You can hit me. I’ll smile in your face


“When I was young, I thought I would do music. A bit of jazz, a bit of rap, hip-hop. That was me.” Emile Kalekuzi doesn’t look like a fighter – his face isn’t squashed, his nose hasn’t been broken out of shape. He has a gentle voice, sounds calm when he speaks – almost shy. But the young boxer is one of South Africa’s rising stars, a budding professional fighter who has yet to lose.

Kalekuzi comes from a family of fighters. His father, Commando Kalekuzi, was an African heavyweight champion. His uncle, Allen Chizungu, runs Maxim Kids, a boxing academy that teaches disadvantaged kids how to fight. Originally from the Congo, Commando settled in Cape Town and raised Emile here, turning from father to coach when his son’s interests diverged from basketball and music towards boxing at the age of nine. Pugilism is a Kalekuzi family tradition, a part of Emile’s identity as fixed as his name.

Emile has never lost a fight. As an amateur he went 45-0; as a professional he has fought five times and has never lost, while still in school. And still he wants more. “I’m doing it to be the world champion,” he says. When your father is a continental champion, that’s the only way to go one better.