Female boxer dies after knockout blow in the ring

A female boxer in South Africa has died after being in a coma for two weeks following a bout.
South African president Jacob Zuma paid tribute to Ms Mwelase. Picture: GettySouth African president Jacob Zuma paid tribute to Ms Mwelase. Picture: Getty
South African president Jacob Zuma paid tribute to Ms Mwelase. Picture: Getty

The county’s sports ministry announced yesterday that Phindile Mwelase had died in hospital.

Ms Mwelase, 31, died at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in the capital, Pretoria, the ministry said, after being knocked out in a bout with Liz Butler on 10 October in Pretoria.

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The light welterweight boxer was taken first to Kalafong Hospital, but was later transferred to Steve Biko Hospital, where she underwent surgery to stem bleeding on the brain.

She was taken off life support and moved out of intensive care last week, but it is thought she never regained consciousness.

None of Ms Mwelase’s family was at the ringside when she was knocked out in the sixth round of the fight. Her trainer, Stanley Ndlovu, has said relatives were unaware of what had happened until he tracked down her sister in Johannesburg on Saturday.

Ms Mwelase, who is understood to be the sole breadwinner in her family, had signed a R4,000 (£228) contract to contest the eight-rounder.

The fighter had lost all four previous paid bouts and it was the first time she had competed in an eight-round bout – the 
second-longest allowed for women boxers.

In the sixth round, after being hit hard, Ms Mwelase first sank to her knees then, as referee Phumeza Zinakile started counting, toppled forward on to her face. Ms Zinakile immediately stopped counting and summoned ringside doctor Solly Skosana. He examined Ms Mwelase and called paramedics, who gave her oxygen because she was struggling to breathe.

A doctor at Steve Biko Hospital said a blood vessel in Ms Mwelase’s brain had burst, causing severe swelling. Her injuries are the most serious to a woman boxer in South Africa.

Local media earlier this year reported that Loyiso Mtya, 
acting chief of Boxing South 
Africa, the national federation, had been accused of forging the fight records of local women boxers in an attempt to make them look sufficiently experienced for national title bouts.

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Mr Mtya denied the claims. He has since been suspended pending the outcome of an investigation. Neither Ms Mwelase’s nor Ms Butler’s names were mentioned in connection with this accusation.

Boxing SA said Ms Mwelase’s funeral would be held on Saturday in her home town of Ladysmith, in the eastern Kwazulu-Natal province. In a statement the federation said it “grieves at the passing of a wonderful and tremendous individual”.

South African president Jacob Zuma paid tribute to Ms Mwelase. In a statement, he said: “On behalf of government and all South Africans we wish to convey our earnest condolences to the family, relatives, friends and the entire boxing fraternity.

“She joined a sport that is viewed as predominantly male and has proven that women can also succeed in boxing.”

Women’s boxing is relatively new to South Africa and until now has been free of serious ­injury.