TODAY’S column is inspired by Times Sports Editor Elias Chipepo, who wrote a piece titled, “Cathy deserves honour” published this past week.
Although he did not propose specific ways of honouring Catherine, I have written about this subject myself before, urging the government to buy a house for her in recognition of her achievements well before she won the most coveted World Boxing Council (WBC) gold championship belt.
Once upon a time, the world’s fastest woman over 800m was Mozambique’s Maria Mutola who overcame remarkable odds to reach the top.
“To be the first Mozambican to be able to grab gold, I was very happy and emotional,” she said on return from the 2000 Sydney Olympics where she collected gold in the 800 metres race and for taking her country “to space,” as Elias would have said.
Born in Chamanculo, a poor shanty town in the suburbs of the Mozambican capital, Maputo, on October 27, 1972, Mutola’s victory put Mozambique on the world map and was received back home with joy and jubilation.
When she returned home from Sydney, Mutola was given a red carpet reception right from the packed airport. But this was nothing compared to the eternal honour bestowed on her by her government- it named one of the avenues of the capital after her, (Maria Mutola Avenue) and the school where she did her primary education also bears her name.
To put the icing on the cake, the government gave Mutola a house and a vehicle it had promised for winning the country’s first Olympic gold medal during the games.
Handing her the car, a Mitsubishi Pajero, and house keys, youth and sports minister Joel Libombo said, “It is a supreme way to honour the government’s pledge made by the President of the Republic to the athlete for the country’s name and national sports.”
There are a number of similarities between Mutola and Catherine. Like the Mozambican who is now retired, Catherine hails from a humble background and is the first African woman to lift the WBC gold title against heavy odds.
Unlike Mutola, although Catherine was also given a rousing welcome on return from Mexico after dethroning Yazmin Rivas, it does not equal what the Mozambicans did for their heroin.
But let’s get closer to home. Late president Levy Mwananwasa set a good precedent by giving the pioneer of female boxing in Zambia multi-division titlist Esther Phiri a house in recognition of her achievements.
When he was Sport Minister, Chishimba Kambwili started a project to raise funds to build a house for Catherine. I lauded this idea, but sadly, it’s unclear at this writing how far the project has gone.
I take the silence on the matter to mean the authorities could still be mulling over it or the matter has died a natural death.
But being a daring optimist, I refuse to believe that the matter is a closed chapter. To the contrary, there can be no more auspicious time than now to honour the young Zambian pugilist who has made history with her phenomenal success.
Government should consider naming one of the sporting facilities, like the National Sports Development Centre (NASDEC) a street, especially in the new development areas of, say Chalala, Libala South or Kamwala South in Lusaka after Catherine.
But if I were government, I would buy a life-long asset, a modest house for her and a car in tow. Resources or a lack of them cannot be an excuse for not achieving this goal. Mind you, it’s not the size of the gift that matters, but the thought behind it.
Are we still in doubt about honouring world-conquering Catherine like Mutola in Mozambique and Esther here at home?
Granted, this is an election year and it’s easy for some to misinterpret charitable activities from Government. My point, however, is elections or no, honouring Catherine at this time will undoubtedly be a justifiable cause transcending political partisanship.
How much longer can this honour be delayed?
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