Born to a minister and his wife in a small town in South Africa under the apartheid regime, Max Mabuti had a rough start. One night, masked terrorists burst into their home and beat his mother and father, crushed his grandfather’s skull with a baseball bat, and raped his older sister. Max became a hot-headed, angry child. To relieve his anger, he joined a boxing gym, where he learned discipline and the art of boxing – skills that would carry him to success in life.

Fast-forward to today, and Max is a successful entrepreneur and owner of the award winning Flat-Foot Engineering, a leading South African company that employs next-generation technology to supply, install, and repair boilers and steam lines, laundry and kitchen equipment, air conditioning and refrigeration equiplment, as well as autoclaves and backup power generators. Max built his company based on the principles he learned in boxing, and in this book, he shares those secrets with other budding entrepreneurs.

Rolling with the Punches: One Man’s Powerful Journey from Boxer to Book Author

Review by The Book Professor

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Chapter 1

I was born in a small town in what used to be called the Republic of Transkei. Back then, it was an unrecognized state in the southeastern region of South Africa. We were a family of six children: my three sisters, my two brothers, and me.
My father was a reverend who ministered to farms around East London on the southeast coast that bordered the Indian Ocean. We lived in a mission house on a farm in Silverdale, about twenty- four kilometers from East London, which was surrounded by forests and isolated from the public.

In 1980, when I was about five years old, I remember my mother giving me a hard slap on my head. “Why are you talking about that terrorist?” she asked. “Do you want us to get arrested?” I was stunned. What had I done wrong? I had only said, “Viva Mandela!” as I imitated two men who had walked past the farm in their camouflage uniforms. At that age, I knew nothing about politics, but I later learned that these men were the liberation soldiers of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress that was founded by Nelson Mandela. Their mission was to fight against the South African government to gain greater rights for black people like us. That’s why they were considered a terrorist organization; apartheid had not yet realized its death. No wonder my mother was afraid.

My grandmother, Nina Boetie, as we called her, was my best friend. She was everything to me, but I thought it strange that she couldn’t communicate with my mother, her own daughter. They didn’t speak the same language. Nina Boetie spoke Afrikaans. My mother had also spoken that language at one time, but when she was twelve years old, she was sent to the Republic of Transkei to live with her father’s family. Her father believed that if she grew up in Cape Town, where they lived, she would learn bad habits, so he sent my mother and her two sisters to their grandparents’ home in Transkei.

In Transkei, the people spoke fluent Xhosa, not Afrikaans, so my mother forgot how to speak her native language. In 1979, she reunited with her mother and father, and we all lived in the huge farmhouse together.

One Friday afternoon, my brother and I were waiting outside for our father to return home from East London. My little sister, Thantaswa, was still a baby at the time. Finally, our grandmother called to us as the sun was setting.
“Mabhisi!” she shouted; she could not pronounce my older brother’s name, which was Mcebisi.

“Kom hier na toe, is laat nou, kom binne by die huis,” she said in Afrikaans. “Come here, it’s late. Come inside the house.” We quietly went back inside, disappointed that we couldn’t wait at the gate for our father. When he eventually returned, it was late. He came to our room as usual and gave us some treats, which we gobbled up right away. Around 9:00 p.m., we all went to bed and fell asleep.

About an hour later, we heard a big crash from the window in the dining room. My father woke up and shouted, “What is that?” He got up to look around. “Who is there?” he asked in a low voice.

My father was a very fit fellow who was well-practised in karate, so we all felt protected. But within seconds, he was flat on the floor, knocked down by a brick that had been hurled through the window and hit him in the back of his head.
My mother came flying out of the bedroom to try to protect my father, but five black men were already inside the house. Taking stock of the situation, she quickly pushed all five of us children underneath our bed and told us to hide.

We watched and listened while they beat my mother and my father so badly that I thought they were dead. My seventy-year-old grandfather also tried to fight the brutes, but he was frail, and there was nothing much he could do. Mocking him, one of the monsters raised a baseball bat, aimed at my grandfather’s head, and swung hard to crush his skull.

