Fight night in Guguletu
SIMON Maseko's name came up this week during a discussion of South Africa's more obscure boxers. Until he retired, Maseko was an indifferent middleweight who lost more fights than he won. His last five fights ended in defeat, persuading him to hang up his gloves at age 33, after only 15 bouts.
For all his obscurity, Maseko might have won everlasting fame for disproving one of boxing's oldest adages: you can run but you can't hide.
For all those who believe the ring is too small to hide in, Maseko found a way.
And it wasn't cowardice against opponent Warren Stowe that made him disappear.
Stowe, two years older than SA champion Maseko and with a superior record, was lured to our year-old democracy for a fight in the heart of the new South Africa: a black township. What young man (he was 30 at the time) from Manchester could resist such a trip.
The fight was scheduled for a Sunday afternoon late in November 1995 at the Guguletu sports centre, a bright new addition to the sprawling township houses. A full house of a few hundred packed out the place, filling the stands, which rose about four metres to near the ceiling.
As the two boxers came out for the eighth round, with Stowe looking well ahead on points, the fight - as we like to write in jock journalism - took a dramatic turn.
Suddenly a shot rang out (as many of us have often wanted to write).
At the time our young democracy was still in a justifiable state of paranoia. We had come out of several years of violence, especially in the townships. Just two years before, some loony gunmen had stormed into a church service in Kenilworth in the same city and mown down 11 people, wounding many others.
Gunshots were not an unfamiliar sound to the people of Guguletu. Even before the second shot was fired, the fight crowd had hit the floor - despite it being a long way down from the top tier of the stands.
Only two shots were fired that day - enough to kill the cashier at the door, who had been the target all along for the four robbers who, according to police, had been on a "Christmas raid".
Stowe, in an interview the next day, said he didn't "have a clue" what the sound was. Maseko did, and vaulted out of the ring and hit the deck. By the time of the second shot only two people were left standing: Doug Pithey, a brave press photographer, whose pictures would make dramatic front-page material the next day, and Stowe.
For a few moments Stowe had no idea where his opponent had gone. As Pithey swivelled to capture the drama, Stowe circled in the ring, seeking out the vanished Maseko.
(No one else was harmed. The robbers fled to be arrested two days later and the fight was declared a no contest. Archie Henderson was the ringside reporter that day. Warren Stowe runs a holiday complex in Manchester, helps out with the local amateur boxers and occasionally watches that fight on DVD - it was live at the time, when the SABC still did such things.)