Mandela – The Shadow Boxer
May 29, 2014

There are various artistic representations of Joburg’s greatest son, Nelson Mandela, throughout the city – from the regal Nelson Mandela Bridge connecting Braamfontein and the CBD, to the gigantic bronze sculpture in  Sandton’s Nelson Mandela Square that tourists line up to take pics in front of.

My favourites are the interpretations of  The Shadow Boxer image based on the original photograph by Bob Gosani depicting a younger Mandela is sparring on a Joburg rooftop. Boxing was the favourite sport of Mandela’s – he trained as an amateur boxer in the 1950s, but did not participate in competitive fights.

Mandela Mural Maboneg Shadow Boxer


“I did not enjoy the violence of boxing so much as the science of it.  I was intrigued by how one moved one’s body to protect oneself, how one used a strategy both to attack and retreat, how one paced oneself over a match. Boxing is egalitarian. In the ring, rank, age, colour and wealth are irrelevant.  When you are circling your opponent, probing his strengths and weaknesses, you are not thinking of his colour or social status,”  – Mandela

The Shadow Boxer Mural

On the first leg of our #MeetSouthAfrica blog trip, we went walking around inner city Jozi, where I was happy to show my blogger friends one of my favourite pieces of street art in Jozi – the 40 metre tall Mandela Shadow Boxer mural in Maboneng (image above).

The mural is painted by artist Ricky Lee Gordon, and was commissioned by the Maboneng precinct as a gift to the city in honour of Madiba’s legacy.  According to the artist, the mural is close to and faces the direction in which the original photograph was taken. The text at the foot of the mural reads ‘I am because we are’ inspired  by the the definition of Ubuntu, the philosophy of humanity that Madiba and Southern Africans subsribe to.

It can be seen driving on the M2 highway going east as well as on Joe Slovo Drive, peeking over the shorter buildings. To get a close-up of the mural is head to the corner of Staib Street and Beacon Road just east of the Johannesburg CBD. The ten story high Shadow Boxer is so large that unless you look up when you turn the corner you will probably walk right past it.

Check out this interview with the artist, Ricky Lee Gordon (aka Freddy Sam) on painting the mural. It was painted in 4 days, just after Madiba’s passing.


The Shadow Boxer Statue at Chancellor House

Opposite Chancellor House – the original attorney’s offices of Mandela & Tambo in Fox street – is another interpretation of Gosani’s famous Shadow Boxer picture, this time by artist Marco Cianfanelli.

The impressive 6-metre tall painted steel statue was commissioned by the Joburg Development Agency (JDA). An awesome feature of the sculpture is that its unique lighting allows the sculpture to cast a shadow onto the court building behind it.

 Chancellor house

The iconic Shadow Boxer statue is located at 25 Fox Street standing guard over the Chancellor House Museum and stands  the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court – symbolising Mandela flighting for our human rights as South Africans. Chancellor House – once an derelict building – has been renovated and  is a now a national heritage site where visitors can experience an outdoor museum with historical information displayed on public facing windows. It’s well worth a visit.

Want to learn more about Mandela’s Joburg? I highly recommend the Mandela’s Joburg tour by Past Experiences. 


The #MeetSouthAfrica campaign is brought to you South Africa Tourism and is supported by iambassador. Mzansigirl maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site.




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Meruschka Govender

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There are 11 comments

  • Really loved discovering this mural. I would have never known how to find it up close without someone showing us.

    • mzansigirl says:

      Thanks Matthew. Joburg is not an easy city to navigate as a tourists. Glad I could share some of my local knowledge!

  • Dave Cole says:

    I can’t believe that mural was painted in four days! A very nice tribute to Madiba. Thanks for sharing this, I never knew of his boxing past.

  • This is such a great tribute. My boyfriend was born in South Africa, so I look forward to visiting one day!

  • […] I opted to put a black and white edit on this image just because the light was so terrible on the day I went, against the tan of the bricks, the grey tones of the mural really stand and it’s worth making the trip into town to see this. The surrounding streets are also filled with street art and are constantly changing. For more detail on this mural, check out this comprehensive posts by Mzansi Girl here. […]

  • Adin Walls says:

    Ricky Lee Gordon’s mural is quite incredible. I’m a born and bred Cape Tonian, but the energy of Johannesburg is unbeatable. Love it!

  • Great and interesting article, Meruschka

  • […] http://www.mzansigirl.com/shadow-boxer-mandela Madiba, I let you go 10 of the most interesting things Nelson Mandela ever said – Washington […]

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