Johannesburg – Dressed in royal blue and white uniforms and black berets, the New Covenant Church brass band escorted the coffin of boxing legend Jacob “Baby Jake” Matlala into the Rhema Church auditorium on Friday morning.
The funeral service was held at the Randburg church at 10am. Hundreds of people came to pay their last respects to the tiny icon.
Among the guests were Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, soccer administrator Dr Irvin Khoza, Gauteng mayor Parks Tau and singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka.
The coffin was covered in flowers and surrounded by members of the boxing fraternity.
A message of condolence from President Jacob Zuma was read out by the programme director, pastor Giet Khoza. Zuma said the loss of Baby Jake had come at a time when South Africans were still reeling from the death of Nelson Mandela the day before the boxer on December 6.
“His life is not different from the lives of those around him… He used boxing as a way to empower the young people and he loved uplifting those around him… We are proud of you, may his soul rest in peace eternally,” read the message.
A family representative described Matlala as a true, honest and loving husband; a friend, a father, brother, son and motivator. “We are not here to mourn, but to celebrate his life,” he said.
The family representative described him as a humble giant.
Matlala was the kind of man who would serve his family and remained humble through his four world flyweight championship titles.
He said God was his strength and when he travelled to international boxing tournaments, he would never forget to take his Bible with him.
His wife, Mapule said he always fought like a hero.
Tributes continued to pour in as friends and family bid him farewell.
Matlala will be laid to rest at West Park Cemetery. He is survived by his wife and their two sons, Tshepo and Masego.