Even while he was imprisoned, in an impossibly small cell on Robben Island, Nelson Mandela maintained a physical-fitness regimen.
In his younger years, he was also a heavyweight boxer, as depicted in this photo (which was made for "Drum" magazine). It depicts Mandela on the roof of a Johannesburg building. Cropped out of the image is Jerry Moloi, with whom Mandela had been sparring.
In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela describes his love of boxing (and why he did it):
I did not enjoy the violence of boxing so much as the science of it. I was intrigued by how one moved one's body to protect oneself, how one used a strategy both to attack and retreat, how one paced onself over a match.
Boxing is egalitarian. In the ring, rank, age, color, and wealth are irrelevant . . . I never did any real fighting after I entered politics. My main interest was in training; I found the rigorous exercise to be an excellent outlet for tension and stress.
After a strenuous workout, I felt both mentally and physically lighter. It was a way of losing myself in something that was not the struggle. After an evening's workout I would wake up the next morning feeling strong and refreshed, ready to take up the fight again. (Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, page 193.)
How did Mandela assess his personal boxing ability? He gives his candid opinion in Long Walk to Freedom:
Although I had boxed a bit at Fort Hare, it was not until I had lived in Johannesburg that I took up the sport in earnest. I was never an outstanding boxer. I was in the heavyweight division, and I had neither enough power to compensate for my lack of speed nor enough speed to make up for my lack of power. (Long Walk, at page 193.)
Mandela had considerable power, however, in other aspects of his life. One of his most-respected skills was the ability to maintain his dignity even in the face of unimaginable hardship.
Nelson Mandela, as a heavyweight boxer.
Image online, courtesy Bailey's African History Archive.
Quoted passage from Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela's autobiography, page 193.
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