When she is not running her salon, Promise Moyo is scouting boxing talent. Three years ago, she became South Africa’s second female boxing promoter, a decade after Mbali Zantsi broke the high entry barriers of this patriarchal sport.
In the tiny dining room of a dimly-lit home in Alexandra, Johannesburg’s oldest township, the only child of Davidson Moyo would sit transfixed on her father’s lap, usually in the wee hours of the morning, watching grainy images of boxing matches on the family’s small television screen. Those were the moments when the father, a big fan of the sport, and his daughter, Promise Moyo, bonded most.
“People said I should have been a boy because I was with my dad every time and everywhere,” says Promise, who is today one of two female boxing promoters in South Africa.
“But obviously at that age, I never thought I would work in boxing. Funny enough, when I was older and working, I would rather watch a boxing match than go out partying. I would go just about everywhere for boxing, be it Carousel [a hotel] or Carnival City [a casino]. It has been always like that.”
Promise does not fit the popular – and rather unfair – perception of a woman in boxing. For this feature’s photoshoot, she showed up in an elegant silk black blouse with matching pants and stilettos. On her left arm, she sports a small tattoo of a rose. Her immaculate red painted nails matched the color of her lips.
Promise’s other avatar is as an entrepreneur running a beauty parlor, the KP Salon in Wynberg, an industrial area north of Johannesburg. There is more to her career graph.
Prior to turning both boxing promoter and salon entrepreneur, Promise worked as a civil servant for 15 years for the City of Johannesburg, starting as a reception clerk and working her way up to become deputy director. In April 2012, three months before her employment was to be reviewed – she had no doubt her five-year contract would be extended owing to her success at work – Promise injured her back, falling down the stairs at her workplace.
The accident resulted in her being hospitalized for a week, and she had to take a month off work. While Promise was recovering at home with only two weeks left to resume work, her employers served her with a letter telling her, to her shock, they were not renewing her contract.
Promise was shattered and depressed; she couldn’t look for another job for months as a result. The only silver lining was that a few days before she had received the disheartening news, the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, where she was studying for a post-graduate degree in private management finance, informed her she had passed the course.
Fortunately, during her tenure with the City of Johannesburg, Promise had also opened her salon. It was when she lost her permanent government job that she decided to fall back on her childhood passion – boxing.
“My dad played a major role in influencing and encouraging my interest in boxing,” says Promise.
But it took years and several bouts of disappointment to realize her dream.
“I didn’t know I would end up in boxing. All I knew is I loved the sport passionately, I would be going up and down to fights. But if you were to ask me anything about boxing, I was on point, I knew what was happening where and how many knockouts a certain boxer had. Being a young woman, people just couldn’t understand ‘why boxing’. Some raised concerns that I would turn out a violent person. That’s a lack of understanding. Boxing is a gentleman’s sport. If you are a boxer, you are the most disciplined athlete. Those are the things we need to continuously educate the people [about],” says Promise.
Promise spent months researching boxing promotion and by the end of 2012 was registered with Boxing South Africa. This was entering a terrain with few women officials, except for referees. Mbali Zantsi, South Africa’s first female boxing promoter, was licenced in 2003, two years after women’s boxing was officially established. In 2011, Ntambi Ravele was appointed chairperson of Boxing South Africa. She replaced a former Minister of Sports, Ngconde Balfour.
A future for women in boxing seemed impossible but Promise held her own.
“My family tried to persuade me to reconsider my decision and look for other business opportunities. They reminded me I have the necessary qualifications and experience to work at any municipality in the country. But it was only my pastor who understood and encouraged me to pursue my dream.”
It was a long and arduous journey for Promise as she faced umpteen rejections from potential funders.
“There were times where I would put up a proposal and a person would look at it and say ‘this looks good but I don’t think boxing is something I can fund’. Quite a few people turned me down. They would say to me I could choose anything else but not boxing. They thought I was wasting my time because no one would take me seriously with my boxing project. They would ask why not [start a] catering business.”
By January 2013, Promise had registered her company Skylon Promotions which signed a veteran boxer and former South African WBA and international WBC junior lightweight champion, Phillip Ndou, as its first boxer. Ndou, in his zenith, had fought and lost to Floyd Mayweather, a recently-retired world champion with a record 49 undefeated fights.
“When my licence was due to be issued, I went to see Phillip Ndou in his gym in Hillbrow and there were many others I approached. I think that was a wise thing to do because I heard boxers’ issues, their limitations, their frustrations. Those were good boxers with good records but they were not happy,” says Promise.
When Promise met Ndou, he had not fought for almost two years, but in six months, he fought against Pius Dipheko, a South African. Ndou won with a knock out.
On August 9, Women’s Day in South Africa, Skylon Promotions hosted an international event at Thohoyandou, in Limpopo province. This was a homecoming for Ndou who had never fought in front of his community since turning professional in 1996. Ndou fought a young Tanzanian, Ramadhani Shauri, and won by knock out.
Margaret Nemukula, Ndou’s mother, was there to see her son fighting for the first time at home.
“Here is the man with forty fights but he never fought in front of his people. His mother couldn’t believe it was really happening since there had been many speculations that Phillip is fighting at home but those ended up in disappointments,” says Promise.
She did not only realize Ndou had similar traits to hers, Ndou was among her favorite boxers in the early 1990s. Ndou, aged 38, is the only man standing among those pugilists.
“Despite his tribulations, Phillip was at the gym for over a year without fail and yet there were no fights forthcoming. I knew he was the perfect dream team partner.”
A week after the fight in Thohoyandou, Shauri became a Skylon Promotions signee and was due to have his first overseas fight in October in the United States. Lulu Kayage, a Tanzanian female boxer, is also with Skylon Promotions. Mimi Bwanamoya of the Congo who lives in South Africa, is the recent woman signee in the stable.
The sport around the world is administered by men of questionable ethics, but Promise says she wants to keep her business clean.
“Bwanamoya recently approached me, but I had to check if she’s clear from any contractual agreement with another manager. I don’t want to step onto people’s toes, I am for clean business. Also being a woman I have to lead by example, I have to give opportunities to sportswomen.”
Petite Promise is a 21st century African woman who knows her place is not limited to the salon; she’s the one calling the shots in a boxing ring.