GONE are the days when a tall skinny boxing prospect would risk his life by dozing at dangerous train stations in the heart of the notorious Hillbrow suburb near Johannesburg in the freezing cold, on god forsaken nights. Gone are the days when the then unknown boxing protégé would not even know where his next meal was going to come from. Talk about Namibian boxing and the name of one Nestor “Sunshine” Tobias, will immediately spring to mind. New Era Sports will take you, the reader, through the life of the gentleman of the ring, a true son of the soil accredited for having single-handedly rewritten the history of Namibian boxing. When young Nestor left his village in the northern part of the country at the tender age of eight to live with his late uncle Phillipus, a contract mine worker at Tsumeb Cooperation Limited (TCL) - little did he know that he would one day be spoken of in the same breath as the legendary grey-haired American boxing promoter Don King.
WINDHOEK - As a young boy, Nestor’s favourite pastime was the traditional Onghandeka exhibition and judo, but when he started school at the Opawa Primary School in Nomtsoub, Tsumeb, he switched his alliance to football because everybody was playing the beautiful game and young Nestor was not going to be excluded from the fun.
“In those days, the white boys used to beat the hell out of us whenever we invaded what was supposed to be their ‘sacred territory’, so we were forced by circumstances to defend ourselves, hence my early interest in trading blows,” reveals Tobias not surprisingly.
It was during the era of the famous Bruce Lee and young Nestor was fascinated by the exploits of this Kung Fu expert. He immediately joined the nearest Karate Academy in the township under the tutorship of Alfred Angula. “I trained for three solid weeks - but my interest started to wane after watching a boxing movie titled ‘The Greatest’ featuring Cassius Clay - in later years to be known as Mohamed Ali.”
Nestor wasted little time and joined the TCL Boxing Club, manned by Hennie Kruger. His first day at the gym proved to be prophetic. “I was sparring against another boy and took him completely to the cleaners with some telling blows and those in attendance were very impressed with what they have seen.” However, his hands were in terrible pain after his first sparring session to the extent that he decided to go back to football - but his new mentors would have none of that and persuaded him to come back.
His first real brush with the tough and demanding rigours of trading leather in the boxing ring came soon after he was drafted into the TCL junior boxing team during the Inter-Club Championships. He made short work of his opponent Mathews Ratoka with a first round technical knockout (TKO).
Nestor’s boxing exploits saw him go on to cement a permanent place n the TCL boxing team at the annual Inter-Mines Championships and took him to places like Arandis and Oranjemund. He swept his opponents aside to become the undisputed South West Africa Junior Champion in 1982.
His reward was a trip to Durban, South Africa where he participated in the Inter- States tournament, featuring top boxers from the then South Africa Bantu Boxing Union and the South African Boxing Association (whites).
“I won my first two fights and went on to lose only in the quarterfinal - on points, but I must have given a good account of myself, because the selectors were very impressed with my overall performance.” Nestor remained the national junior champion until 1989 when he moved up a notch to become the national champion in both the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions in 1992.
After the completion of his studies, Nestor and former middle distance runner Frank Kayele received a tempting offer from the Consolidated Diamond Mines (CDM) at Oranjemund, and the pair packed their bags and headed down south. “I was offered a job as a Sports Officer and found myself in the company of other good boxers such as Hiskia Swarts, Vaino Hamukwa, Malakia Endjambi and Chief Mbonga.”
In 1986, Nestor was selected to represent South West Africa at the South African Open Boxing Championships in Johannesburg where he earned Springbok colours after some explosive displays. The Springbok team toured South America, competing in several high profile tournaments in Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Argentina.
“I won all my fights (four) on tour and some American agents wanted to poach me, but I chickened out at the last minute,” he admits. Nestor qualified for the prestigious Olympic Games alongside sprinter Frank Fredericks in 1988, but the pair was grounded because of the South African apartheid system. However, his big break came in 1991 after Namibia’s independence when he was selected to represent Namibia at the All Africa Games in Cairo, Egypt. He developed chickenpox on the eve of the team’s departure and the doctor advised him to lay low and stay indoors - advice that fell on deaf ears.
“The consequences of my action saw me losing lots of weight which left me very weak. Though I easily won my opening two bouts, I lost in the semi-finals against an Egyptian opponent and my Olympic dream went up in smoke.”
Upon his return from the continental multi-sports Games, Nestor applied for unpaid leave from CDM and headed to Cape Town with Harry Simon to join the professional ranks under the stable of Mike Segal. But misfortune struck again when Namibian boxing authorities heard about their intentions. The two boxers were immediately suspended while Simon was threatened with omission from the Namibian team to the Barcelona Olympics since he had already qualified in Cairo, Egypt.
The defiant Tobias moved to Johannesburg in 1993 and joined Rodney Berman Golden Gloves Boxing Promotions where he trained for three years under the tutorship of the late Allan Toweel.
“My first fight was against former South African champion Riaan van Rensburg in the junior middleweight division. I knocked him out in the 2nd round and won my next six bouts on the trot, but life was extremely tough in Johannesburg. I really don’t know whether we could have pulled it through had it not been for the generosity of the former Namibian Prime Minister Hage Geingob, who constantly bailed us out, from his own pocket,” adds an emotional Tobias.
Nestor won several non-title fights in Denmark and Italy until a troublesome shoulder injury put paid to his troubled boxing career. “I decided to quit boxing in 2000 after my last fight against Michael Mthembu, which I won by a 3rd round knockout.”
He finally returned home and immediately knuckled down to some serious business. He was tasked with the unenviable duty of preparing Paulus “Ali” Nuumbembe for the Sidney Olympics, but for the usual internal rumblings in local boxing, he could not accompany the boxer to Australia after having the ‘Mancunian’ under his wing in Johannesburg for three months.
Nestor became a boxing promoter in the same year. “I realized there was an urgent need for the introduction of professional boxing in Namibia - given the vast pool of talent. I started out with guys like Rambo Anhindi, Siegfried Kaperu, Duran Andries, Leonard Phillipus and had two juniors under my wing in the shape of Edison Kandikwa and Paulus ‘The Hitman’ Moses.”
In 2001, Nestor took the bull by the horns and ventured into what was previously considered a no-go area when he applied for a promoter’s license from the Namibian Professional Boxing and Wrestling Control Board, which was dully granted. He enjoyed a great measure of success on his debut when his boxer Rambo Anhindi became the WBA Pan-African Welterweight Champion in only his first attempt at the continental title. That was followed by a significant number of professional bouts between upcoming local boxers against their South African counterparts.
“Our boxers grew in stature and confidence - we were soon running low on decent opponents with people claiming the South African opponents were not up to scratch without noticing that our boxers had come of age.” He staged the historic first national title bout under the professional banner when he pitted Bethuel ‘Tyson’ Uushona against the then UK based Ali Nuumbembe in 2004 at a packed to rafters Windhoek Country Club.
“Being a former professional boxer myself, my experience carried me through thick and thin and my aim is to produce future world champions in the mould of Paulus ‘The Hitman’ Moses.” The giant soft-spoken boxing promoter was at ringside when Hitman beat the hell out of Yusuke Kobori to wrestle the WBA lightweight world title away from the Japanese boxer in Yokohama, January 2009.
“The global language of boxing is the United States of America (USA) and if we really want to maintain our current status, the corporate business and government need to join hands and pump money into boxing.”