Commonwealth gold medalist says promoters used him as cash cow while earning peanuts

Mwelase explains why he walked away from boxing

Bongani Mwelase celebrates after winning the Welterweight 69 kg Gold Medal at the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games.
Bongani Mwelase celebrates after winning the Welterweight 69 kg Gold Medal at the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games.
Image: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Bongani "Cyclone" Mwelase says he quit professional boxing in 2011 because he refused to be exploited by promoters who paid black fighters peanuts as if they were monkeys.

Mwelase blew away 12 of his 14 victims within scheduled distances. He was also known for shooting straight from the hip.

The talented left-hander from Soweto had a short, yet prolific career. Mwelase, 38, turned professional in 2006 on his return from the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, where he won gold. His achievement made him SA’s first black Commonwealth champion.

“First and foremost I thought my achievement in the Commonwealth Games would change my life around for the better because I had seen that happen to athletes from other countries. I thought sponsors would be there for me but how wrong was I because nothing came together for me despite my gold medal,” he said yesterday. “You know, [when] nothing gets said about you when you’ve won such a big medal it saddens you and it makes you feel unappreciated. You begin to ask questions: is it because I am black or what?

“Some people had the nerve to say I retired prematurely yet they did not have even the foggiest idea of what prompted me to quit. You have no insurance and no funeral cover and you are paid peanuts. That’s demotivating because any time you step inside the ring you put your life at risk, so you must think for yourself yet you are being used as a cash cow by promoters. That is how cruel this sport is and what made me mad was that all this happens right in front of the noses of the authorities at BSA.”

Mwelase said he understands that purse monies are negotiated. “Still, BSA can object after seeing a discrepancy in terms of figures. A white boxer is always looked after financially by promoters and BSA sees that but keeps quiet. By the way, some promoters are so powerful that they control BSA,” said the former fighter whose career was guided by Free State promoter Blacky Seoe.

“Look at Thulani Malinga, who was the country’s first WBC champion. What does he have to show for his achievement? Yet those that claimed to look after him walked away with a lion’s share of his earnings. Vuyani Bungu holds the record of making 13 defences of his IBF title but what does it really mean in terms of recognition? He is also not inducted in the international hall of fame yet Brian Mitchell, who defended his WBA title 12 times, was inducted. Is it because Bungu is black?”

Mwelase, who was trained by Johnny du Plooy, held the WBF welterweight and junior-middleweight belts.

“Who still remembers Khotso Motau, Irvin Buhlalu and Hawk Makepula? I am talking about black boxers who represented this country in the Olympics? asked Mwelase. “If truth be told, Moruti Mthalane should be living large as the only IBF champion in the country. He is the pound-for-pound world champion in the flyweight division. But is he enjoying the prestige of being the greatest champion of all time from SA? No. And why? Because he is black.”

It irks Mwelase to learn that some champions, including Mthalane, are personal trainers. “Why?” he asks in anger. “Because they are paid peanuts.”

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