Rioters spurred me to success says boxing champ Lovemore Ndou

Lovemore Ndou, left, pummels challenger Bongani 'Cyclone' Mwelase at Emperor's Palace in 2010.
Lovemore Ndou, left, pummels challenger Bongani 'Cyclone' Mwelase at Emperor's Palace in 2010.
Image: Antonio Muchave

As South Africa celebrated Youth Day yesterday, self-exiled former two times world boxing champion Lovemore "The Black Panther" Ndou said this year's June 16 celebrations were infused with extra poignancy in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in the US and coronavirus.

The Australia-based fighter-turned-lawyer draws a comparison between the fate of Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and the massacred students in the Soweto Uprisings of 1976.

And, in the mind of this retired boxer from Musina, who has lived in Australia since 1985, it's an added reminder of the importance of getting behind the Black Lives Matter movement currently making its voice heard on multiple platforms across the world. "What happened to George Floyd is a constant reminder that as a black man your life is worthless, no matter where you live in the world," said the former IBF junior welterweight and IBO welterweight holder.

Speaking from his home in Sydney, Ndou, 48, added: "What happened to George Floyd, as an unresisting, unarmed black man who pleaded for his life with a knee of a white cop on his neck, is the final proof that police forces around the world require reform.

"Changes must be made. The hundreds of students killed in Soweto and the death of George Floyd are not isolated examples of police brutality.

"And they certainly won't be the last [killings] if we don't stand up together against these misdeeds perpetrated by those we trust to protect us."

As a teenager, Ndou suffered at the hands of police after being arrested on trumped-up charges of "consorting" with a white girl during the death throes of the apartheid regime. "They set a dog on me, beat me up and whipped me ... I still have the scars on my back as a reminder. Perhaps it's time that we start to consider scaling back on heavy-handed police behaviour and aim for a more benign, community-based model.

"The draconian model we see so commonly around the world, not just in America, has resulted in the loss of so many innocent lives," Ndou said.

He urged all South Africans to etch Floyd in their thoughts. "We need to stand in solidarity with our American brothers and sisters, and those in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere, who stood with us when we were fighting apartheid," he said

With the spectre of Covid-19 still looming large, Ndou doesn't favour mass gatherings, though, no matter what the cause. Instead, he'd like to see people take a knee on the streets outside their homes and blow their vuvuzelas and trumpets to bellow their support for reform. "We don't need to run around the streets and expose others to the coronavirus," he said.

"And we certainly don't need to resort to violence, looting and property damage. We can show the world we are a better nation by engaging in the most peaceful protests possible by just blowing our vuvuzelas outside our homes. We don't want to put the road to recovery at risk by converging in groups."

While as much a proponent of "all lives matter as much as black lives", Ndou is shocked by the continuing and disproportionate loss of black lives in police custody.

"Australia is not immune to this, more indigenous people die at the hands of police here than any other race," he said.

"The bad cops, like Derek Chauvin [who was charged with Floyd's death], joined the police force for the wrong reasons and give others a bad name."

The self-educated Ndou puts his transition from the ring to the courtroom down to the students butchered in Soweto.

"I've got my own law practice, two undergraduate degrees in law and communications, four post-graduate degrees, including a master's in human rights law and policy - and it's all down to the sacrifice and inspiration of those who died," he said.

"From where I came in Musina, it's pretty unheard of, especially during a time when the apartheid regime blocked every pathway possible to a black child. I can only thank the students in Soweto for giving me the desire and hunger to succeed."

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