On a normal Saturday or Sunday, Epworth’s Munyuki Shopping Centre is a place that teems with life.
BY MICHAEL MADYIRA
From the deafening sound of music bellowing from bottle stores dotted around the place to the revving sound and endless shrieks of commuter omnibus plying city and Mbare routes.
The buzz of informal merchants selling their wares creates a rather discomforting din to a foreigner at the complex, but it is a normal set-up for the Epworth folk.
Each man, woman or child would be trying to make the most of their visit to Epworth’s famed business hub.
Amidst all the hive of activity, Nyau dancers are ritually strutting their stuff, but stealing more attention are some youths engaged in street boxing a few metres away from the dancers.
It is all commotion as a crowd, including children and senior citizens, stand in a not-so-well-defined circle as they excitedly cheer the boxers.
The youths challenge each other in bouts ranging from two to four, three-minute rounds.
With sweat dripping, they trade quick bundles of leather, some groan in effort and pain as vicious jabs land on the jaws, forehead, mouth or nose, while others tumble onto the dusty arena, drawing thunderous ovations from the crowd.
Dressed in their casual gear, they exchange three pairs of boxing gloves available but impressively exhibit technique of seasoned pugilists and show immense potential.
In some cases, after coming at the end of a strong punch, some become emotional and more aggressive, sending spectators into delirium.
Others dare not challenge certain opponents due to obvious results.
This sums up how street boxing has become the toast of the weekend at Munyuki Shopping Centre.
The shopping complex used to be Epworth’s hub of criminal activities ranging from mugging to hardcore activities like murder but that has now been reduced, thanks to these boxers bred in the streets.
“Most people used to resent this place due to menacing gangsters,” said one boxer, Theophelous Moyo.
“But good fighters were produced from this street boxing and they drove away the gangsters. As you can see now, everyone is freely going about their business here.”
It all started 11 years ago under a mango tree at Moyo’s house in Jacha area, one and half kilometres away from Munyuki shops.
A makeshift punching bag filled with river sand mixed with sawdust would be tied to one of the tree’s branches to provide some good training for the boxers.
Two metres away lies some improvised weight-lifting equipment.
Theophelous’s father Bhowasi started the rough-and-ready gym upon retirement from the police force in 2004.
Interestingly, Boxing is simply referred to as “sport” in Epworth.
Interest grew among the young boys who swarmed Bhowasi’s house for gym and sparing sessions before he decided to relocate to Munyuki for weekend challenge matches.
“I was so much into sport, particularly boxing during my days at work so I carried on when I left. The whole idea in setting up this boxing gym was to help some youths in the neighbourhood find something to do. Employment is scarce these days so these boys might be tempted to resort to criminal activities if they just sit at home,” said Bhowasi.
“There was massive response from the public from the day we decided to stage our matches at the shops [Munyuki]. It has now become a traditional activity during weekends,” he said.
The bouts have not gone unnoticed by some boxing promoters, including renowned Stanley Mau Mau.
One boxer unearthed from Epworth is former national bantamweight champion Peter Pambeni who went on to become a sensation in South Africa.
“We have many talented boxers here but because of few promoters coming as well as lack of funds to stage competitions, they end up frustrated and quit. They seek jobs elsewhere and boxing only becomes part-time,” said Bhowasi.
Bhowasi’s son Chiratidzo is now a kombi driver while his other son Wisdom, who is also a revered fighter in Epworth, is now a security guard.
Other celebrated boxers from the area include Stanley and Brighton Safarawo, Marlon Mutandi as well as one Juluka.
One permanent boxer at Munyuki is 17-year-old Terrence Muronda who has showed enormous potential.
“I enjoy it here every weekend. My wish is to become a professional boxer one day, but there are no promoters to help us. As you can see for yourself, there are many good fighters here. Our wish is to have someone who organises many matches for us and gets this thing more organised,” said Muronda.
His father Thompson has thrown vast weight behind the teenager.
“I have never watched him fight but I only hear that he is good. He has got my full blessings and I wish to see him on top one day. But the issue of money is the major hindrance because it would have been good to secure boxing gear for him,” he said.
Owing to prevailing economic challenges in Zimbabwe, few local boxing promoters are investing in the sport, leaving grassroots talent to go down the drain.
Mau Mau has conceded that there is abundant talent in Epworth and other high-density suburbs in Zimbabwe.
His heart however bleeds when he sees young fighters bred from street boxing going to waste.
“Historically, street boxing has been the source of talent in Zimbabwe and we did not miss any chance to harness it. Nearly every boxer who has made it came from that environment. Talk of the Wafa-Wafa matches in Epworth, Mbare or Mabvuku. That is where your Ariphonso Zvenyika and Misheck Kondwanes came from,” said Mau Mau.
“I have watched street fights in Epworth and there is plenty of amazing talent that side. I used to work with Juluka there. But unfortunately the talent was abandoned mainly due to economic challenges we are facing in this country. It is sad to see such talent rot.
“A promoter needs about $3 000-$4 000 to stage a tournament but today’s economic environment does not allow that. I have seen many young boxers getting frustrated because of this.”