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From Moondog Max to Arnold Zikhali, the storied lineage of Zimbabwe's 'strong men'

by Staff reporter
25 Jun 2023 at 09:35hrs | Views
ON what had been a pretty ordinary and innocuous Tuesday afternoon, there was suddenly a flurry of activity around the corner of George Silundika and Sam Nujoma in Harare.

Like bees attracted to nectar, the late afternoon crowd seemed to be buzzing towards one particular hive as the sun set on the capital. At the centre of all this, sitting calmly in the eye of the storm, was a large man, his attention firmly fixed on the food in front of him. He barely glanced at the mass of people gathering around him at a local restaurant.

His head sweaty, biceps now bulging from repeatedly scooping large handfuls of food from the platter in front of him, Arnold Zikhali had the appearance of an unlikely superstar.

In an event viewed live by thousands of people on social media, the Oxman, as he is popularly known, had done his best to scale the mountain of food in front of him. Two kg worth of isitshwala had been methodically diminished, while 3kgs of chicken stood in tatters, devoured to the last few pieces. To wash it all down, Zikhali wanted milk, but only if it was from his preferred brand, Dairibord.

When it was all said and done, as he strode towards a tap to wash his hands, Zikhali was sent off with a round of applause in recognition of his Herculean effort. Only a month ago, few knew the name Arnold Zikhali. In fact, what had made him the name on every Zimbabwean's lips was not his ability to run through amazing amounts of food, but his eye-popping brute strength which made him capable of acts that seemed physically impossible.

Standing at 1,9 metres and weighing 145kg, Zikhali had grabbed a nation's attention by pulling three train wagons, thus becoming the country's self-proclaimed strongest man.  All of a sudden, a lad who had grown up brawling on the streets of Bulawayo became a nation's newest obsession. People had questions that needed answers. ‘Who is Arnold Zikhali? Where did he grow up? And does he really eat 30 eggs (15 boiled, 15 fried) for breakfast?'

Perhaps the best way to explain Zikhali's rise to prominence lies in the simple fact that he is not the first man that Zimbabwe has become obsessed with just because of his brute strength. However, for all his astounding power, the nation is rarely ever fascinated by brawn for its own sake.

Zimbabwe needs a showman, an entertainer who is able to show character and muscle in equal measure. Before Leonard and Miriam Zikhali even thought of conceiving the man who would later become the Oxman, Proud ‘Kilimanjaro' Chinembiri had Zimbabweans packing stadiums just to see him pummel opponents into a sorry heap.

This was during Zimbabwe's boxing golden age soon after independence, with Kilimanjaro vanquishing such colourfully named opponents such as Black Tiger, Jukebox Timebomb, Captain Marvel, George Foreman (not the former World Heavyweight champion) and Ringo Starr.

Like Zikhali, Kilimanjaro was a larger-than-life character, who grew up rough on the streets of Mbare, where he was reputedly a "professional mugger".  This man mountain was also a renowned brawler in Mbare, picking up fights for fun in some of the township's notorious bars.

 "Proud was a rough guy, a heavy drinker who fought in bars," his brother Punish once narrated. "I was an amateur boxer at that time and I sat him down and pleaded with him to try boxing."

His trainer Dave Wellings, who at one time was not impressed by the man, was one of those that changed their minds about him when they met the incredible hulk of a man.

"That was until I walked over to him to shake hands, my hand disappeared inside his great paw and I had to crane my neck upwards to make eye contact."

At the height of his powers, Kilimanjaro, famed for his quickfire knockouts of dizzy opponents, ranked ninth in the world by the World Boxing Corporation, at a time when Mike Tyson was the champion. Kilimanjaro passed away at the tender age of 36.

In the 1990s, as TV spread to more and more households in the country, the World Wrestling Federation became a widely followed phenomenon, Zimbabwe also caught the wresting fever.

While young Zimbabwean boys broke their beds trying to emulate such stars as Hulk Hogan and the British Bulldog, Zimbabwe also had its own roster of fighters that caught the country's imagination. Oliver Black Panther Tengende, Spider Bhamu, Patrick Flyer, and Voodoo Ray Silubonde, were some of the stars that emerged from this era.

Amongst this class of strong men was one Maxwell "Moondog Max" Kutsanzira, a charismatic fighter, and businessman that once claimed that his doctor had prescribed that he drives cars manufactured by Mercedes Benz or he would die.

Although he reportedly did not make a lot of money from the sport, Kutsanzira made Zimbabweans fall in love with local wrestlers with his theatrics during interviews. For example, during one interview, when asked what he drives, Moondog calmly replied that "he walks in a Mercedes Benz"

Moondog's first big fight was when he beat Tony "Dirty White Boy" Chessman by two pin falls in Masvingo in 1990, earning him the light heavyweight title after which he left to campaign in the US, Belgium and the UK.

Despite his antics, Moondog was a religious man who did not forsake his beliefs when he became one of the country's most famous sporting personalities. Despite the fact that he had no formal education, Moondog had pulled himself by the bootstraps, becoming an accomplished businessman in his own right. He opened his first business venture, Friendly Fish, in 1986 before going into the hardware business. He would later build a complex comprising of offices and shops.  

"He was a devout Masowe member throughout his life and never went to school," said family member Benjamin Munatsi when Moondog passed away in 2002 at the age of 42. "He learnt his father's trade, carpentry, from an early age and in the 1980s he survived by buying and selling goods. He would go to Botswana and South Africa to buy things and sell here."

Moondog, at one time became the chairman of then Bulawayo football giants, Zimbabwe Saints. While the country's "strong men" could always be relied upon to provide a spectacle because of their antics, sometimes their enterprising nature saw them fall foul of the law.

One such figure was another wrestler, Michael "Big Mike" Tshuma, a mythical figure in Bulawayo, whose strength and power was the stuff of a legend. Even some of the city's most notorious thugs would hesitate to go toe to toe with Big Mike, a man that became a huge part of Bulawayo urban folklore.

However, in 1991, Big Mike would find himself, alongside partner Albert Dube, in trouble with the law after he was fined what was then a staggering sum of $22700 for contravening sections of the Exchange Control Act.

The pair had reportedly imported photocopiers, fax machines and cars under the pretext that they were gifts from friends. What would have gone down as just another case of smuggling became national news, as Zimbabweans finally saw one of their strong men come up against the strength of the long arm of the law.

Source - The Sunday News
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