Tate-Coetzee in the New York Times

My short piece on the subject of the 1979 heavyweight fight between Big John Tate and Gerrie ‘The Bionic Hand’ Coetzee ran in the NY Times in 2012. Take a gander here: A Hollow Sporting Footnote in Apartheid-Era South Africa


Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Impostor!

My good friend, Mr Bright, told me a story about how the late dictator and father of the nation of Malawi was not Malawian at all.

He was, said Mr Bright, an American impostor. I did a little investigating and when a new Banda took office in Malawi I decided it was time to write about it. The Argus published it – see below for the story. (By the way, that’s not Mr Bright waterskiing in the picture. Nor is it Hastings Banda or Richard Armstrong – it’s a waiter at a resort at Lake Malawi in about 1980. He came out every day at 5pm, for show, and they sold these postcards at reception. Cringingly colonial, wouldn’t you say, old sport?)

The Fight the World Forgot

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.

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