Gilbert Munetsi Special Correspondent
AS has been the case since July 18 2010, South Africans are each year joined by the rest of the world in commemorating Nelson Mandela Day, which was set aside by the United Nations to celebrate the life and works of Madiba.
The attributes that made the character called Nelson of course go beyond the 27-year incarceration and, upon release the statesman became the first citizen of the “Rainbow Nation”.
It is a known fact that Mandela was a gifted boxer who used the sport, not only to get the better of the opponent inside the ring, but to break racial barriers as well as for psychological purposes as he once testified in some interviews: “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 about his colour or social status” (No Easy Walk to Freedom:1994).
The wholesomeness of his character may, thus, not be sufficiently summed up without paying attention to his love for boxing, and he even goes on to state: “My greatest regret in life is that I never became the heavyweight boxing champion of the world.”
So many years after his demise, thousands of tourists from across the world flock to his Soweto township home at No. 8115 Vilazi Street, Orlando West, which property has since been converted to a tourist attraction.
Besides having been a legal practitioner, Mandela was also a boxer, and it cannot be disputed that he may have used part of his earnings from the ring (purse money) to either purchase or develop the Soweto property.
Toss the coin from the heads to the tails and up north in Zimbabwe you have a similarly populous suburb in Harare named Mbare from which hails one Proud Chinembiri. So good was this sportsman in the art of fists that he earned himself the monicker “Kilimanjaro” or “Man Mountain”.
Situated in the east in Tanzania, this is no mean spectacle, which at 5 895 metres high, is Africa’s highest mountain. That is how high Chinembiri’s career path took him.
He comes close to President Nelson Mandela’s wish of the person he would have wanted to be. And, remember, we are also talking here about a man who just fell short of a favourable medical report to fight Lennox Lewis, otherwise he, too, could probably have been a world heavyweight champion.
And what makes his success story unique is that Kilimanjaro, who was also known as “Gura”, never started from the bottom-up (amateur ranks). For him, it was right there in the deep-end, like a child born walking!
“Proud was involved in a night club brawl with three gentlemen and he beat the lights out of all of them, came home and never spoke about it.
“It was when, on the next day, a friend made a follow-up to see if he was fine, and he was amazed at how healthy he looked. That is when he decided to start training, first here at home with just a punchbag and later signed with Dave Wellings, who resided in Hatfield and had seen the potential in him.
“At some stage in his life, he was contracted to GN’s Promotions, run by a Nigerian by the name Gibson Nwosu, who then was resident in Zambia. Like they say, the rest is history,” says his surviving elder brother, Punish, in an interview with The Herald at the family home at No. 80 Francis Joseph Street in Mbare’s National area.
Born on February 19, 1959, Kili’s emergence onto the boxing scene was like that of young Khama in the “Day By Day English Course Series” who stormed the Matabele warfront “like lightning in summer, and like rain out of thunder”.
His debut fight against Nsingo Black Tiger was like a stroll in the park (he was to later fight the same boxer on seven occasions and beat him in all of them), going on to add more casualties to his rich list by accounting for other local heavyweights who included King Motsi, Captain Marvel, Kidd Power Mutambisi and Sam Ringo Sithole to claim the national title.
Kili’s first 15 fights were all victories, most of them by knockout.
Then came the sojourn into the region and the world. He fought one Chimfuntwe from Zambia, Joe Kalala (Ghana), Adamah Mensah (Ghana), Gideon Makachine (Zambia), Ngozika Ekwelum (Nigeria), Mary Konate (Ivory Coast), Mark Lee, Chanet, Tom Scaff and George Chaplin (all from USA), Gobi Alon (Ivory Coast), Mike Simwelu, Hughroy Currie and Horace Notice.
Kili claimed the All-Africa heavyweight title and trophy in 1982 in an explosive bout against (Adamah) Mensa at Rufaro Stadium, and went on to defend it successfully on two occasions in Nigeria and Ivory Coast respectively. All fought within a period of eight years, his career record stands at 25 wins (15 by KO) and six losses.
With the fame came a substantial fortune and in proportion to his huge frame, the “Man Mountain” lived large. He bought his first property in the low-density suburb of Parklands, Bulawayo (which was later sold), and had a fleet of three BMW 7 series vehicles in the garage at one time.
