Boxgirls empower young women with much-needed skills

Andiswa Madikane, right, trains with Nwabisa Qalanto as part of the Boxigirls initiative.

Despite earlier life challenges, courage and determination to achieve her goals have kept Andiswa Madikane going.

As a 12-year-old child she was called a “chicken” and told to “man up” and fight for herself. But her attempts to “man up” brought her more misery after she was thrown into a boxing ring with a man.

“He beat the hell out of me. My head was shaking throughout the three rounds,” she said. “And when I got home my face was swollen.”

However, that did not earn her any sympathy from her father and her brother who teased her – which prompted her to put more effort into her mission to become a boxer.

Today, the 31-year-old mother of two runs the successful Boxgirls project, through which she empowers young girls by teaching them basic boxing and self-defence skills.

Smiling from ear to ear, during an interview with Vukani, Ms Madikane relived the moments that launched her boxing career and ultimately led to the establishment of Boxgirls, in Khayelitsha.

The projects is part of Boxgirls International.

The mother of two says her aim is now to ensure that young girls are empowered and not subjected to any kind of ill-treatment. The focus is on boosting their self esteem, confidence and self-defence.

Through Boxgirls – and with a group of facilitators – Ms Madikane works with 180 girls between the ages of nine and 12, from six primary schools around Khayelitsha.

They are not only teaching them life skills, but also maths and English for six months. The facilitators visit the schools twice a week, and during school holidays the girls come together under one roof to learn and share their life experiences.

While Ms Madikane recalled how she huffed and puffed for air when she first trained with a group of men at Luvuyo Boxing Club, she said young girls do not have to suffer the same fate.

She said she grew up doing karate, but decided to switch to boxing, which became too challenging.

Her first exercise when she started boxing was a run around Site C. “I said that is not for me,” she recalled. She said the race started well, but the momentum increased, making it difficult for her to match the pace and she returned home.

Her brother, who also boxed, laughed at her, labelling her a “chicken” when he got home. It was this kind of provocation that prompted her to return for classes the next day. “I wanted to prove that I was not a chicken,” said Ms Madikane.

She added that the first two weeks were very hard and so she trained at home and in the gym until she was able to keep up.

However, that was not the end of her misery. She had to jump into a ring for a sparring session with a man. “When I first heard that I would get into a ring and fight, I thought there was a special lady brought to fight with me. But when they called out Zolani, I knew it was going to be hard.

“We fought for three rounds and he beat the hell out of me. When I got home my face was swollen,” she said. But that did not deter her. She continued sparring against the same opponent, and with the assistance of her brother and motivation from her father, she got the necessary skills and experience to fight.

She said her brother told her how every man in the gym beat up Zolalni. And after getting a hammering for more than three weeks, she said she vowed to stand up for herself and fight. “He (Zolani) was enjoying it, but on that day we fought, I gave him a run for his money,” she said.

That propelled her boxing career to new heights, and she got to fight women from other parts of the country and to rub shoulders with the who’s who of boxing. This included Laila Ali, the daughter of the former boxing legend Muhammad Ali, during her visit to the country.

Today Ms Madikane uses her boxing knowledge and expertise to help young girls and her community. Through Boxgirls, they visit schools and select deserving pupils to be part of the programme.

“It is a way to create a big sister bond with them and discuss issues that they cannot discuss at home or with anyone else,” she said. “We also find ways to assist them with their studies.”

In a country where young girls often fall victim to all sorts of abuse, Ms Madikane said her goal is to ensure that they grow their self-esteem from a young age.

“Regardless of the challenges you, face you must know they’ll pass. I had my challenges –besides Zolani – but they passed. As much as boxing is seen as a dangerous sport, it is a tool to build your confidence,” she said.