Portrait – Colin Nathan, Boxing Coach

Portrait -Colin Nathan, Boxing Coach

Article by Forbes Africa Journalist Thobile Hans

Colin Nathan is one of the few people who can say they are living the dream. As a successful boxing trainer, he wakes up every morning and looks forward to going to work.

He shares his beautiful house in Norwood, south of Johannesburg, with his wife Lara, his eight-year-old son Daniel and a new addition to the family, Jamie, who is only two months old. After settling in at his home, we get straight to where it all began for the man some regard as presently the most successful trainer in the country.

“I was only seven years old when I started nagging my father to take me with him to the boxing gym,” he says.

Nathan brightens up and become passionate when he talks about his formative years in boxing while growing up in Cape Town. His father, Stan, was a cutman and worked with boxers like the Whiteboy brothers Chris and Derrick, Sydney Hoho and Bashew Sibaca.

At the Sea Point Boxing Club, the young Nathan fell in love with the hustle and bustle of the boxing gym. His favorite activity was using boxers’ stomachs as punching bag, and the pugilists were happy to let him as he was too small and skinny to hurt them.

In 1988, while in the fourth grade at school, Nathan remembers yelling instructions at the sparring boxers, much to the amusement of everyone in the gym. Noticing his growing passion for the sport, Stan started taking his son to work with him in the corners of his boxers. This was illegal and when noticed in 1990, Stan was forced to register him as a bucket boy. This makes Nathan the youngest bucket man in South African history Nathan’s involvement in boxing deepened when he moved to Johannesburg in 1998 to double up as a television presenter on SABC.

This led to him becoming the youngest boxing commentator in the country at 20 years of age. Another milestone was in 2000 when Nathan, at the age of 22, became the youngest South African to own a boxing gym – the Hot Box Gym in Glenhazel, a north-eastern suburb of Johannesburg. After making a name for himself on television, boxers started approaching Nathan to be their manager. The first professional boxer in his stable was bantamweight, Andries Dick, who won his first five fights under Nathan. His second was Springkaan Khongoane who is still working with Nathan to this day. By this time, Nathan knew he wanted to become a fulltime trainer.

Being relatively young, it was tough convincing the boxing fraternity that he was the real deal. Boxing authorities used to mistake him for a boxer during weigh-ins and he found it difficult to convince promoters to sign his fighters. Around two years later, Khongoane became his first champion when he won the provincial super bantam weight title. With his growing success, former national champions like Tshepo Lefele, Mpush Makambi and Malcolm Klassen started joining his ranks and it became more and more difficult for Nathan to keep his head above the turbulent waters.

He decided to sign up with KO promotions and later with Branco Sports Productions, run by Branco Milenkovic. In 2005, he approached the biggest promoter in the country, Rodney Berman, who told Nathan he didn’t have any boxers he wanted to promote. Berman, however, had a change of heart the following year and signed up the young trainer in the Golden Gloves Promotions family. The rest is history.

“The last eight years have been nothing short of amazing,” says Nathan.

He has great respect for Berman, whom he says is one of his idols. Nathan rubbishes claims that the only reason Berman gave him a chance was because they are both Jewish. At one stage, people even said he was Berman’s nephew, especially when the promoter walked him down the aisle at his wedding. Berman’s faith in Nathan has paid off.

He has since produced world champions like Hekkie Budler, the IBO and WBA strawweight champion and the Ring Magazine’s No.1 ranked boxer in his division, and Zolani Marali, the former WBF junior-welterweight champion. He is also training the highly-rated Ryno Liebenberg who is undefeated in 16 fights. To take his training to the next level, Nathan spent two weeks with Freddie Roach, considered by many to be the world’s greatest trainer, in his Wild Card gym in Los Angeles. So, what did Nathan learn from Manny Pacquiao’s famous trainer?

“Commitment and responsibility,” says Nathan.

He has also met and taken advice from other renowned trainers like Angelo Dundee, who worked with Muhammad Ali, and Teddy Atlas, who worked with Mike Tyson. But does he consider himself the best trainer in South Africa? “In my eyes, yes, I think I am,” he says.

