SECUNDA, SOUTH AFRICA - 10 February 2006, Putco Mafani and Dumile Mateza during the WBC junior bantamweight title fight between title holder Hawk Makepula and Jun Talape of the Philippines at the Graceland Casino in Secunda, South Africa. Photo Credit : © Lefty Shivambu Gallo Images

By Themba Khumalo

Dumile Mateza, the broadcaster extraordinaire is now phesheya phaya, uNkabi. Aged 62, he succumbed to cancer on 1 February.

Born in Kareedouw in the Eastern Cape, he, like many other black broadcasters who commenced during the years of apartheid, was a school teacher before becoming a broadcaster in the early 1980s.

He was an exceptional sports commentator, second to none. Truth be told, he was unequalled in his connection to and comprehension of whichever sports he commentated on. It did not matter whether it was soccer, cricket, rugby or boxing. He did it so eloquently with dollops of beautified twang whether it was in isiXhosa, English or Afrikaans. That, in essence, is the exceptionality he ushered into sport commentating in Mzansi.

In describing Dumile, Boxing South Africa (BSA) said: “He was versatile and able to commentate in isiXhosa, English and Afrikaans and was loved by sports enthusiasts for his decorated accent and twang. This walking sports encyclopaedia was blessed with a wealth of knowledge.”

He fashioned a solid forte for himself as a sports broadcaster. The distinction between uNkabi and his peers was that he was superbly knowledgeable and oozed immense confidence not only in what he commented about, but also how he commented about it. Without beating about the bush, Dumile was incontestably in a class of his own.

He never let slip an opportunity to beguile his audience with humorous commentary: “Unkabi ubetha inqindi kwangathi ubetha intonga. (The boxer fights like a stick fighter).”
In remembering Dumile, former Minister of Sports, Arts and Recreation, Ngconde Balfour said: “His knowledge of the sport of boxing was put to great use when he was appointed acting CEO of the South African National Boxing Control Commission (SANBCC) by me at a time when boxing was going through extremely difficult times.”

“He brought stability to the sport as he commanded the respect of various boxing role players.
“Mateza had strong views on SA sport and was not afraid to tackle those who resisted the transformation of sport in our country.”

Although, as an overseer he had insufficient arsenal to battle disobedient officials, as well as licensees, who cut corners when opportunity allowed, he fought on. He was fearless, firm and forthright in dealing with the charlatans who engaged in activities that had the potential to send boxing to the canvass.

In 2001, Dumile battered boxing officials in the Eastern Cape following the passing of two pugilists. To date, I cannot recall any boxing administrator who threw devastatingly punchy words over the demise of pugilists like Dumile did when he said: “It is important to note that both deaths could have been avoided had the officials in the Eastern Cape acted more prudently and with care. In one year, two boxers die due to negligence by officials and no inquiry or inquest is conducted. One death is one too many.”

When the SANBCC became the BSA he exited the ring but was recalled in 2011to become a board member who chaired the sanctioning committee.

Remembering a genius
When the SABC said, “Mr Mateza has left an indelible mark in the industry and his legacy will serve as a motivation and inspiration to up and coming sports broadcasters.”, it reminded me of what was articulately penned by American author and screenwriter, Ray Douglas Bradbury in his first novel, titled Fahrenheit 451, in 1953.

Ray wrote: “Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

“It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cut lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all, the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

Putco Mafani, another great broadcaster who met Dumile in 1989, told Drum that he was ‘thrilled to work with someone he already admired’.

“I was working for Radio Xhosa then in the sports department and we used to collaborate a lot on live commentaries across the board, be it football, rugby, cricket, athletics, golf, tennis and a lot more. Interestingly before that, I had been admiring him while both at high school and university. So, working with him was like a dream come true,” Putco told Drum.

He went on to explain: “He had a good relationship with everyone but because he was a straightforward talker, telling it like it is, it could be easy to misunderstand him. But we all knew him and enjoyed his incomparable knowledge and unique approach to sports and his immense passion for research. He was like a walking encyclopaedia for sports.
“Nala had an insatiable appetite for research, content packaging and always wanted to sound and look fresh and professional. He was broad in his knowledge of the sport. He always increased his knowledge and with him, there was no end to education and development. We will miss his passion and captivating voice.”

Timothy Molobi, City Press’s sport and news editor: “Mr Mateza was a real doyen of sports commentary as he would take you with him to events. It was rare to find someone who was at home in three different sporting codes – rugby, football and boxing and Mr Mateza was there with the best – a rare breed indeed.

“Just his voice would make you ask for more, especially when he drifted away from the game to talk about something else unrelated. He was an inspiration to many of us who looked up to him when we first came into the sports industry and learned a lot from him. We will clearly miss his insightful knowledge of the sporting codes, and his humour.”
Thabiso Tema, talk radio host and sport commentator: “Sad as the death of anyone is, it is difficult not to smile when thinking of Mateza, as everyone fondly called him.

“That’s because of the man’s endearing personality, a larger-than life character who filled every space he occupied. Mateza was a prodigiously talented broadcaster, who shone in front of the camera and beamed on the microphone. He inspired a generation of sports casters, including myself. I admired his versatility and the depth of his insights into a variety of sports.

“He was a trailblazer who broke the mould in South African sports broadcasting, entrenching himself as the original polyglot broadcaster, equally adept in his native isiXhosa, English and most remarkably, in Afrikaans. Mateza was the consummate professional, a broadcaster who took his work and his audience seriously. He was passionate about his craft and often bemoaned falling standards not just in broadcasting, but journalism in general.

“Mateza, your work here is done and the mark you leave is indelible. Thank you for paving the way for us, a new generation of sports broadcasters to showcase our talents on all platforms. We hope to do your legacy proud. Hamba kakuhle Nkabi…sizakudibana phesheya phaya.”

CSA Board Chairperson, Lawson Naidoo said: “Dumile Mateza devoted his entire adult life to the service of sport. He grew to become the giant he was, fighting against dehumanisation in favour of representivity in the sport broadcasting industry. We are indebted to him and his generation for bringing back the dignity of South Africans through his relentless toil in the airwaves. He crossed over seamlessly from the commentary box to host a popular programme, Rights and Recourse on SABC TV, unpacking aspects of the Constitution and human rights in an accessible manner.”

CSA Acting Chief Executive Officer, Pholetsi Moseki, said: “Dumile was one of a few sports commentators who understood the power of language to speak to the heart of his audiences. He had a unique way of entertaining, while using sport as a means to reconciliation, social cohesion and nation-building.

“Much as his passing is a momentous loss to all of us, his lessons of humility, servitude and dedication are a legacy that will be indelibly etched in memory for years to come.”

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