Growing up in South Africa, Lovemore Ndou lived the reality of poverty and injustice. At just sixteen he was thrown in prison. Against all the odds, he became a three-time boxing world champion and then a successful lawyer, while making Australia his home.
Lovemore, congratulations on your book, it’s a great read. What’s the key message you wanted to get across?
I want people to realise that no matter how your life started, you can achieve anything. Nothing is impossible in this world when you put your heart and mind and soul into it. It doesn’t matter if you had a bad start to life, with perseverance, you can make your dream come true. I’m a dream chaser!
We can’t keep on blaming everything on apartheid. Apartheid didn’t die when South Africa became democratic; it’s a problem of the world. If you discriminate against someone because of their gender, colour or sexuality, that’s apartheid. Now we’re seeing white men in South Africa discriminated against, that’s apartheid too.
As a child, you grew up in Zimbabwe and South Africa, tell me about some of your earliest memories…
I grew up in extreme poverty. I came from a very poor family, when I say poor, I mean to the extent there were days we went to bed without a meal. A whole day would go by without food. I didn’t start school until I was nine years old, I had to walk to school in bare feet. When I was able to buy shoes I wore the same pair for school and to church.
You grew up swimming in the Limpopo River to collect fish each morning to help feed your family…
Yes. There was a time when my father was attacked and almost died, he was hit with an axe on his back, and for a while, he couldn’t do anything, he couldn’t swim or fish. I had to take on the responsibility. Someone had to catch fish for my family to survive.
Do you have many difficult memories from growing up?
My memories are shaped by the apartheid system and the atrocities committed against my family and community. All the injustice I experienced, the way we were treated as black people, I remember it all. When I was 13 I was protesting with a friend against discrimination. He was shot. He died in my arms. He was 12-years-old. Lots of kids end up shot in the legs and left crippled.
I also saw a lot of black on black violence and I was exposed to the necklace system, where a tie was put around someone’s neck if it was believed they were a traitor. They were burned. I grew up seeing things like this.
You were the second born of seven children – four sisters and two brothers. Do you have a special connection with any in particular?
I have a strong connection with all my siblings, but especially my brother Ruddock, he was a boxer too, we used to train together. We came to Australia together but he decided to go back, it wasn’t for him but he’s done well for himself.
You say that you had an anger management problem when you were younger…
I had serious anger issues that came from the environment I grew up in. I remember feeling anger, maybe around 9 or 10, when I started school. I felt angry about why I had started school late, why I couldn’t afford things. When I started school I had to work a job too; I had to go and clean some white people’s gardens or houses, so I could afford the fees and my uniform. I was angry about why black people had to be treated the way we were treated; why we were treated like savages.
I used to think you had to be angry to box but boxing is strategy, it’s like playing a game of chess. You don't think straight when you're angry
That anger didn’t help with team sports?
No! There were times I would chase another player rather than the ball! Some kids would come to me and apologise before we even started to play. I used to get thrown out every time. One time we were playing against another school, I knocked a kid out cold and they got a security guard to walk me out of the school. He said, ‘I don’t think soccer is for you, why don’t you try boxing?’ The next day, I went to training at the local copper mine where they had a gym. The first day he didn’t show us anything about boxing, it was all fitness stuff, push ups, jumping jacks. Most of the other kids walked out. I was the only one who came back the next day. The trainer wanted to see who had the stamina. I did.
You say you had to work on your anger to become a good boxer?
I used to think you had to be angry to box but boxing is strategy, it’s like playing a game of chess. You’ve got to be thinking quickly, you don’t think straight when you’re angry. Boxing changed me as a person. Growing up in South Africa, I think if it wasn’t for boxing I would either be dead or in jail. When I turned professional, you deal with a lot of cutthroats, promoters and managers who are always trying to screw you financially. You need to stay calm.
You started school aged nine and ended up with seven university degrees, how?
Growing up in South Africa, my mother taught me the value of education. She always told us, ‘power is in the pen’. People listened to Nelson Mandela because he was educated. If you want to be somebody, you need to get educated. I started school in Zimbabwe, I was given the opportunity to become educated and I didn’t stop!
You thought about journalism before law?
Yes, I thought as a journalist I could expose the corruption of promoters and managers! I wrote an essay at university, one of my lecturers said, ‘this is really good, have you thought about studying law or politics? I remembered back to being thrown in jail at 16 because a white girl had taken a liking to me. At that time, I thought I wanted to become a lawyer to fight injustice. I knew it was what I really wanted to do.
Tell me about the first time you came to Australia…
I came for a fight in 1985 and fell in love with the country. I fought a local guy but I got such a great reception, people didn’t see colour in me. It made me realise this is a beautiful country.
Now you run Lovemore Lawyers in Sydney, specialising in family law?
I went through family law proceedings myself; it was really hectic having to fight for my own children. Father’s have to fight to be in their children’s lives. There are a lot of unsubstantiated allegations, father’s denied access – that’s not in the best interest of the child.
So you transitioned from combat in the ring to confrontation in the courtroom, how do they compare?
You’ve got to believe in yourself. You don’t step into the ring and doubt yourself; you’ve got to tell yourself you’re going to win. In the same way, I fight for my clients, and when you fight hard you win cases.
Do you ever think about going back to South Africa and getting into politics?
Yes, I do. I dream of going back some day. It’s been 26 years since South Africa became democratic, still people are living in sheds, don’t have running water, children are still going to bed with empty stomachs. The corruption, the injustice, it’s so deep rooted and it can’t be ignored.
* Lovemore’s book ‘Tough Love’ tells his amazing story of a boxing world champion turned lawyer. $32.99, New Holland Publishers Australia. Buy it here.