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Chitungwiza
Zimbabwe


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“We associated well with other people in our community and as a young man growing up, I made a lot of friends, most of whom I still remember by name – Boozer, Alfred, Israel, Nobose, Lovemore, Seremani …, the list is as long as the arm. “The spirit of oneness was inculcated in us by both our parents and the elders in the community from a very tender age though mischief that is associated with delinquency was also common among us.

“We would engage in fist fights while herding cattle or after school. I remember even fighting my own elderly sisters on numerous occasions after an argument and because they were much older and powerful than me, I often had to resort to using various defence objects which ranged from stones to sjamboks (whips).”

Arigoma vividly remembers the visits to his maternal grandparents’ home (he never met the partenal ones as they remained in Tanzania when his father migrated to Zimbabwe).

The visits to his mother’s parents were to a neighbouring district, Buhera, undertaken especially during school holidays. There, they would gather around the fireplace popping corn and listening to the fascinating folk tales from the grandpa who was a great story teller by nature.

“We were specially fascinated by his forked tongue (chirimi) which we found funny, but rather affectionate at the same time. In particular, he had difficulties in pronouncing words with the letter “R”.  “You could classify us as having been raised in an average family… not too rich or poor either. My father, having been a former military recruit of a prestigious war (WW1), found a job as a foreman at a farm in the province and earned what during the time was quite a decent salary. His earnings were enough to care for all the eight siblings in the home, but we did not at all look down upon children from poverty-stricken families.

“Rather, we embraced them and we lived peacefully and in harmony in that village of Mutanda which is situated in the resettlement areas of Odzi.” The big break came in 1975 when a teenage Arigoma packed his bags for the city and was lucky to quickly find a job at a company called Salisbury Bike.

His initial earnings were $7 a week (broken into $1 per day) and from it he was able to live a normal bachelor’s life – religiously paying his rentals for the single cottage lodgings at Number 3 Maturi Street in New Mabvuku, and purchasing all the basic foodstuffs. “The ride from Mabvuku where I stayed to my workplace was just 15 cents and with what I was left with, I could even afford to visit the stadium to watch a soccer match or go to the cinema for my regular dosage of war-laced movies and kungfu films which I adored so much.” However, it was more by accident than by desire or design that Arigoma came face to face with boxing. When he told his friend and work-mate, Julius, that there were some youths who were in the habit of bullying him at work, Julius advised him to come to the open boxing ring at Mabvuku (wafa wafa) the following weekend.

“I was at the public boxing arena by 10:00 a.m waiting for the boxing proceedings to begin at 2pm. And guess who I challenged when I summoned my courage to get into the ring? Julius! Somehow, I pulled a miracle by knocking him out in Round 2 and that is when everyone who was gathered at the Shopping Centre started to inquire who the unfamiliar face bearing the unique, raw talent  was. The rest, as they say, is history.”

He began following the sport with a combination of keenness and determination and would read about the boxing exploits of the champions of that time such as Joe Fraser.

In 1978, having made a name for himself by becoming a national champion, Arigoma went back to his rural home for a vacation. This was at a time the liberation war was very intense and as fate would have it, he encountered a group of guerillas who were on patrol.

“Because my face was new to them, they attempted to instill a lot of fear in me, threatening to beat me up, but I stood my ground. It was when they had made me undress and executed a thorough search that they came across my boxing cards and a press cutting of one of my fights. After that, we made good friends.” What has been the boxer’s romantic life been like, you may want to know.

“My first date was back in 1973 when I asked a local girl named Dorca Moses from our rural community if we could go out. You could define it as puppy love, but I was soulfully absorbed with her that I even sacrificed to take her to our nearest shops at the Growth point and bought her a pack of porp corn (maputi). “Even as young boys and girls, we did some menial jobs in the farms where we would work on tobacco fields to earn ourselves a little to compliment our parents’ contribution to our well-being.” After Dorca, Arigoma’s romantic life was not as eventful because through the years, he was dedicating more of his life to the sport of his love – boxing.

Following a successful boxing trip in the USA which was accompanied by some rich pickings, he went back to rural Odzi where he paid the bride for his wife, the mother of his six children.

He was drawn to her by the decency of her family which was also from within his neighbourhood and immediately after their marriage, the couple were blessed with a baby girl. A set of boy twins followed from which he named one of them after himself.

But heavens had different plans from his. At just eight months and during a trip from the city where he was now based to the rural areas, his namesake son reacted to an injection administered at a local clinic and he fatally succumbed to it. He qualifies that experience as his saddest memory to date.

Occupationally, it was an easy task for the nationally celebrated sports icon to find a better job. He was attested into the Air Force of Zimbabwe where he worked for 25 years until his retirement two years ago.

Now also retired from active boxing, he spends his time at his gym at  Huruyadzo Shopping Centre in St Mary’s, Chitungwiza, performing instructor’s duties to body builders and boxers.

“I acquired the gym equipment from my fight against (Gary) Delaney in England and having no place to store it, I applied for a place from the local authority and it was resolved that I repair the once-dilapidated Area Board structure and turn it into a gym which I have named “Powerhouse”. My former coach, Ed Hammond has been helpful in making the place what it is today.

“The medium to long-term plans are to establish a boxing academy where I go into identifying and grooming the young boxers from the community and in schools and turning them into champions.”

Being a celebrity, it is not easy to handle the fame that comes with the status and for this reason, many are found wanting. Oftentimes, it requires that one adopts immeasurable amounts of discipline.

Take, for instance, this other day when Chiponda was riding on a bus from the city centre to his residential surbub and a drunk passenger forcefully stepped on his foot. “When I reprimanded him, instead of apologizing he actually slapped me on the face. Reflexively, I would have been expected to knock him down onto the floor, but I did what Muhamad Ali would have done in this situation I faced. I simply smiled and looked the other way.” The “Master Blaster” is not much of a socialiate, but spends most of his time either watching a boxing tournament on television, a movie and listening to music. He says he has defied age, making Zimdancehall his favourite genre. Chiponda can sing Tocky Vibes’ lyrics all the young musician’s album and he enjoys doing this as he is doing workouts. He also has a soft spot for contemporary Sungura music with his favourite artist being Leonard Dembo.

His biggest worry? “Our sport (boxing) has taken a drastic downward trend and it is not like it used to be during the yesteryear. A month would hardly pass by without a tournament at the popular ‘homes’ of boxing dotted around Harare - among them Club Hide Out, The Queens Gardens, Kambuzuma Gardens and Monomotapa Hotel Gardens (Now Crowne Plaza).

“The whole host of promoters we used to have – Paul Murinye, Jeff Dube, Lorraine Muringi and Philip Chiyangwa, among others, seem to have had no one succeed them and there is a very big vacuum left that a whole year is now spent without boxing action happening inside the ring.

“It is probably high time the responsible sports authorities paid attention and seek ways to redress the development that has even seen our own home-grown WBC champion, Charles Manyuchi, being adopted by the Zambians,” bitterly says Chiponda. Brown, black and white are the colours that the retired champion adores. And when Arigoma Chiponda finally leaves this world for the next (dies), he would like the epitaph on his tombstone to read: “Here lies a Man who gave his all to his God-given talent. He did his country and people good, and for this reason alone, may his soul rest in eternal satisfaction.”

Chiponda: Champ’s legacy lives on continued