The burning desire to see his son, Andile, follow in his footsteps is pushing Silence Mabuza to scream at the top of his voice in his gym in Tsakane in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng.
Andile (14) is one of the aspiring boxers under the watchful eye of the former two-time International Boxing Organisation (IBO) bantamweight champion.
Mabuza shouts instructions and throws punches in the air as he shows his charges the ropes. He wants to produce champs from his own neighbourhood, and the woeful state of boxing in the country prompted him to take action.
“Boxing is struggling because those who are involved have never been in the ring. We need to change that and let former boxers be part of the structures,” he said.
The thought of going back to the ring has crossed his mind – if only he could.
Nine years down the line, he still recalls the day – May 29 2009 – when his world came crashing down around him. This was when he lost the International Boxing Federation bantamweight title eliminator against Colombian Yonnhy Pérez.
Fighting in his own backyard in Springs, following a stint overseas, Mabuza was determined not to let his local supporters down.
It was not far from a scene from the movie Rocky, with a packed Springs Indoor Centre. His entire stable from the late boxing trainer Nick Durandt’s gym came to support him.
At the end of round three, he lost sight in his left eye.
“I fought my heart out with visibility only in one eye,” he said.
He was knocked out in the 12th round. When he went to see a doctor afterwards, he was told that he risked going blind in that eye if he stepped into the ring again.
“I was devastated. Boxing was the only thing I knew and I was being told I couldn’t fight again. I felt the world was closing in on me, and my wife and I cried.”
Mabuza had agreed to the fight after recovering from an eye operation. Although he later bounced back when he defeated Lwazi Mzolisa in Mahikeng in October 2010, the end was nigh. Following that victory, doctors again told him he risked losing his eyesight entirely if he went back to the ring. He decided that was it, even though he was supposed to challenge for the IBO bantamweight title that Pérez vacated.
Mabuza’s face turns sombre as he recalls the day he heard of Durandt’s death in a motorbike accident in April last year. He remembered the night the flamboyant trainer was in his corner when he lost his first professional fight to Rafael Márquez, who was at the time ranked number one in the world. It was his first loss after 18 successive wins.
“Nick was like a father to me,” Mabuza said.
Growing up in Tsakane, Mabuza says the only sporting codes he could choose from were soccer, weightlifting and boxing. He opted for soccer as weightlifting was not an option because of his small frame. He later dumped soccer and joined boxing, competing in a championship fight a week later.
“I was not scared, I just wanted to fight. My amateur coach James Modisane called me to the side and told me he saw something special in me.”
He later found himself fighting in the amateur national team alongside Masibulele “Hawk” Makepula and Phillip “Time Bomb” Ndou, both of whom turned professional before him.
He only turned pro in 1999 and fought his debut fight under esteemed trainer Elias Tshabalala against Masingita Hlungwane, whom he demolished with a second-round knockout.
Mabuza was named Silence because of a family dispute when his mother was pregnant with him. When he was born, his grandmother vowed that there would be peace in the family.
He got the nickname “African Spice” after a journalist wrote how Mabuza brought African spice to a tournament in London in 1994. He was the only one in his team who won his fights during the tour.
His amateur boxing career experience led him to start the Mabuza Boxing Academy, which is situated in a small corner room with four punching bags at the Multi-Purpose Centre in Tsakane. There are 19 registered boxers in his stable.
Andile has vowed to keep his father’s legacy going.
“I am training hard to break my father’s record one day,” he said.
Mabuza fought more than 400 amateur fights and 26 professional bouts. He won 23 and lost three – twice to Márquez and once to Pérez.