“You only have yourself.” A near-death experience fuelled me to fight back

 
 
 

It’s a risk to be a woman. Mookeletsi Manyathela was walking home from work with a friend when three men surrounded her. One of the attackers held a cold blade to her throat, while the others ran off with her belongings. Manyathela kept her life, but the horror stayed with her. “The near-death experience made me realise how important it is for us as women to fight for ourselves,” Manyathela says. She had no intention of living in fear. The next time someone tried this, Manyathela vowed to be ready.

Deciding to fight back, she began martial arts classes. But boxing struck her heart. What started as Manyathela’s efforts at self-defence blossomed into an amateur boxing career. “When I’m in the ring, I get a sense of empowerment,” she says. It wasn’t easy at first. Surrounded by bloody noses and dripping sweat, her counterparts considered the gym the domain of men. “I felt I didn’t fit in because men thought I couldn’t punch as hard,” Manyathela says. “I’m here to prove them wrong.” She already has multiple tournament titles under her belt, leaving no doubts of her ability. “They know how strong I am, and can be,” Manyathela says.

Today, she displays abundant courage and confidence. Manyathela doesn’t need to depend on anyone for safety. “When you’re in trouble, you only have yourself,” she says. Manyathela’s strength has grown outside of the boxing ring, and she’s using it to motivate other women. “We underestimate the power we all have within us,” she says. “But you’ve got an uppercut hidden up your sleeves.” While not everyone may be landing punches as hard as Manyathela, her resilience mirrors the strength South Africa’s women embody every day.