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Book: Trumpets and Drumbeats

Book: Trumpets and Drumbeats

Author: Terry Pettifer

Publisher: African Ring

Reviewer: Bongani Magasela

Fight enthusiasts who wish to know South African boxing history in terms of the most prominent role players from 1889 must get Terry Pettifer's book, Trumpets and Drumbeats.

It's an overview of the bigwigs and sponsors that the author, who is fight publicist for Golden Gloves Promotions, says contributed to the local fight game since the late 1880s.

I, personally, got to know after reading the book that the roots of my beloved sport can be traced back to 1795. Pettifer eloquently says brutal and crude prize-fighting within boundaries of the picturesque colony was legally restricted for years and combatants were often arrested and imprisoned.

It was not until the opening of the Kimberley diamond fields in 1871 that the sport here really thrived.

Pettifer, boxing's walking encyclopedia, goes on to say that among the scattered tent-and-shanty settlements which mushroomed around the diamond diggings in Kimberley and the gold mines of the Witwatersrand in the 1870s and 1880s, fortune seekers poured in from the four corners of the earth, rough and often ruthless men accustomed to raw entertainment. Records indicate that "milling" became a favourite past-time among the hard-bitten inhabitants.

It was left to a Scottish immigrant, James Robertson Couper, to establish the first enduring reputation as a South African champion when he knocked out Wool Bendolff on a winter morning in a hastily constructed corrugated enclosure at Eagles Nest near Johannesburg in 1889.

This was unquestionably the first major milestone in South African boxing. Until then, the sport was frowned upon by many. Only after a resourceful and enterprising former fighter named Tommy Harris, who was part of the eight-men organising committee, had personally received Paul Kruger's written assurance that there would be no police interference, did the famous match take place.

It was in this uncompromising environment that men such as Barney Barnato and Abe Bailey relentlessly pursued and created empires of wealth and power. Individuals of exceptional vision, they were both deeply interested in boxing and prepared to back their champions to the hilt because to them belonged the distinction of taking South African boxing from its brutal beginnings to organised sport.

Looking back on the past and registering the names that have left footprints in the sands of time, one is constantly reminded of the changes that have taken place in this country.

Political as well as social transformation turned what used to be called prize-fighting into show business and the advent of television gave home-spun warriors much easier access to international stardom. Asked why he had titled it Trumpets and Drumbeats, which is more musical than pugilistic, Pettifer explains that pugilism was first introduced here by seafarers and British military personnel who occupied the Cape Colony in the late 1790s - after literally trumpeting their arrival, they sought whatever social entertainment was available and quiet often this involved prize-fighting.

He says in later years the sport appealed to the native inhabitants - hence his allusion to the traditional African drum.

This book is not a narrative history conforming to chronological specification but instead offers readers an easy insight.