From Munyaradzi Musiiwa in GWERU
BEING in the Guinness Book of Records for good reasons comes with a great achievement and astute acumen in any discipline or trade. Langton “Schoolboy” Tinago, the lion-hearted man, is one of Zimbabwe’s unsung sporting heroes who defied all odds to become the only three-time Commonwealth boxing champion — winning two lightweight crowns and a super-featherweight — earning himself a place in the Guinness Book of Records.
At Independence in 1980, Tinago, who was 31 then, won his first Club lightweight title when he beat Nigeria’s Hogan Jimoh in his own backyard in Lagos and went on to win the super-featherweight title in 1983 with a unanimous points victory, halting yet another Nigerian Safiu Oke Badan at the City Sports Centre in Harare.
“Gazi”, as Tinago is fondly known in Gweru, went on to beat Australia’s Graeme Brooke in Manchester in 1986 to become the Commonwealth lightweight champion.
Tinago believes he could have achieved more had it not been for the economic sanctions imposed on the then Rhodesia by Britain during the UDI era.
“I started boxing in 1967 and back then I was a teenager. In 1987 I defeated Herald Vabrect, who was world’s Number Seven and the following year I beat Nkosana Happyboy in East London, South Africa.
“Back then, we were not being recognised internationally and my victories were just mere personal glory,” he said.
Tinago revealed the secret to all his achievements as hard training and determination, a dexterity that contemporary local boxers lack.
“When I was still boxing I used to run about 100km. Sometimes I would go to Norton from Harare back and forth running. While I was in Gweru, I used to run up to Shangani, which is about 86km away, and sometimes Lalapanzi.
“I would hit the punch bag three hours nonstop. Even right now, I can do up to 2000 push-ups. I do not see that in our young boxers who are fighting these days. They quickly give up,” he said.
Tinago said his mother, Ever Pombi, was his biggest fan and never missed a match ever since he became a professional boxer.
“Some people started speculating that my mother was my spiritual consultant and would use ‘juju’ to ensure I win. This was because she never missed any of my matches. She was very supportive and proud of what I was doing.”
Tinago’s achievements did not go unnoticed as he was awarded the best boxer of the century by the Zimbabwe Boxing Board of Control, an accolade which, however, did not come with any prize money.
But was this really good enough for the Gweru-born boxer, who did not only cultivate personal glory, but rather became the pride of the entire nation?
The three-time Commonwealth champion and the country’s unsung sportsperson of the century’s legacy and achievements seem to have gone down the drain as little-to-nothing has been done to promote boxing in the country and pursue his legacy.
His life is not that of once the country’s much venerated boxer who fought his way to becoming a national legend.
He still lives in one of Gweru’s oldest high density suburbs — Ascot — and surviving on handouts from his family and relatives.
Like any other retired professional boxer, Tinago has had some serious health complications that have seen his eyesight deteriorating as well as developing Osteoarthritis, which is caused by poor lubrication of the joins and now has difficulties in walking.
Tinago said his efforts to pass on the legacy to either his children or other Gweru youngsters were all in vain due to stringent conditions put in place by the Boxing Board of Control.
“When we used to box, we used to fight at least once a month and we would get sponsorship from big companies because back then the Government would exempt them from paying tax or deduct a certain amount from their taxes if they promoted sports. We used to have Victoria Foods and National Foods here in Gweru sponsoring boxing.
“Today if you approach a promoter and enter into an agreement, they end up either backtracking or withdrawing after looking at the requirements of the Boxing Board of Control.
“One must have a boxing fee and tournament fee to cater for medical examinations for the boxers and also meet the expenses of the boxers’ purse while they are developing before becoming professional fighters.
“One can fork out about US$20 000 in all these expenses and no one wants to lose their money without gaining something. We appeal to the Boxing Board of Control to lower their fees so that they attract sponsors,” he said.
Tinago also bemoaned lack of sponsorship as contributing to the deterioration of the sport in the country. He said promoters were now shunning boxing.
“We look at people like Charles Manyuchi, who has decided to go and be based in Zambia because of lack of seriousness as far as promoting the sport is concerned (here in Zimbabwe). Zambia is benefiting from him when it was Zimbabwe that could have been doing so,” he said.
Tinago is running a boxing academy in Gweru at Mtapa Hall and is grooming his son Brilliant “Schoolboy” Tinago (21) who is a former youth games boxing champion.
Tinago, now 65, also trained Commonwealth champion Alfonso Zvenyika since he was a boy before he became a professional boxer.
Tinago’s younger brother Patrick Pombi said the former Commonwealth champion was now an ordinary man.
“As you can see he is so passionate about boxing and is grooming youngsters in Gweru. The biggest challenge is that he is not working. His son, who is a haulage truck driver, is the one who is supporting him financially and he is also a pensioner of the City Council.
“Most of the time he will be at home,” he said.