Peter Mathebula‚ SA’s first black world boxing champion‚ died on Saturday at the age of 67‚ Boxing SA CEO Tsholofelo Lejaka said on Sunday.
Nicknamed “Terror”, Mathebula was the first South African of any colour to lift a crown fighting overseas‚ beating Korean Tae-Shik Kim on a split decision over 15 rounds in Los Angeles in December 1980 to claim the WBA version of the flyweight title.
The nation’s previous two world title-holders‚ Vic Toweel (1950) and Arnold Taylor (1973)‚ became champions on home soil.
When Mathebula made the first defence of his belt at Orlando Stadium in Soweto in March 1981‚ he was stopped by Santos Laciar of Argentina‚ having not trained as seriously as he should have. Despite that‚ at the time of the stoppage in the seventh round he was level on two of the judges’ cards and trailing by two points on the third.
When Mathebula turned professional, boxing was racially segregated with black and white fighters forbidden from facing each other because of apartheid. That changed over the course of the 1970s.
Mathebula won the black SA flyweight title in 1977 and the following year he won the supreme title‚ the belt awarded to the winner of white vs black unification bouts.
In early 1979 black and white titles were abolished and in February of that year Mathebula won the full SA bantamweight title.
He was the third black fighter to challenge for a world title‚ after unsuccessful bids by Norman Sekgapane in August 1978 and Nkosana “Happy Boy” Mgxaji in April 1979.
Mathebula was SA’s only black boxer to enjoy success in the 1980s‚ with Bashew Sibaca‚ Simon Skhosana‚ Sugar Boy Malinga and Siza Makhatini losing their challenges in that decade.
In 1990 Welcome Ncita and Dingaan Thobela ushered in a new era of local black fighters enjoying prominence on the world stage.