Those were the days…..
The halcyon days when men were men and women liked it that way. Days of the kingpins who trod the earth like colossuses and we trembled and sang their praises. Those were the days when men wore their manhood on their faces and, when they traipsed the forests of their countries, kings and warlords shivered and hot-footed it to the nearest spider-hole for cover.
And, think of hard men wearing their manhood on their faces and – BANG, Castro! Even today, the earth quivers at the mere memory of his richly black bushy-beard! Fidel Alejendro Castro Ruz was up there at the apex, among the hardest of the hard. When he pushed the Cuban government off its seat in 1953 and it refused to budge, resulting in his incarceration instead, he retreated to re-enforce his momentum and heaved again, in 1959. Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar (RIP), who had held forte on the island, picked his amassed fortune and dashed for the Dominican Republic. And on to Spain, there to perish in 1973.
For the next 49 years, Fidel Castro ruled the rebel world, scornfully raising his nose at the puny efforts of a powerful neighbour that reigned over the world. USA, for that is the neighbour, tried all the tricks in the book to do Castro in but every trick came to naught. Castro freely exported his liberation empowerment and his morale-boosting beard to the oppressed of the world and they were received with enthusiasm by Africa. Thus rose a crop, on the continent, of hardened men of brawn and brain, ready to lay their lives on the line in the cause of liberation.
And BANG, Ojukwu! Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu exploded on the Western axis of the continent in May1967, following complicated military machinations and pogroms perpetrated against the Ndigbo by the federal government of Nigeria. For thirty months, Ojukwu waged a separatist war to rescue his Biafra State people from the killing machine of the federal military government that was led by Gowon. Clearly, however, the odds were overwhelmingly against him. Again, to save his people, he opted out and left General Yakubu “Jack” Dan-Yumma Gowon to his devices.
As mitigating efforts go, Ojukwu had thrown his lot on the side of the people of Nigeria. However, with a military junta that had managed to hoodwink the international community into collusion, the dreams of the people had been dealt a death blow and the efforts of a handful of men with mean means to rescue them was a cry in the wilderness. On 9th January 1970, General Ojukwu handed over power to his second-in-command and left for Côte d’Ivoire, there to stay for the next 13 years, until his pardon. Last 26th November 2011, the bushy-bearded Ndigbo icon passed away and may his soul rest in peace!
And to the eastern axis of the continent – BANG, Garang! John Garang de Mabior grew up in the soldiery and, interestingly, matured into militaro-academia rebellion. In 1962, at only 17 years of age, Garang was already in the first Sudanese civil war, until his military commanders prevailed over him to first seek an education. He studied in Tanzania and USA, coming out with a PhD in agricultural development, after which he became a full-fledged career soldier. It was at this point that he rose, this time to lead the South Sudanese peoples into rejecting persistent military and Islamic domination by northern Sudan.
From 1983, Garang led his rebel SPLM/A to birth a new Sudan of equality. In 2005, he was sworn in as vice-president of Sudan and administrative head of Southern Sudan which, after 6 years became a separate republic. Unfortunately, Garang died in a freak helicopter accident in July of the same year. Today, Sudan may not be the new Sudan that Garang put his life in cross-hairs to unite but the people of South Sudan have been freed from the yoke of oppression and may Garang’s soul rest in peace!
Of course, you can’t talk about bushy-bearded rebels on the continent without mentioning men like Samora Moisés Machel (RIP) of Mozambique and Jonas Malheiro Savimbi (RIP) of Angola. Castro has seen them all fade while baby-faces take up their mantle, in the cause of liberty for all.
And for entertainment of the liberated, too. There, in the sport of the hardest of the hard – BANG, Ali! Muhammad Ali, né Cassius Marcellus Clay, ruled what was dubbed the golden age of boxing during his time. Those of my time and luck of yore will recall being witness to the beauty of boxing in
Kinshasa, then Zaïre, in 1974 (if only on TV).
Ali was facing the bulky George Foreman, who had floored Joe Frazier (RIP) and Ken Norton, both Ali’s dethroners. Hope was nil in Ali, for whom the whole African continent, in attendance or out, chanted “Boma ye!” The call was for Ali to kill Foreman in what was aptly called “The Rumble in the Jungle”!
Against all odds, Ali felled Foreman in the eighth round, to thunderous applause and claimed back his title. Today, boxing is fading along with its hero, Ali.
Those were the days of munificent men of mean mettle…..