Tsholofelo Lejaka, CEO of Boxing SA, says he loves to see ideas come to life. “I like to visualise and look beyond problems towards solutions.”
After graduating, Tsholofelo moved on to youth development where he, as CEO of the Free State Youth Commission, experienced one of the saddest days of his life.
On this day, he saw young people drinking in shebeens in a township near Petrusburg in the Northern Cape. Later, during an event at a school, he saw learners enthusiastically performing on stage, with a lot of hope in their eyes.
“I wondered what would happen to them after graduation. I thought about them returning to environments that are like sinkholes that swallow and destroy, turning them into the youths I saw earlier that morning. If only they had access to the right platforms and the right people.
“I sat there and could not help but shed a tear,” he vividly recalls.
They call it ‘the sweet science’: two combatants sizing each other up, measuring distances and calculating blows. It is a balancing act between attack and defence, between brain and brawn. For Tsholofelo Lejaka, CEO of Boxing SA, boxing means even more.
“Boxing is the sport of the poor,” the former student of the NWU’s Mafikeng Campus explains. “It takes your anger and frustration and allows you to channel it in a productive way.
“There is an element of physical prowess, but the key is commitment, and with that comes economic emancipation. I’ve seen it on so many occasions in places like the Eastern Cape where ordinary, poor people are making a life for themselves through boxing,” Tsholofelo says.
In an arena where fighters battle like the gladiators of old, he is more pacifist than pugilist. “No, I’ve never boxed!” he exclaims with a hearty laugh. “But I have been a fan of the sport since I was a little boy.”
Born in the North West town of Taung, Tsholofelo grew up in Thaba Nchu in the Free State. On weekends and during the holidays he stayed in Taung with his grandparents, who believed it was important to be close to his cultural roots.
It was during these formative years that he watched “The Fighting Prince” Arthur Mayisela, an enigma of South African boxing, bob, weave and punch his way to victory in many fights, although the big titles always somehow eluded him. “There was just something special about him,” he confides.
His father, Gideon, was an amateur boxer and this further cultivated the seeds that would grow into his future profession.
Tsholofelo readily admits that he was anything but the model student when he arrived at the Mafikeng Campus in 1994 to study for a BSc degree.
“I came from a disciplinarian household, so I was overwhelmed by the freedom university offered. It was only after changing my major to fine arts and progressing through various student leadership roles that I started to grow.”
He twice served as Deputy President: Internal on the Student Representative Council in what proved to be an invaluable experience.“There was a change in student politics. We were no longer the opposition; we worked with management and had to grapple with administrative issues. That is where my passion for administration started,” he explains.
A few years into his career, Tsholofelo moved closer to the boxing ring when he joined the Department of Sport and Recreation in 2010, becoming chief director of corporate services in 2011. Then, in May 2016, Tsholofelo was announced the new CEO of Boxing South Africa.
Tsholofelo says after the heyday of the 1970s the sport had been marred by controversy, infighting and politicking, only now slowly regaining its audience.
“Boxing is an old sport and we have to modernise it, bringing it into the digital age. There is still a passion for the sport and that passion needs to connect with the audience. I am confident it will. So, is boxing back? The answer is ‘yes’. Is boxing back on top? Not yet.”
Well, it surely seems as if Tsholofelo is the man to get it there.
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