By Lebogang Seale

A dedicated professional, philosopher and strict disciplinarian, yet a humble person who never forsook his people, even when he was famous.

This is how some of the mourners described the late boxing legend and former journalist, Theo "Brown Panther" Mthembu, who was buried at Avalon cemetery in Soweto on Wednesday.

The 79-year-old Mthembu, who groomed South Africa's most celebrated world champion, Jacob "Baby Jake" Matlala, died on Wednesday last week after a long illness.

On Wednesday, Mthembu - who also worked as a journalist at newspapers like the Sunday Times, Rand Daily Mail and City Press before he was recruited as the deputy editor of the Chamber of Mines' Mining Sun - was given a hero's funeral when hundreds braved the scorching sun to pay their last respects.

Although there were no speeches during the solemn funeral ceremony at the Holy Cross Anglican Church in Orlando West, Soweto, most of Mthembu's colleagues spoke fondly to The Star of the man who devoted his life to developing talent at his Dube Boys' Boxing Club.

"He taught me that boxing is not a violent sport, not a life-and- death struggle, but an art," said Matlala, who was in Mthembu's boxing stable from 1972 to 2002.

"He was not only a trainer, but also a mentor and role-model who taught me how to look after myself outside the boxing ring by investing money, and to be humble and respect others," said Matlala.

Popular musician Sipho "Hotstix" Mabuse, who also tried his boxing skills under Mthembu, described him as a "serious disciplinarian who always demanded good conduct from his trainees".

"Brown Panther, as we called him, was a true professional with a highly developed work ethic and never compromised discipline. He was kind and patient, but strict. He will be sadly missed," said Mabuse.

Mike Irwin, the editor of Mining Sun, said: "Theo Mthembu was a gentleman who was never cross with anyone. He was always dedicated to his work and delivered his stories on time."

Among the mourners were boxer Mbulelo "The Hawk" Makepula, renowned boxing promoter Mzi Mguni and SABC veteran boxing commentator Dumile Mateza.

Inside the church, Mthembu's family - including children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren - sat on one side of the coffin, which was surrounded by flowers and illuminated by candles.