With my mother and father lying in a pool of blood and my grandfather left on the floor to die, the unscrupulous animals took everything in our house—including my older sister Gladys. She wasn’t gone long. They raped her, then brought her back to us.

Finally, my mother regained consciousness. I’ll never know how she survived the gash in her head from being beaten with an axe. Wounded as she was, she somehow managed to get up and walk approximately ten kilometers to get help.
Because we lived so far away from other people, it took a long time for help to arrive. Four hours later, the police and ambulances arrived. My grandfather was declared dead at the scene, and they took my mother, father, and sister to a public hospital in East London. My father was so badly hurt that they had to install a metal plate in his head. While in the hospital, they discovered that my mother was pregnant with my little brother Timothy. It was a miracle that she didn’t miscarry.
After that, life was never the same for us—certainly not for me. I was tortured by venomous anger towards these criminals, and I wanted revenge.


In 1983, my father decided to relocate us to a village called Nxaruni, East London. That’s where I started my primary education. I was a hot-headed, angry child, and I knew I needed to find a way to redirect my anger. So, I started going to a boxing gym to train to become a boxer. I wasn’t too happy to discover that the first thing I’d have to learn in boxing was discipline rather than beating people.

One Monday afternoon, tired from school, my hand trembled as I reached for the doorknob. It was locked. My trainer had warned me not to arrive late at the gym. He never wanted us to miss any part of his teachings and training. Yes, that day I was late, and I knew I was wrong, but nevertheless, I decided to go anyway because I was a disciplined boxer.

“You are late,” he said as I entered the building, “but it’s better to be late than never.” For my transgression, my trainer ordered me to do ten press-ups as punishment.

Boxing framed my life, and my boxing training continues to play a profound role in my life. In boxing, discipline is key. You must respect your trainer, you have to respect your club- mates, and, perhaps most importantly, you have to respect your body. It was good to learn this early in life, and it came in very handy later in business, as I respected my mentor, I respected my team, and I respected my business. What I learned in boxing became my framework for life. 

After losing my grandfather in the brutal attack, my grandmother was exceedingly lonely, and she decided to go back home to where she was born. She lived there for a few years with her sister and eventually passed on. I, on the other hand, became a boxer because I wanted to learn survival skills and how to beat people—not only physically but also psychologically.


Early on a Friday morning in 1994, the day I was writing my final matric paper at my respected school, I heard a knock on my door.

“Who is it?” I asked, exhausted from studying late the previous night. It was my father. He’d brought me some water to wash myself for school, knowing that I would soon be writing my last exam.

“Here, take the water to bathe yourself,” he said. “I woke up early this morning to prepare it for you.”

“Thank you, Father,” I responded with a smile, grateful for the time he’d saved me.

“Remember, life is about helping others,” he said.

I appreciated this gift. In our rural area, we had no electricity and no indoor bathrooms or toilets. To prepare warm water to bathe in, you had to go outside and make a fire. Then you had to fetch the water, pour it into the big pot we had for just this purpose, and wait until it was warm. Only then could you pour the water into the basin to wash yourself. My father had gotten up early to do all of that for me.

After we finished writing our last exam, my friends and I went out to barbeque some meat in celebration. We stayed out with some other friends until 9:00 p.m. when I decided to go home. It was pitch black outside; the villages had no streetlights. Whilst walking in the dark, I saw my little brother Timothy running toward me.

“What’s wrong?” I asked him.
“It’s our father,” he answered, crying.
I didn’t ask any questions and ran straight to the house,

where I found my mother crying. Quietly, I went to the bedroom. My father was lying stone-still in his bed. I took one look at him and knew he had passed. I closed his eyes and broke down in grief-stricken sobs. I couldn’t believe he was gone. The man I looked up to was no more.

Now I had to be strong for my family and plan my future.

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