Nelson Mandela’s boxing belt stolen from Soweto museum

Nelson Mandela’s boxing belt has been stolen from a museum in Soweto.

Police spokesperson Colonel Dimakatso Sello confirmed the theft, telling the Mail & Guardian a case of general theft had been opened on July 2 over the World Boxing Championship belt which American legend Sugar Ray Leonard gave Mandela shortly after his release from prison on Robben Island.

“It was reported that a boxing belt worth approximately R50 000 was stolen at the Mandela house in Vilakazi Street in Orlando West,” Sello said.

She said no one had been arrested and police were investigating. 

President of the South African Museums Association Dr Bongani Ndlovu decried the theft, saying criminal activity of this nature robbed the country not only of historical objects but its national pride. 

“The most valuable contribution of heritage is national pride, a sense of belonging and cultural consciousness. The theft of these objects deprives us of that,” Ndlovu said. He warned that if private and individual institutions did not improve security at historical landmarks, the country would continue to lose its “unique national assets”.

Mandela boxed at Orlando East Communal Hall in Soweto while he lived there and was unanimously voted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame by its board of directors in 2008. 

Duane Moodley, chief executive for American film production company Imagine That, said he had persuaded the hall of fame to consider inducting Mandela because he was the greatest champion ever.

”I specifically told them that they may have the great Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson but they did not have the greatest champion of all time,” Moodley said at the time.

Explaining his long-standing passion for boxing in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom Mandela said he respected the discipline and practice of the sport.

“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 oneself over a match,” he wrote in the book.

Earlier this year, the family of Mandela, who died in December 2013, fought to stop the auctioning of some of his prized possessions from his home in Houghton after the trust meant to protect the items had allegedly removed themselves from involvement. 

Madiba’s grandson alleged that “the very same people Mandela trusted, are the people [who] have tried to take from Mandela, used Mandela and benefit[ed] from Mandela to the detriment [of] his own family”.

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