Johannesburg – South Africa has suffered yet another devastating loss with the passing of boxer Jacob “Baby Jake” Matlala, Gauteng sport MEC Lebogang Maile said on Saturday.
“Just when the country is still reeling from the news of Nelson Mandela's death, we are dealt yet another blow. In the space of two days, we have lost two of our treasured national assets.”
Baby Jake, 51, held four world titles and two South African boxing titles.
He died of a lung problem at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital at 11am on Saturday.
His funeral will be held at the Rhema Bible Church in Randburg, Johannesburg on Friday.
Maile said Baby Jake was one of the most popular South African sports personalities, and was passionately known as the Little Big Man because he was the shortest world champion in history.
“One of Baby Jake's memorable fights was his final round before retirement in 2002. After he won the fight, he presented Nelson Mandela with his victory belt as a token of appreciation.”
Maile said it was a sad coincidence that South Africa was now mourning the deaths of the two great men at the same time.
“On behalf of the Gauteng government we would like to send our deepest condolences to the Matlala family. Their loss is felt by the whole country.”
The ANC Youth League said Baby Jake through his boxing fights made social cohesion and national pride and unity possible because his fights united black and white.
“We will always have his name amongst our heroes,” said spokesman Bandile Masuku.
In 2004, Matlala was voted number 72 in the “100 Greatest South Africans” poll organised by the SABC. This was but one indication of who he was, Masuku said.
“The ANC Youth League will encourage all young people who are involved in the sport of boxing to learn and follow in the steps of Baby Jake, in the ring,” Masuku said. – Sapa