In 1966 when the national amateur team to tour Italy was selected he was beaten in the finals after being injured. But he came back in 1967 to win the national amateur featherweight title in Port Elizabeth in 1969 before turning professional the following year.

— "From squalor to boxing fame", Daily Dispatch, February 18, 1976


» Archive Photo Gallery 
Images of some of the golden moments in Mgxaji’s life and career
» Artwork Photo Gallery 
See more pictures of our memorial to boxing hero Happyboy Mgxaji at Sisa Dukashe Stadium
» Audio Documentary 
A young, up-and-coming boxer, Malibongwe Thokwe, talks about how he still draws on Mgxaji’s legacy for inspiration every time he steps into the ring
» Map 
Find your way to the memorial in Mdantsane near East London
» Video Archive  
Happyboy Mgxaji fought his first fight in May 1969 and went on to win 88 in total. Watch this rare footage of the bout between him and Puerto Rican boxing legend Samuel Serrano