Gerrie Coetzee, Champion Boxer Who Defied South Africa’s Apartheid Laws, Dead At 67

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Gerrie Coetzee, a former South African boxer and WBA heavyweight champion who defied a few of his nation’s racist legal guidelines throughout the peak of apartheid within the Seventies and Nineteen Eighties and received reputation with Nelson Mandela and each Black and white followers, has died. He was 67.

Coetzee died on Thursday in Cape City simply over every week after being identified with lung most cancers, his former supervisor, Thinus Strydom, mentioned Friday.

Coetzee, who was white, was the primary African boxer to win a world heavyweight title. He knocked out American rival Michael Dokes within the tenth spherical in Richfield, Ohio, in 1983 to win the WBA belt, an enormous upset that was celebrated all through South Africa regardless of it being fragmented on the time by the apartheid legal guidelines of racial segregation.

Coetzee’s victory additionally made him the primary white boxer to win a world heavyweight title in additional than 20 years however he made clear after the battle towards Dokes how a lot he disliked being labeled “the great white hope.”

“I feel I am fighting for everybody, Black and white,” Coetzee mentioned. “What makes me happy is for Black, brown and white people to accept me as their fighter.”

Former South African President Nelson Mandela, left, with Gerrie Coetzee, proper.

Media24/Gallo Pictures by way of Getty Pictures

They did in South Africa and Coetzee was awarded The Order of Ikhamanga in Bronze in 2003 by South Africa’s democratically-elected post-apartheid authorities for his boxing success and for his contribution to “nation-building through sport.”

The federal government mentioned tens of millions of Black South Africans rooted for Coetzee throughout his profession, “thereby confounding the false logic of apartheid.”

Coetzee mentioned one among his most treasured moments got here when Mandela, an enormous boxing fan, requested to fulfill him within the early Nineteen Nineties. Mandela, who would turn into South Africa’s first democratically-elected president in 1994, had simply been launched from jail after 27 years for combating towards apartheid.

“It was overwhelming because the country was preparing for democracy and Mr. Mandela was leading the way,” Coetzee mentioned. “It was a surreal moment and he awarded me a medal. I was surprised to hear that he had listened to radio commentaries of a few of my fights while he was in prison.”

South African heavyweight boxing legend Gerrie Coetzee, left, and kickboxer Dricus du Plessis, right, pictured in 2022.
South African heavyweight boxing legend Gerrie Coetzee, left, and kickboxer Dricus du Plessis, proper, pictured in 2022.

Gallo Pictures by way of Getty Pictures

At a later assembly with Mandela, Coetzee needed to offer the Nobel Peace Prize winner a present in return and selected a medal that he had beforehand been awarded by the apartheid authorities. Mandela didn’t even flinch when he discovered the place the medal got here from, Coetzee mentioned, and graciously accepted the present.

“It didn’t seem to bother Mr. Mandela … He saw it as a gift from me and I was grateful for that,” Coetzee mentioned.

Coetzee lastly received the heavyweight title on his third try after shedding to John Tate in 1979 in a battle for the WBA belt made vacant by Muhammad Ali’s retirement. Coetzee additionally misplaced a second WBA title shot when he challenged Mike Weaver in 1980 and was stopped within the thirteenth spherical.

Coetzee had stopped former undisputed heavyweight champion Leon Spinks within the first spherical in Monaco in 1979 in his first battle outdoors South Africa, making the world conscious of his means. However it took him one other 4 years to win a title.

Coetzee’s victory over Dokes for the WBA title got here at a worth. He broke his proper hand earlier within the battle however nonetheless managed to knock out Dokes with a collection of rights, his supervisor mentioned. He wanted surgical procedure quickly after.

Coetzee had persistent damage issues with that potent proper hand and it was operated on quite a few occasions all through his profession, main South African heavyweight rival Kallie Knoetze to offer Coetzee the nickname “Sore Little Hands.” Coetzee was additionally typically known as “The Bionic Hand.”

His major nickname, although, was the “Boksburg Bomber” in reference to his working-class house city close to Johannesburg. Coetzee’s first skilled battle was in 1974, and he usually fought towards Black fighters in South Africa in entrance of racially-mixed crowds. He appointed a South African man of Indian heritage to be his media spokesman, which additionally angered the apartheid authorities.

Within the Nineteen Eighties, Coetzee agreed to coach a younger Black fighter and invited him to stick with him in his house in defiance of strict apartheid legal guidelines on the time that outlawed Blacks dwelling in the identical neighborhoods as whites. Police searched Coetzee’s house and issued him with a courtroom summons due to it. Coetzee mentioned he ignored the summons and legally adopted the boy, whose mother and father had died.

Coetzee fought 40 occasions, with 33 wins (21 by knockout), six losses and a draw.