Boxing granny is a real knock-out

Gladys Tsenene explains why she thinks boxing can change her community

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Gladys Tsenene, 70, is the oldest and only female boxing promoter in the Eastern Cape province, which is hoping to resurrect the sport.

She can no longer train with the boxers but she speaks passionately about the sport, and how she would like to see more youngsters from rural areas involved in it.

"Boxing is my life. Nothing gives me greater joy than developing youngsters from the township and making them professionals," she says.

Mr Tsenene has been a boxing fan for decades, learning the secrets of the sport from her brother who used to be a professional boxer. A number of other relatives were also involved in the sport.

Young boxers training in the New Age boxing club house, Port Elizabeth Many boxing gyms in the Eastern Cape are not properly equipped

In the late 1980s, she started attending workshops on how to be a boxing promoter.

Today, she lives with her daughter and two grandchildren in Motherwell township, on the edge of Port Elizabeth.

But unlike most grandparents her age who are enjoying their golden years and spending time with family at home, Ms Tsenene spends most of her time scouring the city's gyms looking for the next potential boxing superstar.

Her search has brought her to New Age Boxing Club in a run-down, one-roomed house in Joe Slovo township.

The small room is filled with 20 or so young boxers, intently attacking red and blue punching bags hanging from a rusty roof of corrugated iron. The gloves many of them are wearing are old and torn.

Ms Tsenene sits in the middle of this cramped space. She is affectionately known as "Mama Noforty", a hangover from the time she ran a tavern in the early 90s, where she sold home-made beer for 40 cents.

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I have loved boxing since I was young , it was a my family's favourite pass time. This is what I was born to do”

End Quote Gladys Tsenene Boxing promoter

Inside a boxing gym, Ms Tsenene is a coach to be reckoned with.

"Left hook," she shouts. "Upper cut," she orders.

"Good, very good," she says, nodding and clapping her hands.

Her reputation as a boxing promoter is well known here, and the boxers have enormous respect for her.

"She takes her job seriously," says Caiphus Ntante, a trainer at the New Age Gym. "Yes, she is the oldest in the profession, but her passion is that of a youngster. People here know she means business."

Does age matter?

Ms Tsenene has only been working in the industry since 2005. She now owns Rainbow Boxing Promotions, which represents almost 30 professional boxers aged 18 to 26.

She is preparing for a tournament in October where 18 of her boxers will be taking part.

Gladys Tsenene with a young boxer Tsenene says she was born to work in the ring

"I have loved boxing since I was young," she says. "It was a my family's favourite pastime. This is what I was born to do."

But breaking into this male-dominated industry has not been easy, Ms Tsenene says.

"Some people had problems with me going into boxing - mainly because of my age - but I didn't let it get to me, I knew I was as good as the young male boxing coaches in the industry," she says.

"I have proven myself. Now my boxers and our records speak for me, not my age," she says laughing.

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Some of these children are from poor families where there isn't even food in the house, boxing gives them a chance to make a living”

End Quote Gladys Tsenene Boxing promoter

Her enthusiasm as a promoter has earned her a number of local accolades, including the Meritorious Service To Female Boxing award in January this year.

But boxing promoters have a hard time making a living for themselves or their boxers in the Eastern Cape.

It is one of the poorest and under-developed provinces in South Africa.

"It is very hard to work under these conditions. I'm an old woman trying to take these children off the streets but it will take more than just one person doing something, we need the government and businesses to step in," says Ms Tsenene.

Mr Ntante agrees, explaining that the biggest challenge is getting sponsors or government funding to open well-equipped gyms in poor communities.

"If you look around in my gym, this is a plastic house. There is nothing here, not even windows," he says.

Boxing has become an escape for many young people in Joe Slovo.

"Many young people are involved in crime, drugs or both. Boxing gives them an alternative lifestyle, a chance to better themselves," says Ms Tsenene.

"Some of these children are from poor families where there isn't even food in the house - boxing gives them a chance to make a living."

The younger boxers are paid between R1,200 ($171; £105) and R2,500 ($356; £219) for each tournament they compete in - whether they win or lose. It is the only source of income for many of them.

Lungisa Jikane Lungisa Jikane has been a professional boxer since 2005

Lungisa Jikane, 26, is an up-and-coming boxer. He has competed in 15 matches, winning 11 of them.

He lives in a shack in Joe Slovo but is hoping that boxing will give him a way out.

"I know that taking drugs [steroids] would be a waste of my time," he says. "If I want to succeed, I know I need to be disciplined and focus on making this my career."

His words are interrupted by the sound of his feet hitting the gravel road as he embarks on his daily 05:00 jog.

Ms Tsenene is keeping a close eye on the young man she says could easily be the next champion.

"He is a good boxer, so good that he has run out of opponents here in the Eastern Cape. People don't want to fight him because he knocks them out," she says.

"For him to get a competitor, we always have to look outside the province for people who are able to fight on his level."

Ms Tsenene is grooming her daughter to take over the business, but she jokes that this will only be when she passes away because she does not plan to retire anytime soon.

"I can't join the boxers in their training like I used to years ago," she says. "But their fighting spirit keeps has rubbed off on me - it is what keeps me young," she says as she drives off, in search of the next Muhammed Ali.

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