Jacob Morake was born on 8 December 1955, and grew up in Central Western Jabavu in Soweto near Johannesburg. He was 10 years old when, one bitterly cold night, his mother told him to put more coal in the stove. Disobeying her was not an option but going out into the freezing wind was not a pleasant prospect. So he picked up a can of paraffin in the kitchen and tipped it over the coals in the stove. The explosion turned the youngster into a torch, causing life-threatening burns from just under his right ear down to his chest and his right arm.
Jacob spent the next three years in Baragwanath Hospital enduring numerous skin grafts as plastic surgeons gradually repaired his scars.
To regain confidence he became an amateur boxer, modelling himself on his idol, Muhammad Ali. According to reports, he won all but one of his 42 amateur bouts. He became known as “Dancing Shoes” because of his boxing style.
In his book Dancing Shoes is Dead, author Gavin Evans wrote: “Morake was a thin man whose body looked even more vulnerable because it was terribly disfigured through the kind of childhood burning accident so common in houses reliant on open stoves and without constant childcare.”
Morake entered the professional ranks as a featherweight, making his debut on November 15, 1974 when he beat Jonas Sabela on points over four rounds. In 1975, he had four fights, losing one, winning two and fighting to a draw in the other. The next year Morake moved into the junior lightweight division and beat Quinsile Boy April, Petrus Molefe and the capable Bramley Whiteboy. He also drew a fight with Herbert Gumede, but was stopped in one round by Evans Gwiji, who later won the South African junior lightweight title.
Guy Ratazayo twice beat him on points. In 1979 “Dancing Shoes” defeated Charles Marule, Elias Tshabalala, Joshua Nhlapo and Joseph Tsotetsi in a four-win streak.
In his only fight in 1980 he lost on points over 10 rounds to Tsotetsi, but the next year proved to be the best year of his career. Showing outstanding skill and fitness, he beat Jacob Moyeye, Lazarus Mofokeng, Michael Mohlabane and Joseph Tsotsetsi in a bout for the Transvaal junior lightweight title.
He retained his title in May 1982 when he dealt Brian Mitchell the only loss of his professional career. However, in October he lost to Chris Whiteboy in a challenge for the South African junior lightweight title. Morake was well beaten on points over 12 rounds, probably because of weight problems that would haunt him later in his career.
However, he stopped Iland Matthews in the eighth round to retain his (then) Transvaal title and won on points over eight rounds against Job Sisanga, who later held the South African lightweight title.
On 8 August 1983, he met Mitchell for the second time. Mitchell retained his title on a split decision. Judge Alfred Buqwana scored it 115-114 for Morake. Granville Gorton and Chris Myburgh handed in cards of 117-111 and 118-111 respectively for Mitchell. Chip Wilson, the boxing writer for Africa Today, agreed with Buqwana's score and felt Morake should have taken the title.
Morake finished the year with a seventh-round stoppage of Paulus Pulumo in Secunda. On 3 March 1984, he challenged Mitchell for the third time, for the South African junior lightweight title, at the KwaThema Civic Centre near Springs. Things went horribly wrong for Morake. He was a shadow of the fighter who had given Mitchell a tough time in their previous fight. Mitchell dominated throughout and Morake hardly won a round.
In October, he beat Iland Matthews again; this time on points over 10 rounds.
When he was offered another crack at Mitchell's national title on the undercard of a bout between Brian Baronet and Arthur Mayisela at Sun City, he took a month's leave to ensure he would be at peak fitness after 15 months out of the ring. His father had died and his mother was ill, so as the family breadwinner, Morake could do with the cash.
His last fight was at the Sun City Superbowl on 2 November 1985. Brian Mitchell retained his South African junior lightweight with a twelfth-round technical knockout. This was the fourth meeting between the two, with Mitchell 2-1 ahead. Ranked tenth by the WBA, Mitchell had lost only once in 28 fights. He came out confidently, stalking his rival and throwing vicious lefts and rights to the head and body.
In the third round Morake was caught with an overhand right that dropped him on his face. He stumbled to his feet and moved away from an over-anxious Mitchell. The 30-year-old challenger was never really in the fight, but managed to avoid more punishment for most of the fight.
He began tiring and dropped to his knee after a barrage of punches in the eleventh round. Getting up, Morake used all his ring craft and experience to stay avoid Mitchell.
Mitchell soon dropped Morake with a number of blows to the head in the final round. Courageously, Morake rose to continue but a terrific right cross caught him on the jaw. His head snapped back and his neck hit the lower rope as he fell.
Morake was knocked out in the twelfth round and never regained consciousness. He died at the Eugene Marais hospital in Pretoria the next day.
Many questions were asked after the fight. Some people wanted to know why referee Wally Snowball did not stop it in the eleventh round. There was also controversy over the timekeeping, which left much to be desired.
There were rumours that Morake had battled to make weight. After an absence of 15 months from the ring, questions were asked as to why he was allowed to take on a 24-year-old fighter who was ranked in the top 10 by the WBA.
Morake’s corner-men were also criticised. When he returned to his corner at the end of the eleventh round and indicated he wanted to retire, they urged him to go out for the last round.
Arthur “The Fighting Prince” Mayisela, who died less than eleven months later, led a group of fighters in their boxing gear at Morake’s funeral, running angrily alongside the hearse from Rockville to the Avalon cemetery.
He is the only boxer who beat Brian Mitchell in a professional fight. He also took Mitchell to the limit in two subsequent South African title fights. While Mitchell went on to earn his place among the Hall of Fame elite, Morake went into the history books as one of those who died from injuries he received in the ring.
A saddened Mitchell wanted to offer support but was advised by boxing officials to stay away. Mitchell sent a message of condolence, a wreath and a picture of himself posing with Jacob after a bout that was judged the fight of the year for 1982.
Morake’s family, totally reliant on his income, was left almost destitute after his death.