How Mandela stayed fit: From his ‘matchbox’ Soweto home to a prison cell

how mandela stayed fit from his matchbox soweto home to a prison cell scaled

The spread of the coronavirus has forced millions all over the world to retreat to base and abandon outdoor exercise and gym sessions. If they own a big house and garden, it’s manageable, but many live in shacks, cramped houses or tiny high-rise flats. How can they avoid going to seed during lockdown? Gavin Evans takes a look at how former boxer and South African liberation struggle icon Nelson Mandela adapted while incarcerated in a tiny cell on Robben Island.

Rigour of training

15 February 1990: Nelson Mandela wakes as always at 05:00 and begins his hour-long exercise routine. The difference this time is that instead of a prison cell, his gym is the front room of his “matchbox” house – so-called for its small size – at 8115 Vilakazi Street, Soweto. And soon he’ll be besieged by journalists, well-wishers, diplomats and family members.

I get to interview him a few hours later to ask about his plans. His answers are clear and concise and I’m too nervous to probe deeper. But towards the end I toss in a question about boxing, and his stern demeanour changes. He beams with delight and begins to chat about his favourite fighters and how he followed the sport in prison.

Mandela started boxing as a student at Fort Hare University, and then trained more seriously when studying, working and struggling in Johannesburg during the 1940s and 1950s, although he didn’t fight competitively and was modest about his prowess.…

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