It is said that North or West, home is always best. When hard times fell and he was taken ill, Kili at least had somewhere to trace his footsteps back to – the house at Francis Joseph Street in Mbare to which he had added four more rooms to uplift it.
The late former continental champion is survived by a daughter who is married in Australia and at home lives his brother, Punish, who at one time became the trainer and manager to Proud. Punish or “Baba vaNever” has named his 16-year-old son Proud, in remembrance of the legacy of his younger brother.
Yes, the property in Mbare’s Francis Joseph Street could be the visible spectacle on the exterior, while inside a visitor knows they have walked into the home of a former great champion from the large frame hanging on the wall and the remnants of the continental trophy on the TV stand that tells a tale of the triumphant journey travelled by the departed owner. It, however, is now without the handles.
But it doesn’t take a demographer to tell that the people who came to settle in the area later in the years and the young crop of boys and girls hardly know just who Kilimanjaro was.
Where the hell is this animal called township tourism; or is it sports tourism?
The Mandela Soweto homestead’s tourist appeal is further enhanced by its being within close proximity to the residence of clergyman Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Presidential Merit Award recipient Alfred Bunqana (who has refereed and judged many great fights including those of Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis).
It is also a stone’s throw away from the place where the uprising by the black oppressed majority of South Africa began in 1976, leading to the shooting of young men and women, one of whom was scholar Hector Pieterson. It is this brutal massacre that has given birth to the Day of the African Child commemorations recognised on June 16 each year in South Africa.
Someone (it could be the Nelson Mandela Trust) saw business sense in this set-up and built an upmarket restaurant close by where, after a tour of the place that once housed the icon, tourists retreat to the balcony for a cup of coffee and some eats while ruminating in their visit, or simply sit to relax, basking in the glory of having been part of history.
Back home, Kili certainly did not live in isolation, but like Madiba, had other great personalities and places of historical importance in his area of residence.
Less than 200m away, for instance, is the Yotamu Police Camp where political detainees from across Harare were kept before being bused to bigger holding places like Whawha and Gonakudzingwa, among others, during the colonial days of Rhodesia.
Just opposite Yotamu Police Camp along the same Francis Joseph Street is the house of one of Dynamos Football Club’s founder members, the late Allan “Teacher” Hlatywayo, who later became the first black Sports Editor of The Herald in the post-Independence era.
Hlatywayo later groomed the current Herald Sports Editor, Collin Matiza, who also used to live in Yotamu Way, just opposite Francis Joseph Street about 100 metres away from Kili’s house, to be precise.
Interestingly, Matiza grew up together with former Dynamos striker Boniface “Achimwene” Kabwe in Yotamu Way and in the late 1970s and early 1980s they used to kick plastic footballs (bhora rechikweshe) with ex-Black Aces skilful midfielder Alex “Chola” Chasweka, young brother to Aces and Chapungu United legend Moses “Gwejegweje” Chasweka, when they were still young boys and Hlatywayo was their role model.
The Chasweka brothers used to stay in the same street – Francis Joseph Street – with both Kili and Hlatywayo, with their house facing Yotamu Police Camp’s main gate.
Dynamos gangling centre back Sydney Linyama, son of former Black Aces goalkeeper Leon “Tingo” Linyama – also grew up in Yotamu Way with his parents’ house just a few metres away from the Chinembiris, facing Yotamu Police Camp.
And this piece of ground (at Yotamu Police Camp), which just has weeds growing and is being converted to a dumpsite, could surely be your café as a tourist after getting to know who the champion (Kili) really was.
A few streets away to the north is the Stodart Hall (another tourist attraction), where the bodies of all national heroes and heroines lie in state before they are taken to their final place of rest, the National Heroes Acre.
A short walk in the eastern direction gets you to Mushongandebvu Street, and here you find homes not to one, but two champions – another former national heavyweight boxing champ Beira Tarr Baby, who is now late, and resided at Number 151 and down the same street, two-time Commonwealth flyweight champion, Arifonso “Mosquito” Zvenyika still dwelling at Number 176.
It certainly would be a day well spent, ideal even for the much-hyped educational trips, especially for the parents that cannot afford to have their children pay to travel to distant resorts.
Textbook tourism aside, the Kilimanjaro homestead is surely a structure from which a model for township tourism can be moulded around, and the stacks are high that it will be a success.
Kilimanjaro died in February 1994 at the age of 36 13 years after he had burst onto the heavyweight division.