With fists clenched, through her boxing gloves, Mookeletsi “Mo” Manyathela, gives clean blows and packs the punches. Creativity also flows through those fingers because when the 26-year-old is not in the ring, she writes poetry. If things go Mo’s way, by end of 2017 she would have also added author to her her list of achievements and a boxing title by 2018.
Being mugged drove her towards boxing
The Limpopo-born, Pretoria-based amateur boxer says her career started as a reaction to being mugged. “Some time in 2014, I was working in Mpumalanga. It was after 7pm, a close friend and I had knocked off from work and decided to take a short-cut back home. My phone rang, that’s when three men came out of nowhere and held a knife to my throat. I could feel the coldness of the sharp object, however the situation had not registered in my mind yet because I kept looking around to see where my friend went. “Ka innela” [I gave in], thinking that I was done for and ready to deal with whatever happens next. But they took my belongings and left.”
Following the incident, Mo took up martial arts mostly for self-defence and eventually earned a yellow belt. Along the way she boxing discovered boxing, which she now says she is addicted to. Mo, who also works as a building contractor, says at the beginning she found it hard adjusting to being the only woman in her boxing club but she persevered.
Mo has won four boxing tournaments despite sexism
“I have always chosen things that aren’t ‘ladylike’ such as martial arts, boxing and working as a building contractor,” Mo says. She often has to deal with sexism, misogyny, patriarchy from people and feels these are the main reasons women in boxing don’t flourish. Things like being told that “don’t fight like a girl, you won’t go far since you are a girl… I spar with guys and my coach would push them saying “O betha ke ngwanyana (you are getting a beating from a girl).” Every morning, before work, Mo puts in 10km – 15km of running and that is followed by 2 hours of exercises (include skipping rope, punching bag, and shadow boxing) after work. “I have competed in eight armeteur boxing tournaments, with four losses and four wins. There are not too many competing female boxers, so you end up competing with the same boxers each time. Officials would let you sit out the tournaments giving you breaks in-between, I use that time to train”.
What the future looks like for Mo
All she is rooting for is for women in boxing to get recognition. Mo adds that it doesn’t take much to acknowledge that it is not just a male sport. There are women like Laila Ali and Gabisile Tshabalala to look up to but there needs to be more competitions for young women to compete in. Her focus at the moment is training hard towards becoming a pro-boxer and representing her club, Jersey Joe Club.