Bonyongo The Destroyer
From Thupeyo Muleya in BEITBRIDGE
SOMEWHERE in the rural area of Buhera, lies the Man Mountain — known to the world simply as Kilimanjaro — who boxed his way from Mbare to rule the African continent.
Proud Chinembiri, the late heavyweight boxing champion, took his sport to another level in this country in the category where the biggest and meanest boxers fight.
The big man turned himself into a fierce fighting machine and made his country proud by winning the African heavyweight championship and even getting into contention for a fight for the world heavyweight crown.
No Zimbabwean heavyweight boxer has scaled similar heights like Kilimanjaro.
Even those who lost in their duel against him are proud of the moment that they went into the ring with this fighting machine.
One of them is John “Bombaphani Bonyongo Destroyer” Mutema — the last man to fight the Man Mountain.
He was beaten in the fourth round of their contest and, this week, told The Herald Sport about his pride of having faced Kilimanjaro.
“I was the last man to fight Kilimanajaro and he beat me on technicality after I suffered a gash above the right eye,” said Bonyongo this week.
“It was the greatest fight of my life. I quit boxing in 1999 after the death of Kilimanjaro since there was no longer a heavyweight boxer to fight at that time.
“A lot of boxers had passed away by then while guys like Black Tiger, formerly based in Bulawayo, had found a new base in South Africa.”
We meet the Destroyer at his Peter’s Motel offices in this border town and we find a man – after all the years that have passed – who still remembers the moment he faced the Man Mountain.
Mutema has now ventured into hotel management full-time.
He is now a manager at Peter’s Motel – one of the oldest hotels here in Beitbridge.
He came here from Chipinge, where he was born in a family of three, and was the only son of the late chief Mutema.
Bonyongo then did primary education at St John’s school before completing his secondary education at Elam Mission in Katerere, Nyanga, before returning to Masvingo in 1971, where he got a job at Chevron Hotel.
This is where he met his wife.
“During my school days I would run into a lot of trouble with teachers who forced me to play soccer, but I was interested in weight lifting,” he said this week.
“After completing my secondary education, I got a job at Chevron Hotel in Masvingo as a barman.
“I met with a certain guy called Mathew who was also interested in weight lifting.
“After practicing for some time we then approached the Masvingo municipality for a hall to use. They offered us Sarudzai Hall, which was then a new outlet.
“We then teamed up with a number of guys who were interested in fighting and we would fight with open hands during weekends,” he said.
He fought a number of prominent boxers in Masvingo then — including Bibho and Offspring Killer.
In 1976, Mutema moved to Beitbridge where he was employed at Peters Motel as a barman.
But, being the boxer he was, he kept training alone and used home made weights, punching bags and made a makeshift gym for himself.
He was then spotted by a South Africa businessman Rex Denga who then bought boxing equipment for him.
He kept on fighting for fun with his old mates in Masvingo during his off-days.
In 1979 Mutema was promoted at Peter’s Motel and became the assistant manager.
“One morning in 1982 I saw an advert in Parade magazine, inserted by Dave Wellings, who wanted a professional heavyweight boxer to represent the country in international tournaments.
“I was weighing between 108 and 110 kg then.
“After retiring from boxing I now weigh 150kg though I keep myself fit by going to the gym three times a week.
“I then responded to the advert and was invited to go and fight for a trial match to turn me into a professional boxer.
“My first fight was against George Foreman at the Harare Show Grounds and it was a non-title bout since the promoters wanted to rank us as professionals.
“We were awarded boxing certificates after the judges were impressed. After turning into a professional boxer I was invited by the Zimbabwe National Army to fight their number one man Danger Masvingo at Chevron in the same year.
“I knocked him down in the second round. He then called for a rematch and I won again in the second round” said Bonyongo.
In the same year he had another non title bout at the same venue with Juke Box whom he knocked out in the second round again.
Excited by his punching prowess, the Beitbridge fans then nicknamed him “The Destroyer Bombamuphani.”
Bombamuphani is a Venda name derived from a black venomous snake which is normally found in the Lowveld.
Mutema was also named “Bonyongo” by his late father — which meant havoc.
“My father believed that I was a man bent on causing havoc and he then gave me the name Bonyongo. I then adopted all the names — Destroyer Bombamuphani Bonyongo.”
Between 1982 and 1991 the Destroyer had 11 fights and won eight and lost three.
In the late 1980s, Bonyongo was ranked Zimbabwe’s number one contender for the heavyweight crown after beating Black Tiger of Bulawayo.
In 1990 his South African friend Roxanne Masebe composed a song for him titled Bombamuphani in honour of his boxing career.
However, the Destroyer’s passion for boxing was against his mother’s wish as she believed that boxing was a barbaric and evil.
“I kept on advising him to quit fighting. I could weep during the fights to the extent that I stopped attending most of them,” she revealed.
“However I would be delighted when he ended up on a winning note, though I am not a fan of boxing. I am very happy that he has quit such a barbaric sport.”
His wife, Thandazile, a retired nurse, was different.
“There was nothing I could do rather than support him all the way since the sport ran in his veins,” she said.
“To him fighting is a hobby. It’s just unfortunate he quit when he still wanted to fight on. I am happy that he managed to raise his family well and has a descent job.
“We can now spend quality time as a family. During his boxing days he would spend most of the time at the gym preparing for fights.”
Like any sportsman, there were bad times for The Destroyer.
He remembers the fight against Black Tiger in 1991 for the Zimbabwe heavyweight title.
“The fight was at Colliery Stadium and I was up against Black Tiger, who was the champion by then,” said The Destroyer.
“I had promoted the match after the Zimbabwe Boxing authorities had indicated they had no money to sponsor such a fight.
“We punched each other until the 10th round when he started using unorthodox punches.
“I then sent in a powerful blow, which pushed him out of the ring, and then he decided to flee with the belt.
“To my surprise the judges said I had lost by a technical fault. I then queried the results and called for the establishment of the boxers union in the country.
“This prompted the Zimbabwe Boxing Board to withdraw my licence. I contested the decision through my lawyers until my reinstatement in 1993.
“By then we were a few heavyweight boxers in the country and Kilimanjaro was the champion. I challenged him but it took time for me to secure a fight because of the red tap in the board.”
The Destroyer was the last man to fight Kilimanjaro at Ascot in Gweru in 1994.
He lost the match when he developed a serious cut on the upper side of the left eye.
He maintained his ranking as the country’s number one contender and fought against Anderson Size and the match was stopped in the first round when he twisted his left knee.
By 1999 Kilimanjaro — the heart and soul of heavyweight boxing in the country — was dead and Black Tiger was in South Africa and The Destroyer was losing both his fight against age and opponents to remain in the ring.
So that year he quit, satisfied that he had played his part in a brutal game that was his passion.
His hero remains Muhammad Ali.
Now a father of four boys — Lemson (32), a businessman in Botswana, Bryn (30), who is running his gym here in Beitbridge, Cashord (28), a transport operator and Peace (27) — The Destroyer is living quietly away from the fast lane of the brutal game he has loved all his life.
He tried training boxers but quit when two of them died and the other one had both his feet amputated following a road accident.
The Destroyer is concerned with the state of boxing in this country and says he is willing to, one good day, play a part in its revival.
Age might have diluted the brutality that made him the fierce fighting machine who impressed a lot of people in his duel against the Man Mountain but he still loves his game.
As they say, you can take a genuine boxer from the ring but you can’t take the ring out of him.