The Sunday News
Yesteryear greats with Lovemore Dube
Death, be not proud . . . Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be. Much pleasure; then from thee . . . reads part of John Donne’s poem.
The Zimbabwe sporting family was last week robbed of two illustrious sporting personalities, former footie David Mandigora and legendary boxing trainer Phillip Striker Ndlovu.
If death was a human persona, he would not have been proud to see Zimbabweans across the tribal, political and religious divide mourn their great sons who left an indelible mark in their respective sporting disciplines.
Mandigora outshone a galaxy of stars who had held their own in the last years of this country’s isolation from international sport and an emerging crop of players to win the first Soccer Star of the Year accolade in a free Zimbabwe.
That there were brilliant veterans of the game like Tymon Mabaleka, Majuta Mpofu, Gibson Homela, Shadreck Ngwenya, Bethal Salis, George Rollo, Charles Sibanda, Majid Dhana, Ephraim Moloi, Shaw Handriade, David George, Kuda Muchemeyi, Rodrick Muganhiri, David Mucheneripi, Joseph Zulu, Byron Manuel, Wonder Phiri, Shaky Tauro, Oliver Kateya, David Khumalo, Sunday Chidzambwa, Raphael Phiri, Nyaro Mumba, Rodrick Simwanza and Frank Mkanga said a lot about his pedigree.
There was the fabulous young trio of Stix M’tizwa, Joel Shambo and Stanley Ndunduma, Doughty Sithole, James Takavada, Shaky Toendepi Nyathi, Boyce Malunga, Takesure Maverengo, Thomas Sandringham, Sebastian Chikwature, Tapiwa Mudyambanje, Peter Nkomo, Peter Kaviza, Machona Sibanda and David Mwanza among an outstanding young brigade that reached legendary status.
To be chosen ahead of all this talent was no mean achievement by a great player who led Dynamos to four straight league titles with leadership and a committed masterly defensive link display in front of a resolute defence that had the Chidzambwa brothers Sunday and Misheck and the Monitoring Force, Oliver Kateya.
Mandigora who had one of his legs amputated a few years ago, had not been well for a while and finally bid this earth farewell last week and Zimbabwe and the sporting fraternity gave him a fitting hero’s farewell.
Then early on Thursday, many Bulawayo residents were awoken by WhatsApp messages circulating to the effect that Phillip Striker had passed on in his place at Makokoba’s Ejingeni Flat.
I pinched myself a couple of times as I could not reconcile the fact that he was said to have passed on. The message about the legendary trainer came through at the same time as one conveying a message that a maternal uncle of mine Alexander Ngwenya had also left to be at peace with his maker. He too like Striker had not been well since last year after suffering a mild stroke.
Striker was discovered to be having prostate cancer last year. With limited resources he sought treatment but that could never be enough. Three weeks ago, Spoja, a group of sportswriters in the five southern and central provinces of Zimbabwe tried a crowd funding exercise for a surgical procedure that could have helped him gain better health.
While the exercise was on-going with promises over the next week for the full US$1 000 to be raised, God called time on Striker’s marathon.
For almost 18 months, he was in great pain, his health like a yo-yo, better one day, worse off the other. His determination to live was remarkable. His will power kept him going up to the age of 66 years and 11 days.
Every time one visited him, a smile extracted from deep pain could be seen when one spoke of his favourite thing — boxing. No matter what he was going through, despite a certainty about his health that life would never be the same, he spoke about his return to the ring and gym to do his business — boxing.
Born on 6 June 1955, Striker spent a bit of his early childhood in Mzinyathini area of Mzingwane District herding livestock. He attended primary school there but because of challenges with fees he did not go far.
In 1974 having moved to Bulawayo as a teenager, he started training as a boxer and fought his first amateur fights at Stanley Square. He turned professional in 1978 in the lighter weights, coming second best to fighters like Jimmy Ellis and Richard Rova. A car accident in the 1980s curtailed his career and he would re-surface into prominence in the sport in the late 1980s training a group of boxers who included middleweighter Victor Ndebele and former super middleweight champion Sipho “Sweet Zuggi” Moyo.
His fortunes took a turn for the better when he moved to Tshaka Youth Centre in 1993. This writer was playing league volleyball at Tshaka and in no time a relationship was established.
We got closer in 1995 when we met Jeff Dube, a city businessman who had been inspired by Phillip Chiyangwa, Stalin Mau Mau and Don King’s flamboyancy and influence in the sport.
That was a turning point for Bulawayo boxing. City boxers got to fight and raise their rankings with two super middleweight champion Moyo and flyweight guru Nokuthula Tshabangu fighting for Commonwealth titles. Had they won they would have earned top 20 rankings in the World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association, International Boxing Federation, World Boxing Organisation and International Boxing Organisation.
