In their Corner
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A young boxer watches himself in the pieces of a smashed mirror. In the background, a 1980s exercise bike is squealing for oil. At his feet are makeshift weights: concrete poured into milk bottles. Overturned street bins act as tables.
Trainer George Khosi disconnects two loose wires to switch off the radio so that his voice can be heard in the small Hillbrow gym. The boxing coach is waiting for his youngsters to arrive, the street children and neighbourhood kids he mentors after school.
He doesn’t want them to encounter the sport for the first time in prison at the age of 13, like he did. “What I was doing, it was not good. I used to rob people and not do good things,” says Khosi. He was fostered by a woman who owned a shop in Yeoville. One day he ran away, and began living on the street.
A boxing trainer, however, encouraged him to turn from crime and become a fighter. By the age of 20, Khosi was fighting professionally all over SA. “This sport, I love. Boxing gives you peace and rest… you don’t just always keep that anger.”
Khosi doesn’t fight any more. One eye is milky, and his legs bear the scars of the time thieves attacked him in his home, taking his car and money, and leaving him for dead in an overgrown plot in Yeoville.
Street children found him, bandaged his wounds and got him to a hospital.
After a six-month recovery, Khosi was finished as a professional boxer. All he had were a few frayed boxing bags and the ring. “The first days I was angry, but I’m a Christian so I prayed to forgive. I just want to go on with my life. You can do something out of nothing. Most people are just waiting, saying: ‘I’m waiting for the boss to help me.’”
He went to Pastor Ray McCauley, a family friend.
“I need to do something for the kids here in Hillbrow,” he told the pastor, wondering whether boxing was a good enough offering.
McCauley said it was, and sponsored him to start a boxing gym in an old petrol station.
“It’s not about money, it’s about love of sport,” says Khosi. And looking around the gym, he doesn’t have many more possessions then he did after his attack 15 years ago.
He oozes pride when his champ, Rita Mrwebi, walks into the room. He started training her when she was nine. Now, at 25, she is the reigning SA female welterweight champion. “It’s something that’s a calling,” she says.
But it’s not easy. Mrwebi gets to fight only about once a year. “I don’t have a sponsor and fights are rare.”
Khosi tries to buy her energy drinks ahead of a big fight to help her lose weight. She can’t just eat pap when she’s training.
Mrwebi says Khosi’s support of her goes beyond the ring. If she doesn’t arrive for training, he will go to her house. “I never knew my father, so he’s like my father,” she says.
And Mrwebi is not the only one. Khosi frequently houses street children and other boxers in his home in the gym.
It’s all for one purpose. “When people are tired, they go home and sleep, they don’t go out and commit crime,” he says.