I remember my first encounter which concerned Muhammad Ali. A South African magazine, very popular among black people, ran a feature on Muhammad Ali. The article showed the many amazing boxing postures of Ali in action. I was enthralled. He looked fit and healthy in every picture and, what is more, he looked happy and relaxed. I felt that this was a man who enjoyed his sport tremendously. For weeks I tried to copy the poses of Ali in the magazine and set out to find any reading material which talked about his techniques and his style. Very little material was actually available in South Africa. Muhammad Ali was not only my hero, but the hero of millions of young black South Africans because he brought dignity to boxing.
I respected Ali's decision not to go to Vietnam. He made a principled statement about the reasons why such a war was unjust and incorrect and I admired him for refusing to go and for accepting the fact that he would rather be punished by a system than break with his principled decision.
Ali impressed me most when he returned to boxing: defeat did not break his spirit. I regarded his retirement as the master making way for other competitors to take a chance at the title.
When I met Ali the first time in 1990, I was extremely apprehensive. I wanted to say so many things to him. He was an inspiration to me even in prison because I thought of his courage and his commitment to his sport. He used mind and body in unison and achieved success. I was overwhelmed by his gentleness and his expressive eyes, he seemed to understand what I could not say and actually we conversed very little.
When he came to South Africa in 1993, I was proud of how the hero of millions of young people was received here.
Ali is my hero and he will remain the master of boxing to me.
Muhammad Ali inspired many young black people all over the world to look upon success not as a means of fighting life, but as a means of challenging life's unfairness. He emerged as a hero in the USA at a time when black people were especially oppressed in that country. He emerged as a national hero and not as a hero of a black minority only.
I thank Muhammad Ali for his strength of character and strength of purpose. I thank him for the courage he gave to me.
These images capture the inspiration that he's given to us all.
From: 'Muhammad Ali: A Thirty-Year Journey' by Howard L Bingham (Robson Books, pounds 19.95). Pictures, clockwise from top left: Ali with Joe Louis, 1965; with Angelo Dundee, 1964; in Louisville, 1963; with Elvis Presley, 1973; being photographed by Malcolm X, 1964.
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