ABOUT LOTTIE MWALE, KALUSHA BWALYA
By Kennedy Limwanya
Last week, I had parked my car somewhere in Kabwata waiting for a friend when I heard a voice.
I immediately took my eyes off my phone, looked up and came out of the car.
For a moment, I could not recognise the face.
It was only after seeing that the face was a look-a-like of the late former Commonwealth and African Boxing Union (ABU) champion Lottie Gunduzani Mwale that I immediately recognised this person.
He was Gunduzani, son of the departed boxing legend.
I had not met Gunduzani in seven years.
“Hey, Gunduzani! It’s been long,” I began.
Well, we spent the next 45 minutes chatting.
My connection with Gunduzani goes back to the late 1990s and early 2000s when I used to visit his father in Chilulu Compound in Lusaka.
That was at a time the health of the once-upon-a-time World Boxing Council (WBC) number-one contender had begun falling.
Before then, I had enjoyed a journalist-source relationship with Mwale.
My first-ever published newspaper article was based on an interview Mwale had granted me while I was undergoing my journalism training at Evelyn Hone College in 1997.
That was way after Mwale had hung up his gloves following a boxing career spanning over two decades.
My article was published in the college’s newspaper, The Beacon.
It was my first attempt at submitting an article to the newspaper.
So, to have my write-up find space as the lead feature article on one of The Beacon’s pages was a huge motivation.
It, kind of, gave me an indication of what lay ahead of the career I was about to embark on.
I had just been laid off as a barman at International Catering Services at the Lusaka International Airport.
A few years later, Mwale would begin to have a slur in speech and an unsteady gait.
He would literally drag himself to the Times of Zambia offices on Freedom Way in Lusaka for an interview.
Later, Mwale would be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a brain disorder that causes unintended or uncontrolled movements such as shaking, stiffness and difficulty with balance and coordination.
As Parkinson’s disease progresses, a patient begins to have difficulties in walking and talking.
That was what had befallen Mwale.
In the case of boxers, Parkinson’s disease results from years of punches to the head.
Many boxers have suffered from Parkinson’s disease, with the most famous having been the late three-time world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali.
Mwale had been in the ring for many years, along the way bringing glory to Zambia, right from his amateur days when he won a gold medal at the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand.
In the same year, he won another gold medal at the World Military Games in Gabon.
His professional career was equally eventful, with many memorable fights including when he took on and defeated future world champion Marvin Johnson in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and the time he unsuccessfully challenged WBC champion Saad Muhammad in San Diego, United States of America, in November 1980.
Mwale had also twice fought hard-hitting Zambian challenger Chisanda Mutti who vainly sought to grab his compatriot’s Commonwealth and ABU belts at the Independence Stadium in Lusaka.
Before his retirement, Mwale had managed to win the junior version of the WBC light-heavyweight title when he defeated Sugar Ray Acquaye of Ghana in Lusaka to win the WBC (International) belt in December 1990.
After many years of boxing, Parkinson’s disease could not be an impossibility.
Besides battling Parkinson’s disease, Mwale had hit hard times, financially.
From the opulent suburbs of Woodlands Extension, Mwale had found himself in squalid surroundings of Chilulu Compound with no significant source of income.
Despite his predicament, Mwale was still a hero and I adored him so much.
I had not been fortunate enough to have watched Mwale in his active boxing days.
So, every time I visited him, I cherished the stories he used to tell me about the time he was a boxer.
He had sharp memory and could remember the names of his opponents, the cities in which his fights took place and years as well as months.
It was through my visits to Mwale’s home that I came to know his wife Astridah and the young Gunduzani.
What a caring wife she was!
From my observation, not only was she Mwale’s wife but also a big fan of his.
Little wonder she later decided to go into boxing administration.
As Mwale’s health began to deteriorate, I felt I had a personal obligation, as a journalist, to give prominence to his plight.
Here was a man who, for years, had given joy and pride to the Zambian people through his boxing talent but was now ailing and penniless.
He deserved special attention.
I, therefore, felt a personal sense of satisfaction when, in 2002, the Zambian government eventually decided to send Mwale to South Africa for specialised treatment.
When Mwale returned, I continued to visit him.
Through my write-ups and those of other sports journalists, a certain Mr Shilalukey came to the Times of Zambia offices offering Mwale some therapy.
Being about one of the few who knew Mwale’s home, I went to deliver the message to the Mwale household.
The following evening, I took Mwale to Mr Shilalukey’s office at Esco Complex, which used to be at the place where Levy Mall now sits.
And the therapy began.
Mwale was not getting any better nor was his financial status.
In 2001, Zambia national football team captain Kalusha Bwalya was based in Mexico where he was playing for Correcaminos.
He had come to learn about Mwale’s plight and responded by sending him $1000 dollars.
Kalusha sent the money through his friend Anthony Kasolo who was a football administrator in Lusaka.
Kasolo came to the Times of Zambia offices to ask for directions to Mwale’s home and I was on hand to take him there.
We reached Mwale’s home and he was touched by Kalusha’s gesture.
Kalusha had become brother’s keeper.
He had remembered his brother who had become a Zambian hero way before him.
Yes, before Kalusha made his name known to the world with a stellar performance at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea; a performance capped by a hat-trick in Zambia’s football match against much fancied Italy.
In 1979, when a 16-year-old Kalusha was making his Mufulira Blackpool debut in an away fixture against Lusaka Tigers at Matero Stadium in Lusaka, the England-based Mwale, who was 11 years older, was winning the Commonwealth light-heavyweight title from champion Garry Summerhays of Canada at the nearby Independence Stadium.
Kalusha would later play his way to stardom, starring for Mufulira Wanderers where he would be voted 1984 Footballer of the Year before moving to Europe in December 1985.
It was while playing for Belgian Club Cercle Brugge that Kalusha would become the first and only player from southern Africa to be voted African Footballer of the Year, attracting Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven to sign him.
In 1996, Kalusha would be nominated for the FIFA World Player of the Year awards where he would end up 12th best player in the world.
It would also be under his watch as Football Association of Zambia president that the Zambia national football team would, in 2012, win its first and, so far, only African Cup of Nations title.
Before Kalusha began breaking records, Mwale had led the way.
By the way, my first-ever feature article to be published by the Times of Zambia was from an interview I had with Kalusha’s father, the late Mr Benjamin Lembati Bwalya, at his Kambalange Drive residence in Mufulira in 1997.
My meeting with Gunduzani last week has triggered all these memories.
God bless you all.