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Former Heavyweight Titlist Gerrie Coetzee, Who Resisted Apartheid In His Native South Africa, Dies At 67

Posted on 01/12/2023

By: Sean Crose

For a short time there was talk that the man might engage in a major heavyweight title fight against reigning undefeated kingpin Larry Holmes. That bout never came to fruition, but Gerrie Coetzee, whose passing at the age of 67 was reported on Thursday, was able to leave his mark on the sport of boxing nonetheless. The former WBA heavyweight titlist had not only been the world’s first South African heavyweight champion, he had also resisted Apartheid at a time when a white South African wasn’t supposed to do such things.

Photo: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

“I feel I am fighting for everybody, black and white,” he had said around the time he won the WBA heavyweight title from Michael Dokes in 1984. “What makes me happy is for black, brown and white people to accept me as their fighter.” The New York Times quoted Coetzee as saying “when I return home, I will continue working to help people get together.’’ Coetzee found himself in legal hot water when he adopted a young fighter who the South African government had designated “colored.”

Coetzee was to recall the time a police officer showed up at his home regarding the matter. “You thought the policeman was using a hammer when he knocked on the door… once I opened the door he brushed me out of the way and went through the whole house. He wanted to know where the boy slept and where he washed.” To his credit, Coetzee stood his ground. “A few days later,” he added, “I was issued with a court summons, but I failed to respond, and nothing came of it.”

As a fighter, Coetzee found himself getting to the top the hard way. He lost title bouts against John Tate and Mike Weaver before finally defeating Dokes in a close 1983 battle. He subsequently lost the title to Greg Page in December of the following year. One of Coetzee’s fondest memories was being “called to Nelson Mandela’s office in the early 1990s. It was overwhelming,” Coetzee said, “because the country was preparing for democracy and Mr. Mandela was leading the way…it was a surreal moment and he awarded me a medal. I was surprised to hear that he had listened to radio commentaries of a few of my fights while he was in prison.”

Mandela requested Coetzee’s company on two other occasions. A movie of Coetzee’s life titled Gerrie is reportedly close to completion.

*quotes in this article were provided by IOL:

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