Chisano: Death of my father drives me to hit through walls

Heathens' loose forward Joaquim Chisano. PHOTOS/JOHN BATANUDDE

What you need to know:

Chisano had a very deep relationship with his father, John Okalo Olwangu (RIP). First of all, South Africa's Pieter-Steph du Toit is Chisano's favorite rugby player.

Growing up in the 1990s and having a big ear for foreign and current affairs, I knew Joaquim Chissano as the president of Mozambique. 

When he retired from the country's top office, the old statesman became one of the most sought-after political dignitaries in Africa and beyond.

Until just a few years ago, that's the only person going by that name that I knew.

Then, out of nowhere, a youngster popped up on the Uganda rugby scene with the very same name.

And to make matters more funny, he has no connection with Mozambique whatsoever. We shall revisit the name issue later on in the story.

From Kenya with a dream

In my life as a sportsman and journalist, I have seen and heard many athletes' stories of leaving their homelands to chase their dreams in faraway places.

For Chisano, December 2016 was the time. After his Senior Four (equivalent of Senior Six in Uganda) at St. Paul's Amukura, Busia, he set out on a life changing journey.

He laughs at himself when narrating his journey to Uganda. It so happened that Chisano's older brother owned a fast food restaurant in Mukono. So when he finished school, Chisano came to help his brother with work. 

But deep inside him he knew he wanted to play the sport he loved so much. 

Chisano boarded a taxi to Kampala and went straight to Kyadondo Rugby Club for training even before reaching his brother's house.

"I googled the nearest rugby club and the results showed Kyadondo. So I told the taxi guy to drop me at Kyadondo. I walked in like I knew the place and the people but I didn't know anyone. I only got to know them later and yeah, I was happy that I had found a rugby home," he recalls. 

Robert Seguya (RIP) was the coach and Chisano remembers seeing the likes of Michael and Phillip Wokorach, Asuman Mugerwa, Alex Mubiru for the first time.

However, one player had something in common with the newcomer. Vincent Mose, the Kenyan fullback plying his trade at Heathens.

Mose advised him to go down the ladder to Stallions because, to be honest, Heathens was deep waters for the ambitious youngster.

Chisano obliged but would find the going rather uneven. 

He says he used to train and give his all but never was selected to play and as time went on, he lost steam and morale. 

Chisano (R) takes down Pirates' Ivan Magomu in a league game. 

"I used to commute from work in Mukono to Kyadondo for training but come matchday I was never put out on the pitch to play so I felt demotivated and decided to look elsewhere," he chuckles.

Loved and accepted in Entebbe 

William Oketa Ketso and Paul Angana, playing for Plascon Mongers, were studying at UCU. They were also regular patrons at Chisano's brother's restaurant.

The thing about sportsmen is that they will always connect. They found out he was a rugby player and told him about a team called Mongers, in Entebbe, and convinced him to try his luck there.

They would trek the Mukono-Entebbe distance on training days and Chisano, relentless in the pursuit of his dream, worked his socks off to break into the Mongers team.

If you have watched Chisano play, you know how hard he works. Strong in the tackle, a hard, powerful runner, and isn't afraid to put his body in places where many wouldn't.

He brought all that energy to the side and to plainly put it, Mongers had literally picked a land title in their name. 

Chisano's big break came against giants Kobs at the House of Pain in Entebbe. The visitors, hoping for a routine win, were made to sweat until the final whistle, only managing to escape with a hard earned 30-29 win. 

Chisano remembers how it all came about. William Wandicho was injured and Chisano was itching to put his mark on the game.

As an unknown entity, he caught everyone's eye carrying such a unique and famous name, he helped himself and Mongers to two tries in the game.

"Suddenly I was the guy everyone was talking about. Sometimes that's the break you need. Big teams from Kampala took notice and approached me.

Pirates, Kobs and Heathens all came but I decided to stay at Mongers for at least one more season to repay their faith and belief in me. That was the only way to reward them," he says.

National team call-up and fearing to join

Chisano was now a hungry lion that had sniffed some blood. He saw the opportunity knock on his door but was still weighing his options between Uganda and Kenya.

He deeply loved Kenya and waited on them to present him an opportunity to wear their green jersey but it wasn't forthcoming. Uganda pounced.

During the Rugby Africa Cup hosted at Kyadondo in the aftermath of the 2011 Covid lockdown, Brian Makalama named Chisano in the training squad.

But look, Chisano is only human and some things can be bigger than even the strongest willed individual.

At first, he feared joining the training camp. As the only Mongers player and an outsider in every sense of the word he was about to let the chance slip through his fingers.

Kobs' lock Robert Aziku kept encouraging him to come. 

His first day was a forgettable one. All players knew themselves. He was still a "stranger". They say sport speaks the same language but sometimes it doesn't.

Take you back to your SST classes to know that language barrier is real. For example, the lineout calls were all in Luganda, a language he knew not. 

But as he was whining about all this he remembered why he had come all this far for the sport. That changed everything and he vowed to fight on. He did exactly that and he fell in love with the environment. 

His moment of truth came against Algeria, albeit in bittersweet fashion. He was named on the bench. But he was kept there until the last minute. 

