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Rolling with the punches

Südafrika Boxende Omas – 77 year-old Gladys Ngwenya (L) winces as she chews on a piece of ginger before a “Boxing Gogos” (Grannies) session hosted by the A Team Gym in Cosmo City in Johannesburg on September 19, 2017.

South Africa is a country riddled with crime and corruption, negative press reports and many of the issues that tend to plague developing countries. But there is also another side to the coin, one that sheds light on the hope and courage of its people who get up each morning and attempt to make a difference on the lives of people who surround them. Former bodybuilder and fitness instructor Claude Maphosa pulls no punches when it comes to uplifting his community.

This inspiring fitness trainer started a gym called the A-TEAM in Johannesburg’s Cosmo City in an effort to give young men a sense of purpose and encouraging them to stay off the streets, away from the temptations of drugs and crime. In 2000, he won the Masakani Community Builder Award for making a difference to his community. But his gym hasn’t only attracted young men, but also a bevy of fine elderly women who frequent the gym twice a week to stay fit through boxing.

One granny, Constance Ngubane, 79, says it makes her feel younger. Josephina Ramathlo said that when she started at the gym she had asthma, but since training she no longer needs her medication and doesn’t get sick anymore. Lyda Letswalo says her high blood pressure is gone and she is happy and healthy and doesn’t need her pills. Claude says that they used to suffer from all kinds of ailments, which they no longer have. They are aging but not disintegrating.

Meet Gogo Zodwa (Gogo is Zulu for grandmother), a tiny lady with smiling eyes and a fiery attitude. She’s been coming to the gym for two years now.

74 year-old Zodwa Thwala (FRONT) spars with trainer Nqobile Khumalo as she takes part in a “Boxing Gogos” (Grannies) training session hosted by the A Team Gym in Cosmo City in Johannesburg on September 19, 2017.

“Boxing is my favorite…I can just punch and punch for hours! At night if my husband rolls over, I punch him by mistake,” she laughs a most delightful laugh.”I sleep so well after exercising at the gym! I worked at an old age home for 23 years. Looking after old people, making their beds, making their tea, feeding them… Old people have a lot of wisdom. I loved working there and now I am old myself.”

Her advice to young people: “I would tell them to listen to their elders and parents. Yyoung people have so little respect nowadays. When I was young… Yoh, my mom was strict! She would take no nonsense from us and I am thankful for that!”

Gogo Zodwa’s long-time dream had always been to go to Durban to see the beach, since she had only ever heard of it. Thanks to social media and public support, Gogo had her wish granted. She was also give a new bed and a TV.

Gladys Ngwenya of The “Boxing Gogos” (Grannies) is pictured sparring with a trainer during a session hosted by the A Team Gym in Cosmo City in Johannesburg on September 19, 2017.

I asked Claude about the media attention he had received since he started to train elderly women. He said that he had been overwhelmed by the worldwide coverage of the ‘boxing gogos.’ who have hit the headlines and social media platforms in Sweden, China, France and the US, to name but a few. Claude hopes that this will help him create awareness and raise funds to buy equipment and improve outreach in the community.

(Side note: While writing this article, I was putting off going to gym; during the course of research, I was so inspired that I took a break for an hour and finally went to the gym for the first time in a year.) 

If you wish to help, or encourage Claude, get in touch with him at and


Author: Sarona Wolter

Editor: Anne Thomas




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20.11.2017 | 15:23