The latest success is Budler. The trainer considers Budler’s win over the dangerous Nkosinathi Joyi as his best achievement.

“Few gave light-hitting Hekkie a chance against the hard-hitting Joyi. But people didn’t know that I briefly worked with Joyi in my gym and I knew his weak points,” he says.

His biggest disappointment was when Budler lost his IBO light flyweight title, his only professional loss, by a split decision to Gideon Buthelezi. Colin Nathan says he was the first in the country to open his gym to commercial clients. He boasts training celebrities like musician Danny K, sport presenter Carol Tshabalala and President Jacob Zuma’s son, Duduzane. Although he now is well known in the country, Nathan has his wife and kids to ground him whenever he gets big-headed. To prove the point, he asks his wife who the best boxing trainer in the country is. With a mischievous smile on her face, Lara says “Nick Durandt?”

Photography – Jay Caboz

Location – Hot Box Gym  – Glenhazel, Johannesburg South Africa

Nathan’s shoot proved to be quite a challenge. The gym was quite “busy”, not unusual for a boxing gym, with loads of equipment and very low lighting. To eliminate this we went with a shallow depth of field shot and I used two portable flashes at a 45 degree angle to pop him out. It’s kind of standard lighting set up that I am comfortable with in low light situations.

He had these really awesome training gloves, the ones used by coaches for sparring, with his name on them that perfectly summed up who he is and what he does. We went for a strong body position and asked him to flex his muscles a bit.

Publication – Forbes Africa Magazine, December-January 2014 edition

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Portrait – Vernon Head, Bird Watcher and Architect

Portrait – Vernon Head, Bird Watcher and Architect

Guns, Bats And Biting Insects In The Steamy Darkness

Article by Jay Caboz

It was 6,900 kilometers from home in Cape Town in sweltering, overwhelming, heat of the inky black jungle. Architect and bird watcher, Vernon Head, stood with a spotlight in hand, on a remote jungle mountainside in Ethiopia’s Great Rift Valley looking for something few on earth had seen before.
“It’s a strange place at night… You know that not many people have been there, especially at night. Everything that comes into the spotlight, you are never sure it is something new,” he says.
It wasn’t easy in the darkness; the fluorescent light attracted a host of flying creatures. Bats flew in the air, insects stuck in Head’s teeth and stinging flying ants crawled up his legs. This was the hunt for one of Africa’s most elusive animals. Head and his team, carrying nets, looked over their shoulders as they risked gun-wielding villagers, who resented their intrusion. They scoured every bush. This was the hunt for the world’s rarest bird, the Nechisar Nightjar.
The hunt began with a phone call from England. Over the crackling telephone line, Head, who was in Cape Town, heard the story about a roadside relic in a paper bag; a muddy bird’s wing that was found by Cambridge based scientists on safari in 1990.
“On that expedition, three hundred and fifteen species of birds were seen; sixty one species of mammal and sixty nine species of butterfly y were identified; twenty species of dragonflies and damsel flies; seventeen reptile species were recorded; three frog species were fi led; plants were listed. And the wing of a road-killed bird was packed into a brown paper bag,” says Head.
The wing sent the scientific world aflutter.
“Normally to describe a bird species you need the actual bird, which means you need to have seen it. In this case they just had a wing squashed in the mud next to this smugglers track on a plain of the African rift valley in southern Ethiop It became known as the only bird species ever described to science that no one had ever seen,” he says.
For 20 years, experts have tried in vain to catch a glimpse of the nightjar. The wing sat gathering dust in the drawers of the British Natural History Museum in Tring, England. Ian Sinclair, a bird watcher, was on the phone to Cape Town and wanted Head’s help.
“In the field guides that list the birds of Africa, when you go to the nightjar section and get to the part where is says Nechisar Nightjar, you just see a drawing of a wing. Then you look at the map next to the wing [and] there is a little ‘x’ with a question mark. It’s quite exciting; you want to see it… [Sinclair] said to me ‘why we don’t give this a go?’”
It was an $18,000-voyage of discovery that Head, Sinclair and two other bird enthusiasts wouldn’t pass up. Their first port of call was protection; bird watching is strangely fraught with danger.
“In that part of southern Ethiopia, there are still a number of tribes that are remote and their cultures are remote communities detached from the modern world. They still traditionally fight over grazing land. These fights over grazing land, where in the past they used traditional weapons, they are now using AK-47s. It’s never a good idea if you are a bird watcher and you are driving through a valley and on either side are a bunch of people with AK-47s that have a disagreement with each other. You have to have some security. Preferably people from one of the tribes who understand the nuances,” says Head.
Many bird watchers have laid down their lives spotting birds. A tiger killed David Hunt in the Jim Corbett National Park in India; Phoebe Snetsinger survived being raped in New Guinea before dying in a road accident in Madagascar; and Ted Parker died in an air crash on route to Ecuador.
“[Bird watching] is a big ecotourism industry. It’s massive. Bird watching in America makes more money than golf; it’s a $60-billion business. There still are these weird things out there. Nature is quite resilient in our modern day. There are secrets out there in nature waiting to be unraveled,” says Head.
“When I was six or seven, on my grandfather’s farm, I learned to go bird watching on the wild open plains of Northcliff, before it became a city. It’s strange when you drive through it today and you used to run around here and see Burchell’s coucal and aardvark. There was even rumored to be a Leopard in the Roodepoort hills. That’s only some 40 years ago,” says Head.
A world away, in the heat under the stars in southern Ethiopia, Head’s spotlight falls on a very large thorny bush and catches a pair of a golden copper-red reflection: eyes.
“We knew what to look for. We knew it was going to be a nightjar. I mean we’d seen the wing. The bird we saw, funnily enough, was a male, but the wing itself was from a female. We were able to deduce this because of the white in the wing, it was slightly creamier. Male nightjars generally have bigger white patches. And it had this huge white patch in its wing. It made it unlike it was any other nightjar in Africa. There was no doubt.”
After all the 6,500 kilometers, mean insects and the heat, the men couldn’t catch it. The nightjar flew away into the night. Head and his fellow bird watchers continued to record the sighting, a precious notch in the bird watching community. Just another day in the strange and dangerous world of bird watching.

