THERE are times when boxing icon Langton “Schoolboy”(Pictured) Tinago sounds like a man who can see the sun setting on his life, times when he speaks about what he does not want to see happening at his funeral.
“I know Zimbabweans are fond of passing glowing eulogies when someone dies yet they would have never bothered to check on him or her during the days when that person needed them the most,” said the 68-year-old former Commonwealth boxing champion.
“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.
“The only income I get is my pension from the Gweru City Council and a ‘barbershop’ I rent out.” There are also times when Tinago sounds like a man who can still pack a fierce jab, times when he sounds like a boxing encloypedia who must be consulted by anyone serious about the sweet science.
“Right now every time a promising boxer comes along, people rush to say he is the next Schoolboy, he is the next Tinago. However, my question is how can you produce the next Tinago when you don’t go to the man and say Mudhara (old man), we are here seek some advice?” said Tinago.
Maybe it comes with age or the feeling of being let down by a country he took so many an uppercut for. Interviewing Tinago is an emotional roller coaster.
One moment it’s a sunny narrative, the next it’s all doom and gloom.
As he sat outside the metal shack he prefers to call a barbershop in Gweru last Monday, Tinago revealed how watching the just ended Commonwealth games was a painful exercise.
“Those games reminded me of my prime days and how unlike current boxers I fought for nothing but pride. Secondly, I looked at some of the boxers who were at the Commonwealth Games and immediately realised how Zimbabwe is missing out.
“I pray that President Mnagangwa’s Government continues to engage with the Commonwealth because we cannot continue missing out on such competitions. These are the stages where champions are made, that’s the stage where I was made,” he said.
Reminiscing about his glory days makes Tinago smile, albeit briefly.
“I won three titles at the Commonwealth, that is two lightweight titles and a super-featherweight title. I was unstoppable and I am by far Zimbabwe’s greatest sportsperson,” said the legend, before the smile slowly vanished.
“But why don’t I get recognition for everything I did for this country?” asked Tinago.
The answer he sought was beyond the writer, beyond the photographer of the day, Mukudzei Chingwere.
“If I were from Europe or a white person I could still be getting a lot of money and honour. Yet In this country, people are waiting for me to die so that they can come and deliver glowing speeches standing next to my coffin,” he continued.
Didn’t you get anything substantial from your boxing career? “I am different from other sports stars that earned a lot of money during their careers but did not invest. In my case from 1968 to 1980, I boxed for nothing but pride.
“At Independence I was already 31 and didn’t have many years left in me. We could have been talking of a lot of titles as we sit here had I participated at the Olympics.” Tinago still follows local boxing but is not impressed with what is on offer.
“The people we call professional boxers fight like amateurs and cannot be touted as potential champions. They are just brave kids who lack proper training.
“I tried to address that issue through setting up an academy but the project was chocked by lack of sponsorship. One of the students I had was my son who won the Youth Games gold medal in 2012 but has since left for South Africa because the sport did not give him a chance to earn a living. “I have a lot of confidence in his fighting abilities, I started training him when he was still five years old so his understanding of boxing is up there.
“If Zimbabwe helps him grow as a professional he might end up becoming a better boxer than me.” Having bade Tinago farewell, he called us back saying he had forgot to tell us something “very important.” It turned out to be something he had told us before!
“Right guys tells Zimbabweans to celebrate their icon Schoolboy while he is still alive, they should not wait to say all the good things when I am dead,” he said.
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