"All that I wanted was to step on that pitch. Nothing more, nothing less. And as soon as I entered, immediately the referee blew the final whistle. I touched the ball once in a lineout and the game ended. My debut lasted just two seconds," he laughs hard.

In many ways such an experience breaks one's soul and spirit. Not Chisano. He counted himself lucky and backed himself for more to come.

After that outing, he finally agreed to bid farewell to Entebbe, leaving Mongers for Heathens. He held talks with coach Mohammed Athiyo about positions and Athiyo told him he wanted to play him at flank.

Chisano hated the position but this is Heathens, the most successful club in Ugandan rugby and it's basically many players' dream to play for it.

Coincidentally, Chisano's arrival coincided with Charles Uhuru's injury and later ban for dangerous play against Adrian Kasito and that saw Chisano find his way to his preferred position in the second row. They won the league unbeaten.

Chisano proved to be a bargain buy with his big game displays in the National 7s and Uganda Cup.

"Spying" on Kenya in France 

Chisano had now resolved to work like a donkey. He went on a four months personal training journey where he worked with Makalama to devastating effect. Gym, road runs, all that stuff. 

Fred Mudoola had taken the national team coach reins from Makalama and he summoned Chisano to the team that was preparing for the 2023 World Cup qualifiers in France.

The challenge was that Chisano had all along been playing as a lock and Mudoola, like Athiyo earlier, told him that he planned to play him at flank. Chisano knew nothing about the demands of the position but offered to learn.

Mudoola gave him just one hint: flankers are hard workers, runners, destroyers and a menace to the opponents.

"Since I was in a very good shape physically and mentally and willing to take opportunities, I went for it and I opened myself to reading so much literature and watching lots of videos on flankers," he adds.

So in France, Chisano was a flanker. Uganda lost 42-07 to Kenya but that game meant a lot to Chisano. He was facing the country of his birth. The country that he wanted to play for but never got the opportunity.

The Ugandan team relied on him to "spy" on their opponents. Whichever move they discussed in Kiswahili, Chisano relayed it to his Ugandan teammates. 

Chisano (C) leads his mates. 

Didn't they try to punish him for his betrayal? 

"They didn't know that I was born in Kenya, maybe that saved me. They were mercilessly targeting Scot Oluoch (Kenyan born) and Asuman Mugerwa (played for Kabras in Kenya)," recalls Chisano. 

Asked to compare the two teams, Chisano is not afraid to opine. He says Kenyans come into these battles better prepared because they dedicate enough time to physical and conditioning which gives them an edge on the physicality side of the game. But he is quick to salute the "small body" Ugandans for the heart and desire to die for the badge. 

He says the France trip was very important to his career because he played all three games (against Kenya, Senegal and Ivory Coast) and put up respectable performances.

Chisano's next international outing was last year's Victoria Cup hosted by Uganda at King's Park. But it came with mixed fortunes for him. He played the opening match against Zambia on that very day he lost his stepmother and had to leave camp.

That means he missed the chance of facing Kenya in the penultimate game, and return leg in Kisumu. For now, his national team record stands at a decent four wins in five games.

There's more to the name 

Chisano had a very deep relationship with his father, John Okalo Olwangu (RIP). First of all, South Africa's Pieter-Steph du Toit is Chisano's favorite rugby player.

The 2019 World Rugby Player of the Year nearly lost his career to an ACL injury. In reconstructing, surgeons cut some tendons from his father and stitched them to the player's damaged part.

That's a very deep relationship. Chisano says if such a thing ever happened to him, his father would sacrifice the same way.

Unfortunately, Chisano's father passed away on May 1, 2023. He had spent time in hospital fighting for his life after being clobbered by thieves.

So, Chisano got the name in a funny way. His grandfather was called Joachim and the young boy was named after him.

Now, time for getting birth certificates came but he had no other name. His father, a big admirer of the Mozambique president, just decided to add the Chissano name, plus the family name, Olwangu. So, the young boy's full name got in motion.

But trust boys for wanting to sound unique. Each time the young man googled the internet, the name that came up was "Joachim Chissano" in direct reference to the Mozambique president.

So he decided to register himself as "Joaquim Chisano" when he was filling out his education and travel documents.

Future plans

Of course as an athlete, Chisano wants to climb up to the highest branch of the rugby tree. He had promised his father that he would push himself to the limit and change everybody's fortunes.

With his father gone, Chisano is still going strong. He says he now has to make it happen for his mother and believes that his father is smiling on him from above. 

Chisano sees the opportunities that rugby has provided to a number of players and knows that with hard work and discipline he can go all the way to the top. 

In brief
Full name: Joaquim Chisano Olwangu 
Date of birth: February 02, 1998
Education: St. Mary's Pathfinder Primary School, Cheplaskei High School, St. Paul's Amukura High School, Busia. 
Current team: Heathens 
Position: Lock/Flank
Previous teams: Mongers 
National team: Uganda 15s
National team caps: 05
Titles: Uganda Cup, National 7s, NSR League 
Favorite player: Pieter-Steph du Toit