Love him or loathe him, former amateur boxer Bernhard Mbamunomuvatere Kamatoto in this edition speaks about his long and winding career. He pulls no punches as he lays bare the good and bad tales of his abbreviated boxing journey and life in general, as well as how a chronic disease hamstrung his childhood dream of joining the paid ranks.
Boasting a record of 39 wins and seven defeats out of 46 bouts, the multi-talented Kamatoto also excelled on the athletics track as a mean sprinter. He likewise tried his hand at football, albeit with very little success, if any.
In today’s edition of your favourite weekly sports feature, Tales of the Legends, profiling our sports heroes and heroines past and present, New Era Sport goes pound for pound with the self-confessed poster boy of coastal boxing, the one and only Bernhard Kamatoto.
Born in Namibia’s harbour town of Walvis Bay, young Bernhard Kamatoto was exposed to boxing at an early age, at 10 years old to be precise. He joined the Cheetah Boxing Club under the stewardship of the late astute boxing administrator, Isaac Kahundju ‘Fish’ Kahatjipara.
Kamatoto found himself under the wings of well-known boxing trainers Chris Basson and Uararere Hindjou, who took their young protégé through the ropes, fine-tuning his raw boxing skills. Tellingly, his arrival at the club coincided with that of several promising youngsters such as the great Harry ‘The Terminator’ Simon, Sacky Shivute, Hendrik Emvula, Ghenny ‘Om Tot’ Emvula, Theobaldt Ngejama and Salathiel Ndinda.
His first competitive fight was against fellow stablemate and boyhood buddy Simon. Though he lost the bout on points, he takes solace in the fact that he managed to stretch his incredibly highly-gifted opponent to the limit in front of a bumper crowd at the Jan Wilken stadium in Walvis Bay in 1983.
After a full year, Kamatoto returned to the boxing ring more determined for a rematch against Simon, but found himself on the ropes again as Simon came out unscathed.
“Look, Harry and I were very close buddies, but that’s where it ended because whenever we entered the ring, the friendship was temporarily put aside. It was business. We went full throttle against each other, fighting for bragging rights in the neighbourhood.
“Eish, Harry was a tough nut to crack, the boy was extremely quick and very skilful whilst packing dynamite in his knuckles. I’m telling you, very few boxers could last the full distance with Harry; he was merciless, and a menace in the ring,” recalled Kamatoto.
However, growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of genuine action, it was time for a new challenge. So, Kamatoto jumped ship, only to resurface at the more illustrious Rössing Boxing Club in the mining town of Arandis under the watchful eye of boxing great Abiud Kanambunga. In Arandis, he rubbed shoulders with established leather traders such as Albertus Katiti, Erastus Kambauruma, Lawrence Cloete, Siegfried Katjiruru, Joshua Kaizuma and Sackey Nangolo.
Initially starting out as a featherweight before upgrading to the lightweight division, Kamatoto was thrown straight into the mix of things, getting his first national fight against Lisias Simon from Tsumeb during the national boxing championships held at Ongwediva in 1984. However, the enthusiastic new kid on the block suffered a narrow defeat on points.
“It was a tough but very close contest, and could have gone either way. But I sadly lost by a narrow margin. The guy was very smart and just slightly more experienced than me, such was the intensity of the bout that we almost went into a physical confrontation after the fight.”
Despite the loss, Kamatoto was selected for the national junior team to represent the country, replacing his conqueror Lisias Simon, who sustained an injury during the build-up for the Provincial Championship in South Africa. Kamatoto could not believe his luck, and grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
In his own words, he did fairly well at the championship before he was eliminated in the quarterfinals by a much older opponent. Although he came out second-best, that fight taught him a lot, and made him stronger and more determined to take his game to the next level.
His next assignment was a date against fellow Rössing stablemate Lisias, whom he brutally sent to the canvas twice via devastating left hooks before following up with another well-executed left hand that finally knocked the lights out of his opponent.
He went on to fight some of the finest leather traders in the business, such as Albertus Katiti and other high-profile boxers.
In 1999, he resolved to move up a gear, and joined the paid ranks. But his dream was shattered when he tested HIV positive ahead of a scheduled undercard bout for his trusted boyhood buddy Harry.
“Eish, it was a heavy blow which left me completely down-hearted and disappointed. But life goes on. I managed to weather the storm, and decided there and then to dedicate my entire life and precious time to the overall development of boxing in a different capacity. Nonetheless, I gathered myself and continued to be Harry’s sparring partner, and was at ringside when he won the WBO international title bout.”
Kamatoto, who eats, dreams and drinks boxing, is currently taking aspiring boxers through the ropes within the structures of the resurrected Erongo Boxing Federation. He was deservedly installed as the designated national youth team manager-cum-coach. Some of the most outstanding boxers who came through his hands are national champion Special Nangolo and Jonas Junias Jonas, amongst others.
His impressive record since taking over the reins at the Erongo Boxing Federation in the portfolio of secretary general is as undisputed national champions three years in succession; and winning seven gold medals and providing five boxers at the quadrennial All Africa Multi-Sport Games in Morocco – certainly no mean feat.
The multi-gifted Kamatoto played competitive football for colourful Kuisebmond youthful outfit Super Stars, and also had short spells with unfashionable Katutura outfits Hungry Lions and African Blizzards, respectively, before retreating down to sea level.
Kamatoto was the fastest sprinter on the athletics track during the hotly-contested inter-schools athletics meetings in his native Walvis Bay during those days, always showing his competitors a clean pair of heels.
Life outside the boxing ring
The single father of four doubles as a motivational speaker about the dangers of HIV and other social evils which are affecting the youth. He is also an unwavering community activist and serves on the board of the Global Fund CCM in Namibia, gallantly spearheading HIV campaigns with a great measure of pride.
The serial hardcore and uncompromising Kamatoto said natural talent without hard work and discipline is worthless, reiterating that athletes must be taught the basics, and that talent alone without sacrifices is not enough to become successful.
“Athletes must know how to set up both short- and-long-term goals, whilst mentors should work hard to improve the technique of their subjects, focussing their efforts to accomplish the aforesaid.”
Never shy or afraid to roll with the punches, the outspoken community
activist raised worry about the conspicuous absence of properly-defined welfare programmes for various sports codes.
He neatly, or rather carefully, placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the portfolio ministry for their apparent lack of insight, and ultimate failure to tackle the devastating evils of society head-on.
“This is exactly why ill-informed athletes end up contracting HIV, and indulge in alcohol and drug abuse,” stated Kamatoto.