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Money lures South African boxers away from roots

Written by: Staff
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MDANTSANE, South Africa, May 16 (Reuters) Every day after school 10-year-old Manyano Bexesha is one of the first boxers to arrive at the Eyethu Boxing Club in Mdantsane.

The gym is South Africa's most successful as measured by the number of world champions produced.

''I think I'll be in the newspapers like some of the guys we train with here very soon,'' Bexesha says, adding with a brashness typical of the sport that he is the best in his age group.

For decades Mdantsane, a township of about half a million inhabitants just outside the port city of East London, regarded itself as the home of boxing and a breeding ground for champions in South Africa.

''But that is changing,'' says Vuyani Bungu, who is South Africa's most successful world champion, having defended his world junior featherweight title under the International Boxing Federation a record 13 times, and is now helping his mentor Mzi Mnguni with training.

The township has produced more than 10 world champions since South Africa was readmitted into the international sporting fraternity but it has seen a recent exodus of fighters to Johannesburg searching for better deals.

Those to leave include former world champion Hawk Makepula and hopefuls Gabula Vabaza and Khulile Makeba.

''This move to Johannesburg is killing our boxing,'' said Bungu.

''Besides, none of the guys who have left thinking they'll be rich there have come back with anything.

''I'm afraid these guys (the kids) will have no one to look up to because of this Johannesburg thing. We work on a boxer from a young age and once he is ready, he goes,'' Bungu said.

Bungu attributes the departures of Mdantsane's best fighters to chaos in the sport in the Eastern Cape province and to finance.

''This gym has produced more champs than any other but look at the place. We're not supposed to be in a place like this.'' Mnguni has converted his old hardware store into a gym and uses his own cash to buy all the equipment in it including punchbags, gloves and protective gear.

The basic facilities contrast starkly with Nick Durandt's gym in Johannesburg, where the township's best have landed. Durandt has always had a sponsor and state-of-the-art equipment.

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