Photography – Jay Caboz

Location – Rosebank, Johannesburg, South Africa

Publication – Forbes Africa Magazine, February 2015 edition

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Portrait – Simmi Areff, Comedian

Portrait – Simmi Areff, Comedian

With just R30 in his pocket and a dream of being in the spotlight Simmi Areff moved to Johannesburg to become a comedian. A man never far from a hookah pipe or a trending tweet Areff looks for any excuse to get up on stage to crack jokes for his supper.

It’s a typical Friday afternoon for comedian Simmi Areff. He sits across the table in the Joburg Theatre Canteen, South Africa, with a hookah pipe in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. Every ten minutes his phone vibrates as his manager valiantly tries to track him down. Areff is surprisingly calm for someone who will in two hours’ time go on stage.  It even more surprising when he says hasn’t got a clue about what he will say on stage.

“After tonight I’ll be able to tell you if I was ready or not, but the only thing I can do wrong is disappoint them. I have about 30 minutes of the show, but it’s that last 15 minutes. I don’t know if I’m going to talk to people or what. Lots of people say that talking to people is not part of a one man show, but it’s what I’m good at. It’s what I’m known for, so why not. So I’m going to talk to people, I don’t know who yet but I’m going to do it,” he says through a cloud of mint flavoured smoke.

Photography – Jay Caboz

Location – Joburg Theatre, Johannesburg South Africa

Areff’s career has steadily taken shape. This photo was taken just before his first one man show at the Joburg Theatre. “HaHa-Laal” caused quite a stir in the Mulim community over the use of the logo. Regardless he has proven time and again that he is an up-and-coming in the South African comedy scene worth keeping an eye out for.

Publication – Forbes Africa Magazine

Simmi Areff comedian for Forbes Africa/Life Magazine before his first one mand show Its not Hahalaal

Simmi Areff comedian for Forbes Africa/Life Magazine before his first one man show Its not Hahalaal 2014

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Portrait – Edward Moshole, The Unlikely Millionaire

Portrait – Edward Moshole, The Unlikely Millionaire

Edward Moshole was destined for a life as a cleaner in a factory; until inspiration came on a breath of fresh cherry-scented air in a storage room surrounded by detergents. Last year the former cleaner sold 70,000 bottles of detergent a month to the largest retail shopping chains in South Africa, worth about R12 million ($1 million) a year.

