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Part Four



Although I had boxed a bit at Fort Hare, it was not until I had lived in Johannesburg that I took up the sport in earnest. I was never an outstanding boxer. I was in the heavyweight division, and I had neither enough power to compensate for my lack of speed nor enough speed to make up for my lack of power. I did not enjoy the violence of boxing so much as the science of it. I was intrigued by how one moved one's body to protect oneself, how one used a strategy both to attack and retreat, how one paced oneself over a match. Boxing is egalitarian. In the ring, rank, age, color, and wealth are irrelevant. When you are circling your opponent, probing his strengths and weaknesses, you are not thinking about his color or social status. I never did any real fighting after I entered politics. My main interest was in training; I found the rigorous exercise to be an excellent outlet for tension and stress. After a strenuous workout, I felt both mentally and physically lighter. It was a way of losing myself in something that was not the struggle. After an evening's workout I would wake up the next morning feeling strong and refreshed, ready to take up the fight again.

I attended the gym for one and a half hours each evening from Monday through Thursday. I would go home directly after work, pick up Thembi, then drive to the Community Center. We did an hour of exercise, some combination of roadwork, skipping rope, calisthenics, or shadow boxing, followed by fifteen minutes of body work, some weight lifting and then sparring. If we were training for a fight or a tournament, we would extend the training time to two and a half hours.

We each took turns leading the training sessions in order to develop leadership, initiative, and self-confidence. Thembi particularly enjoyed leading these sessions. Things would get a bit rough for me on the nights that my son was in charge, for he would single me out for criticism. He was quick to chastise me whenever I got lazy. Everybody in the gym called me "Chief," an honorific he avoided, calling me "Mister Mandela," and occasionally, when he felt sympathy for his old man, "My bra," township slang meaning "My brother." When he saw me loafing, he would say in a stern voice, "Mister Mandela, you are wasting our time this evening. If you cannot keep up, why not go home and sit with the old women." Everyone enjoyed these jibes immensely, and it gave me pleasure to see my son so happy and confident.

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