Life is all I have - Mosquito

HARARE - Zvenyika “Mosquito” Alfonso once stood on the threshold of not only fame, but also fortune.

But he has fallen on hard times, harder than the punches he used to throw in the ring on his way to becoming a Commonwealth boxing champion.

Before alarm bells have woken up many, bleary-eyed Alfonso forces himself out of bed to make his way to Mbare Musika Bus Terminus, where he loads travellers’ goods onto the top of busses for a small fee.

This is the only income helping Alfonso and his family make ends meet. 

The terminus, Harare’s largest bus station, is a 20-minute walk from Alfonso’s quarters in the oldest township in Zimbabwe’s capital.

While the fortune has deserted him, Alfonso is still easily recognisable. People point at him whenever they see him, revealing to their company the identity of the man on top of the bus.

It’s something he is still trying to come to terms with.

“My popularity belies the man I am,” Alfonso says. “I’m a famous man, but with no assets or even a bank account.”

Alfonso, who admits his own part in his fall from grace, is a living testimony of talented athletes whose self-inflicted demise is a lesson to upcoming sports stars.

Like many boxers before him, Alfonso’s tale is one of from rags to riches and then back to rags.

But far from a defeatist spirit, Alfonso sees his predicament as an opportunity to help the under privileged teens through his academy, the Mosquito Boxing Gym, located in the impoverished Harare suburb.

The academy, housed in a dilapidated classroom, is home to 15 teenage aspiring boxers.

It is modestly equipped. Only two torn punching bags hang from the roof. No skipping ropes, hand pads, stop watches, spear balls, medicine balls or sparring gloves.

The young boxers only have their bare knuckles, focused eyes and zeal as they hope to use boxing as a ticket out of squalor and poverty.

Alfonso, who won and retained the Commonwealth flyweight title in 1998, both times by technical knockout, urges on the aspiring pugilists.

“Your hands are your ticket!” he yells, burning passion in a sport he evidently still loves.

Who knows, from amongst this crop, someone might rise to take the button from Charles Manyuchi, Zimbabwe’s reigning WBC welterweight champion.

Conspicuously, Alfonso’s fourth-born son, Zvenyika Jnr, is among the boxers learning from this legend.

“This is my way of giving back to the community,” Alfonso says.

“Sometimes I get people coming to my academy to learn my skills and then they leave but I am not bitter about that. It shows we are doing something right.”

Of his son, he says: “I see myself in him. I am always telling him to use his hands wisely. He is the light of this family. I don’t want my children to end up like me.”

Now 41, Alfonso has enjoyed the best of both worlds having risen to prominence from the poverty stricken township to star in rings across Australia, Scotland, England, Zambia and Tanzania.

His exploits on the canvas saw him bag the Commonwealth title in 1998 after knocking out Scottish boxer Paul Weir in Glasgow.

A victim of a broken family, Alfonso had a rough and rugged upbringing.

He had to fight for survival before he could even throw a punch.

As early as the age of five, he was moving through shebeens and bars in Mbare selling cigarettes as well as engaging in all manner of social ills to help his mother fend for the family.

He only enrolled for Grade One when he was 11-years-old, some five years after many of his age peers had walked that route. He would only last one term in school before dropping out to go back onto the streets.

When he was 12, a boxer in Mbare introduced him to the sport.

Alfonso would later fall under the wings of local boxing icon Langton “Schoolboy” Tinago a three-time Commonwealth champion in two different weight divisions, and later the Zimbabwe National Army.

At 17, he turned professional in a bid to start cashing in on his talent.

His ability to duck punches from heavier opponents, as well as his small built, soon earned him the moniker Mosquito.

Although he lost his first fight, Alfonso went on to win 17 fights, 10 through knockout and drew twice out of a total of 32 bouts.

His popularity would soar after he knocked out Wier in the 11th round to win the Commonwealth Light Flyweight title on January 26, 1998.

President Robert Mugabe wittingly remarked that the diminutive boxer had “knocked out imperialism”

However, without an education, Alfonso could not contain his newly-found fame or think of long-term investments that would cushion his landing after hanging up his gloves.

His life away from the ring was nothing short of chaotic. He had many run-ins with the law.  

However, a conviction of theft at the turn of the millennium proved to be the final straw. He was arrested and found guilty, serving 20 months in prison.

“All the money I made I spent it,” he recalls with a wry smile on his face.

“If only I earned that money with the knowledge I have now I will be somewhere. Life has been my greatest teacher. The only asset I have is my life.

“Because of where I was and where I am, I am still trying to come to terms with all that has happened.”

The former Zimbabwe super flyweight and African Zone 6 flyweight champion has been trying to host a testimonial match to celebrate his heydays but funding has been elusive.

“If I died today the way I am let it be,” he says. “I don’t want any donations from anyone. If there is no food at my funeral let it be that way.

“You know when I was doing the job, doors would open for me but now that the lion is wounded you say the lion is dead, but I am not a beggar.

“People want to buy drinks when I am dead and celebrate my life after I am gone. No, if you are not going to do it now, don’t do it when I’m dead.”

While his days in the spotlight are well and truly over, Alfonso’s greatest desire is to rehabilitate kids from broken families and hopefully unearth the next Manny Pacquiao.

He says he has the experience, record and most of all the heart to do it.

Ever the cheerful chap, the folk of Mbare call him “champ”. To them, he still remains their champion.

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