“A broomstick is what started my business. It was the only thing that I owned… Getting a job as a cleaner at Enterprise changed my life; them giving me the boots and overalls and saying ‘here clean’. I could feel in my heart I wanted to be something more,” he says.

With humble beginnings in the small township of Gapane, a place few have heard of in the Limpopo province of South Africa, Moshole’s story is uncommon. He grew up without parents from the age of 16 and failed eighth grade five years in a row. Moshole says when he was young he never dreamed he could become a millionaire.

His life changed when he moved to Cape Town to live with his brother. He says the move woke him up. Moshole finished his schooling and became a cleaner in a factory run by food chain Enterprise. In this factory, in a two-square-meter storage room that smelled of cherries; among piles of detergent, bleach, cleaners and soaps, Moshole had an idea.

“Getting into that store room, I could see that the quality doesn’t measure the performance of the cleaners. I could improve things. I could see myself becoming a detergent manufacturing champion,” he says.

It began with $6 and a broom stick says Moshole. The then cleaner went directly to a manufacturer and bought a five-liter bleach bottle. His first sales pitch was short and simple.

“I went to an ordinary person and said ‘look I’ve got detergent, I’ve got cleaner and they go for R15 ($1.20) a litre’,” he says.

Moshole’s part-time business took off. He targeted his co-workers who finished work too late to make it to the shops. A few months later, Moshole began selling door-to-door. He moved to spaza shops and sold to neighbors.

Moshole soon grew tired of the life of a middleman salesman and decided to create his own brand. With the money he earned, he bought a pile of 25-litre spice drums from Enterprise for around $1 each. He spent the following weekends churning detergent with a homemade metal mixer in his backyard.

“At the end of the day my hands were blistered,” he recalls.

For three years, Moshole toiled over his blue spice drums. His brand, Chem-Fresh, garnered the interests of supermarket giant Pick n Pay, owned by Raymond Ackerman, who is ranked 38th on Forbes’ list of richest Africans. It was the big break that Moshole needed.

The deal took seven years to sign. Along the way, Moshole learnt some hard lessons about mass-market production. One of them was to change from an informal backyard business to a formal one. He named his company ‘ebinter’ and started selling his Chem-Fresh products through it. Moshole also learnt he needed to become an accountant as well as a salesman. But it was the competition in the detergent business that was hardest to handle.

“Retail must retain a formal market. It’s tough. You negotiate with a buyer who takes 300 calls a day from others who supply the same product as you. Then there you are competing with the multinationals and then you are competing with the companies who own no-name brands. Your product needs to be cheap and needs to be of a consistent high quality,” says Moshole.

These days, Moshole’s factory in Wynberg, an industrial sector a few kilometers outside of Sandton, is a far cry from his backyard. Thousands of plastic bottles are piled to the ceiling. A $90,000 mixer churns bath soaps and hand wash. Another mixer prepares bleach for the day. Moshole says it takes half an hour to produce 500 liters of Chem-Fresh bleach.

His clientele has now spread across supermarket chains Spar, Pick n Pay, Massmart and Dischem.

Despite landing these promising contracts the detergent maker remains humble. He keeps the broom that he started with as a reminder of where his dreams began, minus the brush which fell off a few years ago.

With $6 and a broomstick, Moshole began selling detergent to his colleagues, bottle by bottle. Now, he sells them in the thousands. What’s more, Moshole proudly claims he has never missed a delivery.

Photography – Jay Caboz

Location – Chem-Fresh factory, Wynberg, Johannesburg South Africa

Moshole’s story is one of those rare finds that kind of writes itself. He is one of the most humble men you could ever meet and I wanted that to come through in the image. Moshole had an incredibly genuine smile so we went with it. The background, filled to the rafters with goods, made a convincing setting to speak of where Moshole began and is now.

Publication – Forbes Africa Magazine

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