A BANDANA sweatband around the head, round-neck T-shirt neatly tucked into tight denim shorts revealing athletic muscular thighs, long socks on sneakers, Paulo De Souza cut a conspicuous figure in Harare’s central business district, for years his playground.
In the eyes of many, De Souza – who passed away a month ago in Harare – the claim to fame was being the uncle of world-famous boxer and British heavyweight folk hero Derek Chisora (pictured).
While to a great extent true, De Souza though ought to be treated as a fine sportsman in his own right; a champion martial-artist at the peak of his athletic powers, and at one stage a solidly-built bouncer of his beloved Dynamos, Zimbabwe’s most successful football club.
Born 52 years ago in Harare to an immigrant white Portuguese father and a black Zimbabwean mother, De Souza was a man immensely proud of his diverse heritage. He was known to tell the story of his lineage articulately and meticulously, as he did to me six years ago for a feature I contributed to a Pan-Africanist website that has been put on the back burner for now.
Angelo De Souza, his father, was a qualified electrician, but also a decorated soldier in the Portuguese army in Angola and Mozambique.
Sometime in the late 1960s when visiting Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, he fell in love with a local beauty, Phyllis Masarakufa, a single mother who worked as a receptionist for a real estate agent in Salisbury (now Harare).
As his first son Paulo narrated, the older De Souza then went back to Mozambique, “put down the gun”, and migrated to Rhodesia to ply his trade as an electrician although his military skills were soon required by the white minority Rhodesian government in a bitter war against black freedom fighters.
He married Phyllis, who ironically had an older brother fighting in the liberation struggle for black majority rule in Zimbabwe. They had two sons, Paulo and Aires.
Angelo De Souza and his family first lived in Kopje, then acquired property in Hatfield, a middle-class neighbourhood in Harare where they lived comfortably, despite threats to deport him if he didn’t join the Rhodesian army.
Phyllis Masarakufa’s daughter from an earlier relationship – Viola Tavengwa – had a very young son named Derek, from her collapsed marriage to estranged husband Paul Chisora.
Older De Souza took an immediate liking for his step-daughter’s son, so he took in young Derek in his house in Hatfield, raising him up in a multiracial family alongside his uncles Paulo and Aires – both keen fighters.
Paulo told the story of how Derek’s competitive streak manifested early, around the neighbourhood and in school at Churchill Boys High, where his raw desire for physical contact and aggression landed him in trouble many a time until the age of 15 when he followed his mother to the United Kingdom.
At home, Paulo used to make his half-sister’s son hit punching bags, very hard, and he remembered an incident when his brother Aires and young Derek had their bicycles “taken away by some older boys.” An “ultimatum” was issued by Paulo to the two young boys to go and recover the bikes, which they did successfully. “They had gone back and fought,” boasted Paulo.
Chisora, said De Souza, was a “product of two warriors”, himself and the boxer’s mother Viola. “My sister, his mother, could hit a man to the floor.”
Paulo De Souza’s early life in racially divided Rhodesia wasn’t itself incident-free. As a mixed-race young person growing up in pre-Independence Zimbabwe and also because he could “pass as an Indian” in his young days, he was one of the first non-Asian children to attend Louis Mountbatten Primary School in Harare, named after the last British Viceroy of India.
He soon transferred to the nearly all-white Blakiston Junior School, where he claimed that staff “ran a pen through the new pupils’ hair” to determine if they were “white enough” to be enrolled.
De Souza remained close to his nephew though they did not make contact often, but recalled one of Chisora’s gestures of generosity towards him. Once, he said, Chisora paid his rentals in Harare for a period of six months, during a period of hardship in Zimbabwe.
And he always had a word of advice for his nephew even as Chisora became a world-acclaimed boxer: have the killer punch to finish your fights early, and make use of your upper cuts.
Paulo was an accomplished fighter himself in his youth, a national champion judoka, whilst young brother Aires became a mixed martial artist in England.
A warm and thoroughly likeable fellow – frequently seen alone in the corner of the pub jotting down stuff into a notebook – De Souza was one of those simple folks around us who give a simplicity to life and make you reflect for a moment when you are being too hard on yourself.
He was the epitome of a healthy lifestyle, a fitness enthusiast and an enigma even as he turned half a century old.
Little did people know that he was in fact battling cancer, which he finally succumbed to three weeks ago at Parirenyatwa Hospital, and was laid to rest a few days later at Glen Forest Cemetery.