Honour Ngwenya while he lives

Themba “Baksteen” Ngwenya
Blast from the past, Themba Ngwenya in action in the 1970s.

Langa writer THEMBILE NDABENI pays tribute to teacher, sports enthusiast and local boxing hero Themba “Bakstina” Ngwenya as he celebrates his 84th birthday.

I regret that at times I must pay respect to a person, only when they have passed on. I believe we must pay respect to our heroes/heroines when they are still alive. Same applies with our parents. We must give them flowers when they are still alive and able to smell them. Other than that, it is hypocrisy. Therefore, my fingers are loose, and the pen is flowing as I pen this piece about one of our unsung heroes – Themba “Bakstina” Ngwenya who has been involved in many sporting codes, most notably boxing, rugby, athletics, and music.

Today, Thursday April 28, he turns 84 years old.

His boxing career commenced during early 1950s when he became the Cape Provincial Lightweight and Junior Lightweight champion. With appreciation, he did not forget to mention the role played by one of the Towel brothers towards himself and other black boxers in supporting them to becoming professionals. He was not, however, certain if it was Vic, Alan or Willie.

At the same time, he did not leave out the fact that they avoided being professionals because even though they’d get paid, it meant getting fewer fights.

While there are rules that prevent boxing from becoming an act of bullying, Ngwenya concedes that the sport did help him defend himself against bullies.

He recalled and narrated a story from the 1950s, today almost 70 years ago, as if it was only yesterday. Apparently there was nothing strange, and even some kind of norm being applied towards bullying of the newcomers at secondary/high school. Regrettably some came to apply initiation to him without knowing who he was, (kwathi kanti akavumisanga,uzinqikela ilitye elinembovane). Yet he did not know that he was inviting the “brick” (bakstina) to be thrown at him.

But, back to his career.

While he didn’t go as far as he would have liked, primarily due to a lack of sponsorship, he shifted his focus to promoting, often supporting boxing and boxers with his own resources.

The question remains, where were the boxing formations to assist? Do they not have a responsibility to assist in whatever way?

Because sport was central in his life, he also played rugby – with the knowledge that it, as well as boxing, was dangerous.

He played in all positions for his team, Kwezi. He was also a runner, a sprinter at Langa High School committed to exercise and upholding bodily strength – and he was a weightlifter.

Though it cannot be perceived as the only contributing factor, his weightlifting invariably contributed in his boxing in terms of giving a punch. Apart from his sporting career, he also ventured into academia, going to Lovedale for teacher training. However, even there he could not hide his passion for sport.

There, he got involved in middle distance running, tackling the 400m and 800m distances and also played rugby.

Unfortunately in 1959 the teacher training course was ended when he was already halfway through his studies so he went to finish studying at Healdtown after which he became a teacher at Hlengisa Higher Primary School in Nyanga.

As a teacher, again, he could not hide who he was and he got involved in rugby, soccer and netball – and later in karate as well.

For a while he worked in the taxi the industry doing long distance transportation and transporting women who sold fruit and veg. But then he returned to teaching.

He also found time to nurture his love for music, playing with the well-known musicians like “Cups ‘n Saucer” Nkanuka and Fezile “Mra” Ngcukana, the father of the Ngcukana brothers, Duke and Ezra, all of whom have have passed on.

In retrospect he was a real committed person in life. This was clearly reflected by his many ventures and interests, which he all practised at the same time. Yingwenya le, yingwe mabala mabala balonke.

It is with regret and that me and my colleague found this year that mama (his wife) passed away during last year. That was after we paid a visit to the old man under discussion. Normally a man especially of tata Ngwenya’s age crumbles and breaks down after losing his lifelong partner. But him, he still looks strong. I elect to say “looks” because one essentially does not know really know what thoughts and feelings are going on inside him.

The fact that Tata Ngwenya shied away from turning professional – which would have earned him payment for his fights but resulted in him getting fewer fights – in favour of remaining an amateur and getting to fight more often, is testimony to his love for the sport.

Mama Ngcula, the wife of his boxing mate at the time does not forget the role he played in the funeral of her husband, “Kid” Molly Ngcula.

Happy birthday tata, happy birthday unsung hero, and many more to come with good health.

Nanku uvimba, masiyeni kuzanezani esafumaneka!

Nasi isisele senyathi!