South Africa’s Township Boxing Gym Packs a Punch Beyond Expectations

Mzi Damesi started the Overstrand Whale Boxing Club in 2004 in a dilapidated house with an old boxing bag and some gloves. Now, almost 20 years later, the boxing club has found a new home with a modern boxing ring at the Hermanus Waldorf School.

“This boxing gym we have now is amazing,” said Damesi.It even has a kitchen.The club has 45 dedicated students, the youngest are 14 years old. It is a quiet place and some of them do their homework at the gym.

Many of the children see the club as their home, says Damesi. It is a safe haven. Damesi says he started the club because children in the townships “have nothing to do after school”. He was working night shifts as a bouncer, and then training children during the day.

Damesi grew up in Ilinge and started boxing aged eight. In 2000, he left the Eastern Cape and found a home in Zwelihle, Hermanus.

Life was difficult in the township, says Damesi. “There were a lot of people selling drugs, and alcohol abuse was a big issue.”

The new club house is sponsored by the Elizabeth Margaret Steyn (EMS) Foundation, a social justice organisation.

Steyn, during her speech at the opening of the club on 25 November, said, “Residents of Zwelihle, this is for you. It should be a shining beacon of hope in the community.”

The project took almost four years to complete due to delays caused by the Covid pandemic.In the future, it is hoped that it will sustain itself through sponsorship from local businesses and the community.”They need to be independent,” says Steyn, “to give people self-esteem.”

EMS chose the site for its proximity to Zwelihle and the school was willing to provide the land. In exchange, EMS built three classrooms and ablution facilities, completed in November 2022. This allowed the school to accept grade 8, 9 and 10 students, whereas before it was a primary school only.

When Damesi first started the club, fighters would wake up at 4am and hitchhike to Cape Town in order to participate in tournaments. Sometimes they would not be able to find a way back in the evening and had to sleep under a bridge in Khayelitsha on cardboard.

In 2018, EMS donated a taxi to assist with transporting children to tournaments.

In 2015, the club moved from a shack to containers on the sports ground in Zwelihle with the support of the Overstrand Municipality. These were refurbished into a gym with the help of EMS. The club hopes to keep the containers open as they are easily accessible to people in the township. They also serve food to people in need.

Damesi says they need lots of equipment. “The gym is still empty,” he says. They need new punching bags and weights and gym bikes.

“We need proper equipment,” says Damesi.

A number of shoes and gloves have been donated by a club in the UK.

Damesi would love to take some of his fighters to the UK. He plans to promote and help boxers get sponsorships.

The club has its success stories. Siphamandla Damesi won the national championship in 2018, 2019 and 2022 in his age division and was trained at the Zwelihle gym.

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