Damien Durandt speaks at his father, Nick Durandt’s memorial service in Nasrec. Photo: Nhlanhla Phillips/Independent Media
JOHANNESBURG – There’s an empty spot where Nick Durandt used to sit and sip his morning coffee outside his tattoo parlour. He did this every morning since retiring as a boxing trainer last year.

Now that same spot, at the entrance to Durandts Ink in Grant Avenue, Norwood, is adorned with flowers, candles, a large poster and moving tributes to the man people here refer to as a “straight shooter with a heart of gold”.

Durandt died tragically in a bike crash just outside Clarens last Friday. Hundreds of mourners paid their last respects to the boxing great at his funeral at the Maronite Catholic Church in Joburg’s south on Friday.

“I’m still waiting for his motorbike to come down the road,” said a tearful Conrad Cornelissen, a tattoo artist at Durandts Ink.

“For us it’s been very hard to deal with because he was here one day, and gone the next.”

Cornelissen has been battling to come to terms with the loss of his friend.

“I started at Durandts Ink two years ago. I pitched up here with a black bag and not much hope, and Nick gave me a place to work,” he said.

“Now I am an established artist, I own a motorbike and I’ve got a family with the Crusaders Bike Club (Durandt was the club's first president). He was one of the most remarkable, generous men I have come across.”

Nick Durandt is already sorely missed by the locals, his friends and fellow shop owners on the Grant Avenue. Picture: Rabbie Serumula

When Durandt was around, the tattoo parlour would always be filled with laughter and happiness, adds Cornelissen.

“He had a great sense of humour. As soon as Nick would walk in here, he would greet us by calling us c***s just to get the day started.”

Cornelissen said he would never forget the first time he met Durandt.

“I nearly s**t my pants. I came in for a job interview. Nick took me to the back and asked me if I knew who he was, and I told him, yes I do.”

“He said to me, listen here you motherf****r , if you ever steal or lie to me, I’ll put a f*****g bullet in you, now go get busy. That was basically my interview. That is just who he was, a straight shooter.”

The last time he spoke to Durandt was on the morning of his death.

“He called on Friday to ask how my day had been and said he’d see me tomorrow. He was coming from the Free State to give me my full patch as a Crusaders member. That was the last time I spoke to him.”

Cornelissen said he had become close to the Durandt family. “We had a heart-to-heart conversation in December. Nick told me he wanted me to love his sons Damien and Storm the way I loved him. I made a promise I would always look after his boys no matter what happened.”

Across the road from Durandts Ink is a big black banner that hangs from the second floor of the Fight Sports Centre. It used be Durandt's own boxing gym.

“You’re loved. You’re missed. You’re remembered,” read the words beneath the picture of Durandt’s face.

A friend adds flowers to the street memorial on Grant Avenue.

Brandon Katz, the owner of Fight Sports Centre, can’t hold back his tears when asked about his friend.

“I met Nick a couple of years ago. I had no gym to train at or money. He welcomed me with open arms and allowed me to train for as long as I wanted,” said Katz.

“A few months later I managed to secure my first fight, which I ended up winning and landed up with some money.

“I went straight to Nick and handed him a cheque for the money that I had owed him. He handed the cheque straight back to me and said use the money for your newborn daughter. He was that kind of guy,” he said.

Katz, a mixed martial arts fighter, was fortunate enough to train under Durandt for a few years.

“I had been training with a number of boxers before I trained with Nick. I was fairly experienced and tough, so I thought I would manage. I actually got killed in the ring.

“Within two years, I went from being an ordinary boxer to a more skilful and talented one, and I owe it all to him.”

Brandon Katz, owner of Fight Sports Centre, can’t hold back his tears when talking about Durandt.

Durandt wrote his name indelibly in the annals of South African boxing by producing more champions than any other trainer in the country.

Katz said Durandt was one of the most remarkable boxing trainers in the world. “People always talk about how Nick is the best trainer in South Africa. He is one of the best trainers in the world. Manny Pacquiao’s trainer has produced 28 world champions. Durandt has produced 38.”

Katz, who occupies Durandt’s old office at the Fight Sports Centre, admits it’s been a battle coming to work since his death.

“I’m having a hard time walking into that office,” said an emotional Katz.

“All those memories of him in the gym have come flooding back. I know I have very big shoes to fill.”

Across the road from the gym is The Usual on Grant coffee shop. Its owners have now dedicated one of its hot drinks to Durandt, the Nickacino.

“Nick didn’t want his coffee too hot or too cold, but just medium. He liked his coffee with one shot of espresso, one sweetener and one white sugar,” said Thandi Linda, a waitress at the restaurant.

Photo: Nhlanhla Phillips

She and her fellow employees have been devastated by the passing of one of their favourite customers.

“I don’t want to lie; first I was shocked, I thought it was a joke, because people like to joke about things,” said Linda.

“Nick was here on Thursday for two hours. If you see someone the day before and then the following day he is no longer, it is a huge shock. I went completely cold when we found out that the news was true.”

Another employee, Zama Ndebele, said he’d enjoyed serving Durandt his coffee every morning.

“It’s very sad because Nick was such a good guy,” said Ndebele.

“Whenever I looked sad, he would come over to me and say: ‘Don’t be sad my brother, today you're getting a really nice big tip.’ He always had a way of cheering us up.

“Nick would always come with his Crusaders’ friends for coffee at the store. He lifted the atmosphere as soon as he walked in. We miss him dearly.”

Mustapha Mekirri, owner of a barber shop next door to Durandts Ink, has not eaten properly since getting the devastating news.

“Because my shop is right next door to Nick’s, I would see him everyday and we would chat for hours.

“It feels like I have lost a father, or a family member. Nick’s son Storm was a regular client of mine. I spent a lot of time with them. They are great people.”

When Makirri first met Durandt, he admits he was intimidated by the heavily tattooed man.

“He came across as a very tough guy, but after I got to know him, I realised what an amazing man he was. He had such a good heart.”

Wafi Shabne, co-owner of popular Grant Avenue eatery The Schwarma Co, said Durandt had contributed a lot to the community.

“He was one of those guys who cared about his surroundings,” said Shabne.

“He may have come across as a rough guy, but he wasn’t. He was actually gentle and nice. He always went out of his way to help people, and that’s how we’ll always remember him.”

Saturday Star

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