South African police say a championship belt given by American professional boxer Sugar Ray Leonard to the country’s first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, has been stolen. Police say the belt was taken July 1 in a break-in at Mandela’s Soweto house, which was turned into a museum.
Leonard’s World Boxing Council championship belt, said to be worth close to $3,000, was a treasured possession of South African President Nelson Mandela.
South African police announced Thursday the belt was taken during a July 1 break-in at Mandela’s Soweto house museum, where it was on display.
Police spokeswoman, Colonel Dimakatso Sello says “there are currently no suspects arrested and the police are investigating. Anyone who may have information about this incident is requested to contact the police. All information received will be treated as strictly confidential.”
No other items were reported missing from the museum.
Mandela’s private secretary of 20 years, Zelda la Grange, says the American world champion boxer gave Mandela the belt during a visit to South Africa.
“I do know that it was very valuable to him. Whenever he could he watched boxing and because it was a sport in which he participated himself also, you know he really admired people who aspired to the discipline of boxing. So, he was a great fan of Sugar Ray Leonard and Sugar Ray and him met on a few occasions, so I think it was very sentimental to him as well.”
La Grange was present on two of those occasions. She says they joked around a lot.
“Both of them had a great sense of humor but they talked about the big matches in the past like Muhammad Ali and so on.”
Mandela, himself a former amateur boxer, wrote in his biography Long Walk to Freedom that he did not enjoy the violence of boxing so much as the science of it.
La Grange, who’s written a memoir called Good Morning, Mr. Mandela, has called on South Africa’s government to better secure the museum in the township of Soweto in Johannesburg.
“It is disappointing really. I mean you can’t think that someone would take something so personal of his. An icon in South Africa and someone steals his legacy. I’m disgusted by it.”
Madiba, as Mandela is affectionately known, was jailed for 27 years for opposing South Africa’s oppressive apartheid government.
Mandela first moved into the house in 1945 and his former wife, Winnie Madikizela Mandela, continued to live there until 1996.
Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and died in 2013.
His fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who died last year, lived on the same street, called Vilakazi, which today draws many tourists.