How Thobela became ‘The Rose of Soweto’

THE late Dingaan Thobela and Thinus Strydom. | Archives

THE late Dingaan Thobela and Thinus Strydom. | Archives

Published May 4, 2024


Herman Gibbs

AS THE local boxing fraternity is reeling from the death of one of its favourite sons, Dingaan Thobela, it transpired that the three-time world champion may not have known the truth behind his revered ring name ‘The Rose of Soweto’.

Since Thobela’s death last Monday, there have been a few TV tribute programmes which highlighted his stellar career as arguably one of South Africa’s greatest boxing talents.

On occasions when interviewers asked Thobela about his ring name, he answered by saying he used to hand out roses to women who were sitting close to ringside at his fights.

However, the man who discovered Thobela, Thinus Strydom, who is one of the country’s most decorated boxing promoters, shed some light on the matter in an exclusive interview with Independent Newspapers this week.

“After I had identified Thobela as a prospect for the future, I approached Geoff Wald to help with a marketing strategy to get his career off the ground. By that time, Thobela had already had three fights in 1986, and with professional guidance, his career was ready to take off,” said Strydom.

“Wald decided on the ring name ‘The Rose of Soweto’ and once we started using it more and more, the fans loved it.”

At the time, Wald, a marketing guru, was well-connected to South African football. He pioneered the famous Mainstay Cup competition and it will forever remain a mystery how he managed to ensure that the country’s biggest teams used to reach the final year after year. As a result, he became the sponsor’s dream marketing man.

Once Strydom had secured Thobela’s signature, he mapped out a plan of action to grow his career.

“From the outset, the plan was for Thobela to graduate from the local stage to international arenas. At the time, because of the country’s laws, black boxers fought mainly in black areas, but I decided to change that,” said Strydom, who by that time had become internationally famous as Gerrie Coetzee’s promoter.

Coetzee became Africa’s first world heavyweight champion after he defeated American Michael Dokes in Ohio in September 1983 for the WBA crown.

“Thobela had fought only in Eldorado Park, but I managed to secure bouts for him in Durban, Pretoria, Witbank, Springs and Potchefstroom. Here the audiences were mainly white, but it was an essential part of grooming Thobela for the future,” Strydom explained.

“Wald had also advised me how to go about securing publicity for Thobela, but sections of the white media felt their readers wouldn’t entertain reading about a black boxer.

“There were, however, some newspapers who were delighted to feature Thobela because he was hugely impressive, and experts agreed he was a champion in the making.”

It was Coetzee who convinced Strydom to become a boxing promoter. The two were returning home from a fight at Wembley Arena in London in March 1986 when Coetzee lost to Briton Frank Bruno in a 10-rounder.

So much has been written about Thobela’s career over the past few days. However, there is one peculiar chapter in his career when he ends up in a Barberton prison. This was Strydom’s cunning attempt to ensure that Thobela’s love of hamburgers did not ruin his chances of making the weight for an upcoming international bout.

“Dingaan was battling with weight issues, and I arranged with the Barberton prison authorities to book him at the prison. In that way, he could control his diet, and the plan worked out well,” said Strydom.

“The Barberton prison had a boxing ring and many of the inmates were excellent boxers, so Dingaan was never short of sparring, although some of them looked like they could take him out.”

It was this kind of initiative that made Strydom a champion promoter. His list of accolades includes the SA Boxing Commission’s Promoter of the Year award (2007), WBF (World Boxing Federation) International Promoter of the Year award (2007), WBO (World Boxing Organisation) International Promoter of the Year (1990 and 1991) as well as ‘The Key to the City of Biloxi, Mississippi’ (1988).

After 24 bouts under Strydom’s World Sports Promotions banner, SuperSport offered Thobela more money than the SABC’s Top Sport, and as a result, Thobela joined a rival promoter.

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