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Tinago: A hero who died in abject poverty

Zimbabwe was plunged into mourning last week following the death of boxing great, three-time Commonwealth champion Langton “Schoolboy” Tinago.


More painful is the fact that for all his achievements and contribution to Zimbabwean sport, Tinago died a pauper.
This is the man, whose name when the country’s sporting heroes are spoken of, was more often than not the first to be mentioned.

Tinago was celebrated in big sporting banquets and at important national events, only but on paper, yet ailing in the latter part of life, he did not have a decent meal to eat, let alone money for medical attention.

But just three days after his death, he was conferred with the provincial hero status, the first sportsperson to receive such an honour.

What great injustice! Are we a country that celebrates heroes after they die?

Perhaps with a decent lifestyle and easy access to medical attention, Tinago would not have succumbed to pneumonia at a health establishment like Gweru General Hospital at the age of 69.

Such is the sad story of Schoolboy, undoubtedly the greatest boxer Zimbabwe has ever had.

No one could think that, “the lion-hearted man of Zimbabwe” — the only local sportsperson to break into the Guinness Book of Records for displaying sterling and brilliant boxing wizardry — lived a wretched life in a small two-roomed house in the sprouting suburb of Ascot in Gweru.

Many basked in his glory when he won title after title, in and outside of the country, but in his hour of need, they harkened to his pleas.

“Right now I feel neglected, wondering where all those people who used to fill up Rufaro Stadium just to watch me fight are when I am struggling like this,” Tinago once scoffed at the way Zimbabwe discards its own heroes when he was still alive.

“The only income I get is my pension from Gweru City Council and a barbershop I rent out.”

Another former Commonwealth flyweight boxing champion, Alfonso “Mosquito” Zvenyika, who suffered the same treatment, was close to tears when he described Tinago as the “omitted boxing hero” of Zimbabwe.

“Schoolboy fought battles in the name of this country, but he was never seriously recognised,” said Zvenyika.

“He was a champion at a time when African boxers were looked down upon.

“This is just a reflection that boxing has never been taken as a serious sport in this country.

“How can such a legend reach the point of dying without any form of support?”

For a man who took many punches and uppercuts for Zimbabwe, to be drowned and die in poverty, with just a two-roomed house to his name, is heartbreaking.

Edmos Takwira, one of Schoolboys’ products, spoke about how Tinago lived until the time of his death.

“I only wished he was rewarded for the hard work because he was living a life that he didn’t deserve,” Takawira said.

“Schoolboy was a boxer that many cherished after breaking a number of records. I really do not know what to say. All this, is just heartbreaking.”

Tinago’s brother and family spokesperson Wellington Pombi felt betrayed by the way his brother was neglected.
“I wish they had given him something in recognition of what he did for the country. I was with him most of the time and it was hurting him,” Pombi said.

“Like they say, life is a shadow. I guess we have to work with what is available than lament what we will not get in any case.

“It is sad that my brother passed on under unfortunate circumstances, but such is life.“

Other professional boxers who blossomed under the tutelage of Tinago include current heavyweight boxer Chamunorwa “Sting” Gonorenda and Felix “Chin Checker” Venganayi, among others.

Gazi, as Tinago was affectionately known in Gweru, began his boxing career in 1967 at the age of 18 and was involved in about 107 international bouts, winning 83, losing 20 with three draws.

For his sterling achievements on the international stage, Tinago was at one point given an accolade by the Zimbabwe Boxing Board of Control with no prize money and surely that was not enough for a man whose fists defined a true legend.

Government chipped in at the 11th hour on Friday when President Emmerson Mnangagwa, through Provincial Affairs minister for Midlands Owen Mudha Ncube, conferred Tinago with a provincial hero’s status.

Tinago will be buried today at Gweru’s Provincial Heroes’ Acre.

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