Kabaare Stadium, located in the centre of town, is on my mind. For the most part, its perimeter wall, built in 1957, remains strong. However, to one who remembers that stadium as it was in the 1960s, looking at it now assaults one’s visual health and emotions.
The usual filth and litter, scattered outside the wall, reminds one that some citizens do not care about aesthetics and hygiene. The nose spies the tell-tell signs of Orubungo (an open public place for bowel and bladder evacuations), suggesting that some people’s personal hygiene is stuck in 1920.
Happily, the interior of the stadium reveals that the current custodians have done a much better job than their predecessors. The place is less littered than it was a few years ago. The thousands of plastic bottles, buveera (plastic bags) and other rubbish that perennially littered the field have been removed. The natural turf is reasonably maintained.
However, one still encounters some deposits of human excrement and other rubbish scattered along the inner side of the perimeter wall and even on the players’ turf. Overgrown weeds and dead branches make for an unsightly presentation. Denuded footpaths suggest shortcuts on people’s journeys in town.
The public toilets on the northeast side of the field emit odours that discourage closer approach and inspection. One imagines the experience of even the briefest visit to reduce one’s bladder’s burden.
A small pavilion with concrete seats accommodates about 200 tightly packed “very important people.” With proper physical distancing, it should accommodate no more than 60. The absence of terraced seating for the rest of us means that hundreds, even thousands must stand on the sides to watch the games. The majority of standing spectators must crane their necks or push and shove in the hope of catching a glimpse of the ball or of sprinters flying by.
The terraced gardens on Kabaare Hill, just across Main Street, from where we used to get a premium view of the entire field, have long been destroyed. Concrete ugliness stands where trees and flowers dotted beautifully maintained green terraces. One cannot bear to look at it for more than a few seconds.
So, a moment spent at Kabaare Stadium triggers mournful longing for the 1960s, a time when the place was more than a sports facility. It was a sacred assembly point for a people full of hope and positive pride, maintained to very high standards, with walls free of graffiti and ugly colours, and grounds free of human excrement.
Memories of this stadium and of outstanding sportsmen reside in common quarters in one’s brain. Their names deserve a prominent place of honour at the stadium. Their stories and exploits should be told in speech and writing.
No doubt the greatest Ugandan athletes outside Kigyezi between 1940 and 1970 included the men and women who represented our country at the Commonwealth and Olympic Games. A partial list includes Gadi Ado, John Akii-Bua, Ludovico Amukun, Sam Amukun, Aggrey Awori, Judith Ayaa, Jack Buga, Asuman Nkedi Bawala, William Santino Dralu, Patrick Etolu, Benson Ishiepai, William Kamanyi, William Koskei, Abraham Munabi, Mustafa Musa, Mary Musani, Irene Muyanga, Charles Obilu, Severinus Obura, Daniel Oboth, James Ocen-Bowa, Jorem Ochana, Yovan Ochola, George Odeke, Lawrence Ogwang, Jean Baptist Okello, Virgil Okiring, Amos Omolo, Patrick Oriana, Constance Rwabiryagye and Fulgence Rwabu.
Their names deserve a place of honour in Kabaare Stadium and in all regional ones in the country. Alongside them ought to be a list that specially celebrates the pioneers of modern sports in Kigyezi. Top on the list should be John Bikangaga and John Wycliffe Lwamafa, the headmaster and the sports master of Kigyezi High School, respectively.
These two men, highly accomplished soccer players themselves, nurtured talents of their students who dominated their chosen sports in Kigyezi in the 1940s and early 1950s. They set the stage for sports in schools, one of the key components of a well-rounded education.
Among their students, famous sportsmen of the 1940s who dominated their games were Ezra Kisigo Mulera, the football captain of the school, J. W. Bushuyu, Kababa, Kataama, S. Minyeeto, John Nzamukwereka wa Gatera, William Zaribwegirire and Ziine.
In the 1950s, St Mary’s School at Rushorooza added talented sportsmen to the pool. Kigyezi’s star athletes and footballers of that decade included James Byamukama bya Rushuuga, Matayo Ndyanabangi, Kaamurasi, Bernard Kachetero ka Nyonyoozi, William Kaamugisha ka Betuubiza, David Kataiguta, Ndanguza, Matthew Rukikaire rwa Nyabagabo, Emmanuel Tibugyemwa bwa Rwabeire and James Zaatwoshaho.
Other outstanding athletes who ruled the stadium in subsequent years included Babuga, Shem Mashemererwa Bageine, Zaverio Bamuturaki, Besigye ba Byeterwa, David Beteise ba Nyengire, Charles Birusya bya Kashumba, Jack Kabahikyeho, Kabashekye, Kaliro, James Karibwije, Misango, Rutandekire, Tuhungye, Shaka Ssali wa Mushakamba and Zirahuka.
Among Kigyezi’s outstanding footballers in my youth were Kabulia, Kajanja,, Kamurasi, David Kataiguta, Godfrey Kukundakwe wa Kakira, Bill Matama, John Mirembe wa Kasi, Mpangaana, Matayo Ndyanabangi, Nyesigire, Shaka Ssali and Tuhungye. They thrilled us. They uplifted us. Their exploits became our pride.
Then there was a group of Kigyezi young men who towered above everyone else. These stars who competed on the international stage, either in the Commonwealth Games or the Olympics, are in their own category. Among them: Francis Xavier Hatega (440 yards relay), Deogratius Kagurusi Rwabugwene (marathon), Robert Rwakoojo (1 mile), Peter Rwamuhanda (110, 200 and 400 metre relays and hurdles) and George Zebikiire (marathon).
Giants in their time. Now mostly forgotten. Few of them still living. However, their offspring or other relatives who know their stories are around. I would love to hear from them. We need to tell their stories, however brief or sad. Future generations must know their past.
A final thought: Kabaare Stadium’s reversed fortune may have begun on Saturday February 10, 1973, the darkest day in post-colonial Kigyezi. Three Bakiga men – Joseph Bitwari, James Karambuzi and David Kangire – were publicly executed in Kabaare Stadium. These brave men, recruits in the guerrilla army of Yoweri K. Museveni, were felled by volleys of bullets whose sound echoes down the decades.
A small slab, with their names roughly engraved in the concrete, is all that marks the spot where they gave their lives in the struggle for freedom.
Would it not be a good idea for Museveni’s government to build a new, modern regional stadium on that very site, as a monument to the memory of these men?