Isaac Ssenyange, alias Zebra or Mando, was an ever-present figure, in his Bwaise hood and in boxing zones. He served several duties: boxer, coach, leader, disciplinarian, family man, motivator, power broker, guard, et al.
He also wore different faces: happy, furious, passionate, argumentative (typical Arsenal fan), confrontational, uniting, and sometimes divisive. The kind of person who could bitterly yell at you at noon and give you a few shillings for lunch, with a smile.
With that rainbow persona, over four decades, Zebra touched several lives. And those touched most do not want to forget him. His body might be lying six feet under, about 36 kilometres away from Bwaise, but they want to keep him around. Like he never left.
On Wednesday, Musa Shadir, the national boxing captain, added to his Facebook story with a mural of Zebra.
The giant painting, under construction at Zebra Boxing Club, a stone’s throw away from Ssenyange’s home, is just one of a series that will be pasted in the hood and several gyms as a tribute to the slain boxer.
Ssenyange was gunned down by security operatives near his Bwaise home last week.
It is an initiative by Ssenyange’s family, including his heir Isaac Ssenyange Jr, his brother Twaib Mayanja, and widow Mercy Mukankusi.
“It means a lot to me that my father will not be forgotten, at least not in the near future,” Ssenyange Jr says.
“Zebra had influence in almost all the gyms. He founded some of them. Some have coaches who were coached by Zebra, and may want to remember him,” says the deceased’s brother Mayanja. “So, if they ask for the painting, we shall do it for free.”
Inside the initiative
The initiative will also involve creating videos of Ssenyange’s works and the motivational song he taught to his ghetto soldiers; printing more t-shirts carrying Ssenyange’s image, like the white ones that family members wore during his funeral.
“We must keep his candle burning,” Mayanja adds emotionally. “We just can’t let him be forgotten.”Ssenyange Jr says the artist, Alex Page, volunteered to do the work for free, just as a tribute to a mentor he never met.
“He just asked for money for paint and a small fee to transport his helpers. He said he never met Zebra but followed his works and looked up to him as a mentor,” he said.
At Ssenyange’s burial last Thursday, Kawempe Division Mayor Emmanuel Sserunjogi suggested that the section of Nabweru Road, off Bombo Road, between Eden Service Park and the Kawaala junction to be named Isaac Zebra Ssenyange Road.
He promised to fast-track the proposal to honour the legacy of a man, who was dedicated to transforming the ghetto youths of Kawempe, from delinquents and potential criminals to useful citizens.
Ssenyange Jr says they plan to request property owners to allow them paste some of the murals on the buildings along that road.
Uganda Boxing Federation president Moses Muhangi, who described Ssenyange as his right-hand man – and so he was – said the deceased will be among the first inductees when the Uganda Boxing Hall of Fame is established.
Zebra loved boxing and gave it his all. Renowned ex-international Justin Juuko called him “a boxing teacher.” But he also had a dream of establishing an academy for all sports. His son says the plans are underway to make this dream come true.
As much as he was tough, Zebra smiled. And so does the mural. He also had a sense of style and often sported sunglasses, which he sometimes rested on his forehead. So does the mural .