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Retired soldier’s next fight is for the youth


Colonel Odwa “Old Bones” Mdleleni, a former national boxing champion, has announced his retirement plans, revealing a shift from boxing gloves to a more impactful fight for the betterment of his community and the youth.

The SANDF hosted a farewell parade for Colonel Odwa Mdleleni at Diskobolos on June 28. Picture: Supplied

“I WILL be taking up my boxing gloves in exchange for my rifle and will fight for the betterment of my community and our youth”. These are some of the retirement plans of the Regional Works Unit Northern Cape Officer Commanding, Colonel Odwa Mdleleni.

Mdleleni, affectionately known as “Old Bones” in the boxing fraternity, is a former national boxing champion who hung up his gloves in the ’90s to join the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

A true fighter in skill and rank, Mdleleni said he would no longer fight with bullets and a rifle but instead promote sport as a means of a better future for the youth.

The SANDF in Kimberley hosted a farewell parade for Mdleleni at a send-off at Diskobolos on June 28.

Mdleleni said he joined the army at the age of 31 after he left boxing.

“I turned to professional boxing in 1983. I dropped out of school for three years to enhance and focus on my boxing skills. On May 1, 1986, just a few days before I had to compete in a big match on May 10, 1986, my father died. I however went on to fight in that match as it was my father’s wish. I won that match and I won the South African title,” said Mdleleni.

“At that time I was ranked number 8 in the boxing world. I then went on to fight the person ranked number 2 in the world, but I lost that match. I then decided to leave the boxing industry and thereafter I joined the SANDF under the Azania People’s Liberation Army in 1995.

“I started in the SANDF as a captain and was over the years promoted to major, later lieutenant-colonel and then to my current rank of colonel and the officer commanding (OC) of the Regional Works Unit for the Northern Cape.”

Mdleleni said his journey in the SANDF was not always a bed of roses.

“In the boxing world, there were no major challenges I faced back then. When we were absorbed into the army, as ‘non-statutory forces’ back then, the perception at the time was that we were terrorists, but we were freedom fighters. During the absorption, we were not truly accepted due to the segregation at the time. However, we continued to learn during those tough times.

“I take off my hat to those soldiers who were absorbed into the army from 1994 until 1998, as the environment was harsh and the racial lines were still very visible. There were times one had no passion to go to work due to the treatment one received at the time. I am elated that things have changed over the years and we now see each other as equal members of the SANDF with the same vision.”

Mdleleni said he had been stationed in Kimberley for the past six years.

“After integration in 1995, I was placed in Bloemfontein. I was placed in Pretoria in 1998 and 1999. I then returned to Bloemfontein and was stationed there for 24 years before coming to Kimberley.”

He urged the present SANDF members to remain passionate and focused.

“Do not attach your growth to a commander, commanders come and go. Remain focused and stay in your lane. If there are those who are overtaking you, do not panic, rather focus on the destination you want to reach … you are not being left behind. Our destinations are not attached to one another.

“Remain humble and respect all people, even when you are placed in a position of leadership. Do not be autocratic when you are leading people, but have some empathy for those placed under your leadership,” he advised.

Mdleleni said that although some of his retirement plans involve ploughing some farmlands in the Bloemfontein area, he also wants to plough back into his community.

“I want to get back to boxing and train children in boxing. I want to farm with pigs and goats, but my daily schedule will also include giving youngsters boxing lessons. I love boxing and the sport has not only toughened me up but also taught me discipline and perseverance on top of the lessons and rules I was taught at home,” he said.

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