The mention of Nkosana Mgxaji still gives me goose bumps as he danced his way to victory against 'Toughie'

Malvory Adams

Those were happy days.

We played together . . . Black, Coloured, Indian . . . we cried together . . . and we were poor. But boy, were we happppy! The children of the Eastern Cape soil. Abantwana basekhaya! Children of eQonce, eMonti, of sommer net, King en Die Dam.

Zonke . . .

On weekends, we were even happier because it was time for the "Happy Show". Even today, the mere mention of boxing legend Nkosana ''Happy Boy'' Mgxaji's name gives me goose bumps.

In strict boxing terms Happy was a powder-puff puncher (in more ways than one), but he possessed the blinding speed of a Sugar Ray Leonard and the elusiveness of a Pernell "Sweet Pea" Whitaker. Happy was the ultimate exponent of that rare ability: Hit but don't get hit.

It was a sticky-hot evening in the Zwelitsha Communal Hall in the 70s - boxing's halcyon days in the Eastern Cape, when all of us (and even a few whites) turned up in droves to watch icons such as Mzukisi "Wonder Boy" Skweyiya, Chris ''Kid" Dlamini, and Happy's greatest adversaries - Anthony "Blue Jaguar" Morodi and Ben "TNT" Lekalake.

My uncle Oom Willem, a stickler for punctuality, warned: 'If you are not here by 6pm I will leave you behind." No chance. My cousin Marlon and I - Breidbach's own version of the movie e'Lollipop - wouldn't miss this fight for the world.

My birthplace, Breidbach, nestled in a valley 12km outside King William's Town, was just a stone's throw away from Zwelitsha.

When we arrived at the hall at 7pm, it was already packed to the rafters and the full-house sign was up. Marlon and I started to panic and tears rolled down our faces because everything pointed to a no-show for us.

Suddenly, Oom Willem shouted at the top of his squeaky voice: "Moenie worry nie. I'm going to speak to Boyce (Zitumane), the promoter, to squeeze us in."

As chairman of Mother City Rugby Club, Oom Willem used his significant influence to persuade Boyce. "Eish, Oom Wellie,'' Boyce sighed, "It's very dangerous, but OK''. He slipped us in through a back entrance.

And there we were, in the presence of two of South Africa's greatest entertainers - Mahlatini and the Mahotella Queens . . . and Happy. Mahlatini set the mood for the classic encounter with his traditional mbaqanga sounds.

Entered Happy's opponent, "Toughie'' Borias, a spindly, tattooed Joster. The crowd cried out in unison: Shaaame! "Boys, keep your jackets on. This maergat will fall before round 3," Oom Willem predicted.

Little did they know that Toughie was the brother of one of South Africa's finest, technical pugilists, Richard Borias, who plied his trade in London.

The announcer bellowed: "And . . . in the red corner, the South African junior lightweight champion and world title contender, Nkosana 'Happy Boy' Mgxaji!"

Obscured by children sitting on the shoulders of their parents, we could hardly get a peek at our hero. We jumped up and down in an effort to see the legend. Big Oom Bill Esterhuizen came to our rescue by giving us turns to watch the predicted shortlived contest.

Toughie made the doomsayers eat humble pie. Happy started to danca-danca, as Given Ntlebi, eloquent commentator of Radio Bantu (yes that was the name of the radio station) enthusiastically described Happy's dazzling footwork. Toughie was unmoved. Happy delivered his piston-like jab. When Toughie evaded the jab, Given shouted ubeta moya (he missed!).

Happy hooked swiftly to the side of the head and Toughie countered with a punishing body blow. Happy evidently felt the blow, but in typical Happy style he danced away - doing his own rendition of the Ali Shuffle.

By the fifth round, we were on the verge of suffocation. We were packed like sardines in a very tight tin. Thankfully, an "angel'' spotted a closed window and opened it. The cool evening breeze was a welcoming relief and we were in full voice again.

Round eight and Toughie was really dishing it out. The crowd became despondent, detecting that Happy was wilting in the searing heat. They started to chant in unison "Happy, Happy". We followed suit.

Happy started to tap into his reserve tank and stood toe-to-toe with die maergat. But Toughie toughed it out.

"Dammit, but this boy is tough," conceded a stunned oom Willem.

By the final round an unsteady Happy valiantly rallied in the home-straight and executed a flurry of blows - most of them missing the target. Battered, yet victorious. To be fair, Toughie was robbed.