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Wainstein: champion pugilist and gentleman

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JACK MILNER

The only Jewish South African to win a medal at the Olympic Games – a bronze for Barney Isaacs in 1928 – was in boxing. As time has gone by there are fewer South African Jewish professional boxers but in the 1970s there were some around and one of them was Morris Wainstein.

Morris was born in 1950 and had his first professional fight in November 1970 in a career that lasted eight years, almost to the day.

Sadly, Morris died tragically in a road accident in Walkerville south of Johannesburg in July this year. 

The oldest of five brothers Morris grew up in the south of Johannesburg and soon realised he and his brothers had to find ways of defending themselves. He fought as an amateur and fought for Booysens Boxing. As an amateur, fighting in the featherweight division, he became Southern Transvaal, then Transvaal and then South African amateur champion.

“Our father, Maish, was friendly with Alan Toweel and he liked what he saw in Morris. He also needed a fighter to spar with some of his other boxers,” explained Morris’ brother, Larry.

As a manager-trainer, Alan Toweel guided the career of his younger brother Willie, who at the time was a world-rated fighter, as well as top level performers such as Pierre Fourie and Pierre Coetzer. He also held the reins for Mike “The Tank” Schutte, Kokkie Olivier, Louie Fourie, Kosie Smith and Sydney Bensch.,

Morris made his professional debut against Edmund Butler on November 14, 1970 at the Ellis Park Tennis Stadium in Johannesburg, winning on points over four rounds.

Rather bizarrely this talented fighter only won one of his next seven fights, with four of his losses coming against Butler.

However, after this poor start to his career, he picked up the pace and won 11 of his next 14 fights over the next two years, which included wins over Mike Buttle and imports Eric Elderfield (England), Giuseppe Fascella (Italy), Claude Lapinte (France), Lucio Vailati (Italy) and John Mitchell (Scotland).

In May 1975 he outpointed the capable John Kellie of Scotland at the City Hall in Durban and then was out of action due to an injury to his back until October 3, 1977, when he returned to outpoint Johan Burger at the Wembley Indoor Arena.

“As a boxer Morris gave everything he had,” said Larry. “It’s a tough job and when you’re in the ring you’re there on your own.

“I remember one fight against Hansie van Rooyen. They put up such a courageous fight that by the end the boxing fans were throwing money into the ring. He was a very dedicated fighter.”

Morris had many sparring sessions over the years with Louis Fourie, the former Transvaal junior middleweight champion who suffered only two losses in 17 fights. Fourie was an outstanding prospect at the time and scored victories over South African champions Coenie Bekker and Bushy Bekker.

Fourie said that Morris was one of his best friends and that he enjoyed sparring with the “chunky Wainstein” because it helped him with his speed.

Boxing promoter and former fighter Jeff Ellis of African Ring said he had wonderful memories of Morris, going back to when they trained as young boys at Willie Toweel’s gym in Mayfair in Johannesburg.

At the time there was no interracial boxing formally permitted in South Africa but Morris still managed to have fights against black fighters. He beat Ephraim Mathenjwa on points in 1978 and was on a winning streak that saw him undefeated in seven fights. In November 1978 Morris fought Hansie van Rooyen for the Transvaal featherweight title, which he won. It was to be his last fight.

He got injured at work. Morris was a printer and he leaned back on a table which gave way, and he fell through it. “It cut him badly, right into his back,” recalled Larry. “The wounds took a while to heal but it ended his career.”

Morris finished with a respectable record of 28 fights – 17 wins, nine losses and two draws.

Ironically, at one stage he wanted to become a jockey. “He also loved horses. He was small and wanted to try and get into the jockeys’ academy. I actually also tried and was not accepted.

“I was also looking at boxing but as time went on I started to play soccer and Morris boxing. Funny enough we were five boys but the younger they were, the bigger they were!”

Larry describes his brother as “a gentleman of note. When we used to go to a family function we were introduced to everybody as ‘Morris and his brothers’. We as his family were so proud of him.”

Morris had worked for Larry for 25 years but he still loved horses and moved to Walkerville to live with his daughter on a smallholding , because of the horses there. On the first Sunday in July this year Morris went to buy the newspapers and milk when he was struck by a car and died. Larry was on a flight back from Durban after the Durban July when the accident happened.

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