Biographies of Famous South Africans
Special South Africans

 

Those who have inspired us. Those who have defined us.
Those who have shown us our common humanity.

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Precious McKenzie
Weightlifter
1936 - ?

Research material kindly provided by Chris DixonPrecious Mckenzie

South Africa has a hero who remains unsung in his country of birth. Precious Mckenzie had to overcome numerous trials during his lifetime to become the sportsman who some herald as one of the all-time greats. Despite enduring incredible hardships, he is known by all who cross his path as an endearing person, for his humble dignity and lack of bitterness. The diminutive weightlifter continues to be an inspiring role-model, years after his retirement.

Precious Mckenzie was born in the Red Cross Hospital, Durban, in 1936. At the age of three he was hospitalised with complications due to fever, and his remaining chest condition was pronounced incurable. His mother Christina celebrated his survival by baptizing him Precious One. The same year another tragedy traumatized the McKenzie family when father and breadwinner Joseph was killed by a crocodile in the Limpopo river. As a result his mother started to drink heavily, soon having to give up her children for foster care. Precious and his sister then became victims of witch-like foster mothers and suffered such injuries and malnutrition as to stunt their physical growth - both grew no taller than 4ft10”. Of his mother Precious says: 

“She was a woman who treated us so badly, she was the real devil…but my sister and I have forgiven her. No matter who it is, you have to forgive eventually.”

Precious MckenziePrecious’s athletic ability was first recognised at age 11 in Pofadder, at a Catholic mission where a Father Franklin encouraged and trained him in gymnastics. He returned to his mother in Pietermaritzburg at age 17 and worked in a local shoe factory, soon proving to be a stand-out employee and popular co-worker. But Precious’ ambition was to work in a circus. He laboured at this dream in Steve’s Gym, working out at 5:30 every morning, but the dream was thwarted when he had to hear from the travelling circus that his skin colour was wrong. Fortunately Kevin Stent, Precious Mckenzie and Mohammed Ali trainer and coach at Steve’s Gym, encouraged him to try weightlifting and he took to the sport with a natural flair that rapidly brought him accolades – in 1958 he won the Natal Bantamweight weightlifting-title. However, he was not selected for the Empire Games the same year because of his skin colour, and again in 1960, when an all-white team was sent to the Rome Olympics. By then he was regarded as South Africa’s best weightlifter, but was not granted full Springbok colours. When he was finally chosen for international competition in 1963, he boldly refused to join the team, as it became clear that he would have to travel separate from his team-mates, again a pariah and an outcast. Precious Mckenzie

Precious decided to emigrate to England in the hope of finding better non-discriminatory opportunities. By this time he had married Elisabeth, a local coloured girl, and had fathered two girls, Vanessa and Sandra. He left for Northampton ahead of them, only to be confronted with the news that he’d have to reside and work in the country for five years before he could compete for England. Alone and disillusioned, he started to doubt his decision, but when his Precious Mckenzie with MBE family joined him Elisabeth encouraged him stick it out – better times are bound to follow. This did not happen overnight though, and for a long time his family lived in a tiny, one-roomed flat while he worked in a factory. 

Precious continued training and competing. Records kept tumbling, and soon his success attracted national interest. In 1966 Minister of Sport Denis Howell fast-tracked his citizenship and two years later Precious represented England in the Commonwealth Games in Jamaica; promptly winning a gold medal in the Bantamweight division. With his spectacular entry into international competition he found the recognition that was absent for so long, and he continued a career filled with numerous prestigious medals and glowing accolades. He was awarded the MBE in 1974 by Queen Elizabeth II.

Precious and his family currently live in Auckland, New Zealand. When he is not lifting or competing, he travels internationally to lecture on correct lifting techniques and the prevention of back injuries in the workplace.

“In many SA sports, you still hear people complaining about colour, but they are dreamers. All you can do is prove yourself and not make any excuses. Finally, everything will come right.” 

His country of birth has now set in motion plans to honour his life: the production of a biographical movie, simply named ‘Precious’. May it do justice to this great sportsman.

PRECIOUS MCKENZIE – ACHIEVEMENTS:

South Africa:
1957 Wins first title "Mr. West End" - Pietermaritzburg Weightlifting Championships
Wins Natal Weightlifting Championships, Durban
1958 Retains Natal Weightlifting Championships, Durban
Wins SA Nationals, East London - his first National title 
1959 Retains Natal Weightlifting Championship, Durban - sets new records
Retains SA National title, Port Elizabeth - sets new records 
1960 Smashes records at non-racial "shadow” Olympic trials
Wins Western Province Championship
Double title: Sportsman of the Year and Weightlifter of the Year 
1961 Retains Both South African National title & Western Province title (breaks records) 
1962 Retains Both South African National title & Western Province title
1963 Retains Both South African National title & Western Province title
Selected as first ever coloured Springbok for World Championships, Sweden - refuses conditions
1964 Retains Both South African National title & Western Province title
Gold Medals:
1966 Commonwealth Games, Kingston – Bantamweight weightlifting  
1970 Commonwealth Games, Edinburgh – Bantamweight weightlifting
1974 Commonwealth Games, Christchurch – Flyweight weightlifting
1978 Commonwealth Games, Edmonton – Bantamweight weightlifting
Olympics Contender for Great Britain:
1968 Mexico
1972 Munich
1976 Montreal 
Winner:
9 times British weightlifting champion 
10 times British powerlifting champion 
5 times World powerlifting champion 
8 times World Masters powerlifting records (inc 1999 – 2002) 
current World Masters powerlifting champion 
Elected to the World Hall of Fame for Powerlifting, Texas, USA
Awarded the MBE in 1974 by Queen Elizabeth II

Gallery:

Contact Precious McKenzie:
E-mail: preciousmckenzie@xtra.co.nz 


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