A blue heritage plaque now honours the legacy of legendary boxer Jake Tuli, a South African professional fly, bantam and featherweight boxer who was the first black South African to hold a British Empire championship title after beating Teddy Gardner in 1952 in the flyweight category. Tuli died in 1998.
The blue plaque was unveiled as part of the inaugural JoziWalks weekend initiated by the Johannesburg Development Agency on 25 June 2017. Blue plaques have been installed countrywide under the auspices of various civil society groups to commemorate significant people, events, sites, artefacts and architecture reflecting South African culture.
The celebrated Jake Tuli, born Jacob Ntuli on 7 July 1929, also held the Transvaal non-white flyweight title, South African non-white bantamweight title, and South African non-white flyweight title, and was challenger for the British Empire bantamweight title against Peter Keenan, who recalled, ”Jake Tuli was quite simply the toughest guy I ever met in a boxing ring …”
For Nelson Mandela, himself a boxer, Tuli was “our greatest hero”. In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela wrote, “[Tuli] was the most eloquent example of what African boxers could achieve if given the opportunity.”
The unveiling of the heritage plaque took place at the Noordgesig home where Tuli lived with his family after their return from England in 1958. He remained a resident of Noordgesig – established as a coloured township in 1940 – until his death in 1998. The unveiling was attended by members of the Tuli family and various dignitaries, as well as boxers who had been coached by Tuli.
Jacob Ntuli was born in Johannesburg. He grew up in central Johannesburg, but during the slum clearances of the 1930s his family had to move to Orlando East. There he attended St Mary’s Primary School. It was at the St Mary’s Boys Club – and later at the Orlando Proper Boxing Club – that he started sparring. At Orlando High he met his future wife, Peggy Lamont. They had four children, Veronica, John, James and Alan. Tuli finished schooling at the famous St Peter’s School in Rosettenville. In 1946 he fought his first amateur fight. He left South Africa in 1952 to further his training in the UK. He won his Transvaal and South African titles that year, also making international headlines by winning the British Empire Flyweight title. In 1954 his family joined him in the UK. After the family returned to South Africa, Tuli was a regular boxing contributor for Zonk! magazine and continued to box locally until his retirement in 1967. Despite battling health problems related to diabetes, he contributed to developing the sport among the youth in the community until his death at the age of 69 in 1998. In 2003 he was posthumously awarded the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver.
His daughter, Veronica McLellen and his son Alan Tully, together with family friend Terence Jacobs, are spearheading the establishment of the Ntuli Trust to preserve and foster the legacy of one of Noordgesig’s greatest heroes.
For more information contact Alan Tully, spokesperson for the Ntuli Trust, on 073 626 3786, or Terence Jacobs on 074 861 4821.