Sisonke Boxing Club fighting fit on film

Bongile Centane with Jonny Cohen, who is helping to raise funds for the Sisonke Boxing Club.

The 50-year-old man ducks and weaves, careful to keep his eyes fixed on the youngster decades his junior.

Every so often, he lifts a heavily padded palm encouraging the young charge to punch, barking out a short command to remember that his feet need to be in the right position.

The dance is as old as the ages, yet the rhythmical movements are imbued with a fresh enthusiasm. As the youngster resumes his stance, his peers, formed in a circle around the mat, jog on the spot to keep warm, anticipating their chance to spar with the mentor.

One could be forgiven for thinking that this man, on whose every word the children hang, is a professional boxing coach. Yet in the previous 12 hours, Bongile Centane has been working the forecourt at a well-known Hout Bay service station, just as he has done for the past 16 years.

Recently, Mr Centane, who arrived in Imizamo Yethu in 1996, began to receive some attention thanks to a short film circulating on social media, the work of Hout Bay businessman Jonny Cohen.

Having first aired a year ago, the film has again come to prominence as Mr Cohen seeks to raise funds for Mr Centane’s Sisonke Boxing Club.

It tells Mr Centane’s inspirational story as a petrol station attendant by day, and tireless boxing coach by night. At the time of filming, he instructed youngsters from a cramped container in Imizamo Yethu, a facility that is now used to shelter victims of the massive fire that tore through the settlement in March.

Today, upon completion of his duties at the petrol station, Mr Centane puts more than 30 boxers between the ages of 6 and 25 through their paces at the Harvest Centre in the harbour. For a five-days-a-week operation, he is grateful for the temporary space, but hopes to one day have a permanent boxing ring for these children.

“I have been boxing since I was 14. For me, it was about learning self-defence when I was in the Eastern Cape. When I came to Hout Bay in 1996, I was introduced to a small gym by a friend, but I saw there was no proper trainer,” Mr Centane said.

“There were very few kids at that time, but I decided I would volunteer as a trainer. I started working with the kids, and soon I started entering them in tournaments. We had two guys who turned professional. In those years we had a lot of help from South Africa’s first supermodel and long-time Hout Bay resident Josie Borain who gave us sponsorship to go to tournaments.”

He said he always enjoyed working with the younger children as they were not as “stubborn” as older pugilists.

Mr Cohen first learnt of Mr Centane’s prowess as a trainer in a 2014 edition of the Sentinel, noting that he had made tremendous strides with the youngsters, taking them to some of Cape Town’s foremost boxing tournaments.

“About two years ago, I went along to his tiny gym, and saw there were guys sharing a gum guard. I grew up with boxing in my family, and I decided I wanted to help Bongi with what he was doing with these kids,” he said.

“I started taking them to tournaments in places like Philippi, or booking taxis for them so they could get to tournaments.

“At that time there was a lot happening around gangs in IY, but I saw that Bongi was managing to bring the kids back from that. You could see the kids’ self-confidence growing through boxing and Bongi’s vigorous training regimen.

“I thought if a guy with meagre means could do this, we could all make a difference in a small way.”

Mr Cohen then was inspired to make the film, which he again placed on social media this year in order to raise awareness about the club.

“Our long-term vision is to get the guys their own facility. Helena Fagan of the Harvest Centre was very kind to offer us a space three months ago when families had to be housed in the old gym, but we are looking for land on which we can have a fully-operational gym. One of the issues is that our running costs are quite high. It costs R500 a week to transport the kids from Imizamo Yethu to the centre.”

To this end, the pair have started a crowd-funding campaign on the BackaBuddy platform (

“We have set ourselves an ambitious target of R100 000, and so far we have raised about R10 000.

“Butwearealso appealing to residents to donate old punching bags and gym equipment, which Ta Da! restaurant in Hout Bay has kindly offered to collect,” Mr Cohen said.

MrCentanesaid sincemeetingMr Cohen,theboxing club’s fortunes had improved dramatically.

“Today I have customers coming up to me at the garage telling me they saw me in the video and they like my story.

“We already have boxers who have won gold and silver medals in competitions, and I know we will get more champions.

“The boxing is also helping the children in the classroom, as it is helping them to remain focused.

It makes me happy,” said Mr Centane, whose favourite all-time boxers include Welcome Ncita, Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali.

For further information on how to donate to Sisonke Boxing Club, call Jonny Cohen on 083 441 5449.