While I was doing a little research for my novel I came across an event from my childhood I’d completely forgotten about. I remember it fascinating me, my best friend and all the adults in my far northern Transvaal town back in 1979. It was the heavyweight title fight between Gerrie Coetzee, a white South African, and John Tate, an African American.
My family weren’t boxing fans, not even sports fans, really. But this fight was huge because we were so cut off from the world at the time. The more I researched, the more I was sucked into the story: it was black vs white at the height of apartheid; the fight took place in the middle of a worldwide sports boycott; the money involved was huge; the crowd was the biggest for a boxing event worldwide in 50 years; it happened in Loftus Versfeld, the crucible of rugby in SA; Tate’s life and death is so tragic it’s a fascinating story on its own; and to top it all off there was a massive, shocking sex scandal!
But people don’t remember the fight, or confuse it with another. So I decided to write about it. Ideally, I’d like to turn it into a documentary one day, but right now it’s an 8000-word article.
I’ve sent it to a few magazine editors… I’ll let you know what their feedback is.
I was a good friend of big Johns love to hear more
From what I’ve read about him, and seen in interviews, Big John seemed like a genuinely sweet guy. His story is one of the most tragic I’ve come across. I wrote a 6000-word piece for Sports Illustrated South Africa, which I’ve just posted here. I’ll follow up with a much shorter piece, which ran in the New York Times a few months ago.
I am reading tonight and will get back with you! Have a project in mind! Ace died last year! Vey sad. I currently work with Alonzo Butler 28-2-1. Alonso more talented than Jon but perhaps less dedicated!