Suddenly there was traffic to the Rainbow Hotel, School of Hospitality, Stay Afrique (formerly Reynolds Inn), Windermere Hotel and the Large City Hall for top drawer bills. Boxers from as far as Zambia including once champion Ramos Phiri who was beaten on points by Thamsanqa Dube, Flyod Chongo and Douglas Buster Chilembe.
Boxing got to its feet. It promised so much for the Bulawayo youths and from that initiative boxers like Dube and Elvis Victor “Bomber” Moyo were in 2009 sponsored and put on salaries by Bakers Inn.
It was for the first time in almost 20 years that boxers were endorsed. The last time could have been Kel77 in the late 1970s. For Striker boxing was beyond sport. It was his life.
His routine was interruptible, 0630 hrs he would be at Tshaka Youth Centre opening the gate for his first batch of boxers who included both amateurs and professionals in the uniformed services. Two hours later he would be closing shop and have breakfast and head to some building near the Main Railway Station where he had a balcony where he played a sentry role at a traditional casino.
At exactly 1630 hours he would be walking across Luveve Road from collecting keys to Tshaka for another two-hour spell with working boxers.
Once in the gym, he would change to a business-like attitude. No visitors, no telephone calls, with all shots called by him. He churned champions and stood on the corner of Thamsanqa Dube (Heavyweight), Sipho Moyo (Super middleweight), Ambrose Mlilo (Middleweight) Modicai Donga (Middleweight), Fredrick Chisoro (Light Middleweight), Nokuthula Tshabangu (Flyweight) in the professional ranks. Other top boxers he trained are Mnqobi Mhlophe, Gardner Ndingwa, Tony Bollo Benson, Fungai Chitsa, Onele Maphosa and Zimbabwe National Youth Games stars Meluleki Ngulube who dominated his division from the time he was at primary school up to Form Four, Maqhawe Ndlovu and Ntando Sibanda.
So devoted to the sport he was. He would assist boxers from other stables and travel even with them to as far as Windhoek in Namibia. An honest sportsman who was a teetotaller and believed in clean sport.
On more than 15 occasions I sat with him to do the pairing of boxers (matchmaking). Never on any day did he say can we get lighter opponents for our Bulawayo boxers. He subscribed to meritocracy. One had to earn his stripes.
But years later he would quip that he enjoys his life because he has never cheated in sport. Promoters and matchmakers can deliberately get weaker opponents for their boxers to get titles and better rankings so that they get lucrative external title shots.
On this I write authoritatively for other boxing promoters Jeff Dube, Omega Sibanda, the late Dumisani Mabhena, Brian Moyo and Paul Masakhe Sibanda. Fair Play was engrained in his character.
One time Nokuthula Tshabangu won in controversial circumstances against Misheck Kondwane at Zanu-PF Headquarters. On our way back to Bulawayo, he confided in me that he was not happy with the result for boxing but for bragging rights it was okay that Stalin Mau Mau’s bid to have Kondwane go to the UK for the Commonwealth title had been thwarted.
Striker was a boxing encyclopaedia. He knew all the great boxers from the 1960s, their weight divisions and boxing styles. He was not just a trainer, a disciplinarian, community builder and always wanted better for Makokoba and Bulawayo residents.
Promoters who wanted to stage fights in Bulawayo used his boxers, asked him to do pairings and set the stage and ring for the tournament with his trusted lieutenants being the late Shadreck Huni and Ezwell Ndlovu who all were masters in putting together the rugged ring.
His commitment to boxing, humility and love for the next man made him a different sports cadre. He did not care whether you were young or old, rich or poor, Striker respected you. He loved using the English language. He may not have been the best speaker in the grammatical sense but he would put the message across.
With his death, boxing is now like a ruin away train. Where the sport is destined now in Bulawayo it will be left to time. Here are some touching eulogies from the boxing fraternity.
Brian Moyo a promoter and sports administrator: “He was very humble, very much my senior and for many years I worked with him, his respect for office and hierarchy was something else. He was such a humble man, focused on his job. I will always miss this man.”
“I knew Striker while I was at school (Cyrene) in 1979. He was not a selfish coach, even if I was not his boxer he used to tell me where I was getting it wrong. Next fight you would find yourself doing better from his tips. Let’s keep his name going in boxing,” said former national amateur welterweight champion Morris Chiwawula.
Former boxing board member Patrick Mukondiwa described Striker as a great man of the sport.
“It’s sad Phillip Striker is no more. He was a great man and boxing trainer. He had also turned to be a good boxing match official as he was now one of our fight referees/judge. We will always miss him. He was humble and soft spoken,” said Mukondiwa.
Lawrence Zimbudzana also paid tribute to Phillip Striker for his contribution to the sport.
“It is with great sadness that we learnt of the death of renowned boxing trainer. Phillip ‘Striker’ Ndlovu was a man with a very big heart and unflinchingly passionate about boxing. Zimbabwe boxing will not be complete without the mention of Phillip Striker,” said Zimbudzana.
Striker will be laid to rest to rest at Lady Stanley Cemetery this morning at 10am.