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'No grave is big enough'

LAID TO REST: Family and friends gather around the grave of Baby Jake Matlala at Westpark Cemetery on Friday. Pictures: Mabuti Kali
LAID TO REST: Family and friends gather around the grave of Baby Jake Matlala at Westpark Cemetery on Friday. Pictures: Mabuti Kali

A SOWETO boxing gym where Jacob "Baby Jake" Matlala cut his teeth in the sport will be named after him.

Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula announced at Matlala's funeral on Friday that Dube Boys Club will be renamed in honour of the former world champion.

"There's no grave big enough to bury a great elephant. The gym in Soweto will invest in future boxers," Mbalula told mourners, among them former champion Jan Bergman.

Tshepo Matlala brought hundreds of mourners to tears when he paid homage to his father.

Speaking at Rhema Bible Church in Randburg, he struggled to contain his emotion as he spoke about his "legend".

"I pictured in my head how Nelson Mandela was in heaven and Jesus was there and said we are running short of champions up here. I know my dad was one of his favourite boxers among three. God then asks him: 'From these three fighters that you love so much, who are you going to call up?' And Madiba says: 'There is only one and that is Baby Jake,'" said Tshepo.

"Last week he called me Champy, something he hadn't done in years, and I was worried. My dad was the bravest of them all. If my brother and I could be half the man he was, we would be great men."

Matlala's widow, Mapule, too distraught to speak, wrote a love letter to the late boxer.

"How do I say goodbye to someone I've loved for so, so long? It seems like yesterday when we first laid eyes on each other; I was 18 and you were 24. My heart knew the moment I laid eyes on you that you were a special human being. Jake, I love you. You chose me and I chose you and God chose us," reads the letter.

Guests shared their memories of Matlala. Anecdotes touched on his trademark rapid speech and how he used a step when washing his car.

The 51-year-old boxing legend was laid to rest at the Westpark Cemetery in Joburg, where a tombstone bearing his image was also unveiled.

Among the mourners were soccer boss Irvin Khoza, Deputy Health Minister Gwen Ramokgopa, Proudly South African chief executive Leslie Sedibe, sport presenter Robert Marawa, soccer legends Lucas Radebe and Marks Maponyane, lawyer Dali Mpofu, musicians Danny K and Yvonne Chaka Chaka and President Jacob Zuma's wife Bongi Ngema-Zuma.

Matlala died last week Saturday.