In hindsight, retired Namibian High Commissioner to Malaysia, one Gebhardt Tjivaro Kandanga, looks like somebody who could hardly harm a fly. But oh boy!!! The big frame brother left many opponents sprawling like a bunch of wounded worms on the canvas with his powerful right hook during the popular Inter-Schools Boxing tournaments across the length and breadth of his motherland, back in the day. Tjivaro, as the soft spoken beanpole retired diplomat is famously known amongst his vast circle of friends, is a man of many hidden talents but will be best remembered for his exploits in the boxing ring.
A mean puncher, the former amateur light heavyweight boxer made his name in the business of leather trading during the hotly contested popular Inter-Schools Boxing tourneys, where he rubbed shoulders with the who’s who in the boxing ring. His arrival on the boxing scene coincided with the emergence of highly gifted young boxers from Khorixas and the heavily populated northern part of the country. His era also yielded the unavoidable presence of Dr Mike Ochurub, Gideon “Giddies” Gurirab, Ben Awaseb, Kelly Ngixulifwa and many other prominent student leather traders. Though he has since hung up his boxing gloves, Tjivaro is coming out of retirement to serve his community outside the boxing ring. He is amongst dozens of former athletes entering the political landscape en masse, trailing in the footsteps of Linus Garoeb, Asser Mbai, Tommy Kaimbi, Skelly Kavetuna, Ephraim Shozi, aka Mdota Martin, Knowledge Ipinge, Rasta Mbuende, Tommy Adams, Jeraldo Eiseb.
In today’s edition of your favourite weekly sport feature, Tales of the Legends, profiling our national sport heroes and heroines past and present, New Era Sport goes blow for blow with the likeable much travelled diplomat as he outlines his plans for a new career path, including his countless battles in the boxing ring.
Born Gebhardt Tjivaro Kandanga on the 2nd of November, 1957 at the pocket size village of Okahitanda, holed up on the outskirts of Okondjatu in the vastly populated Otjozondjupa region, Tjivaro started his primary schooling at the revered Waterberg Primary School Ongombe Ombonde near Okakarara, under the shrewd stewardship of Gotlieb Kaura.
However, the gentle giant was back in familiar territory when Okondjatu Combined School opened its doors in 1970 under the watch of Festus Tjivikua, old man to retired Police Commissioner James, Tjama, Kapala, Shorra and Hippy, in that sequence.
Upon completion of his primary schooling, Tjivaro headed to Okakarara to further his studies at Okakarara Senior Secondary School. It was there where his interest in leather trading took off.
“Look, back in the day, recreational facilities were a scarce commodity which left many young boys to spend most of the their time chasing an inflated piece of leather (football) because one just needed a piece of open ground and a tennis ball, often if lucky, some dilapidated soccer ball.
“Obviously, not all of us possessed the talent of playing football – some of us had to resort to other sporting disciplines such as volleyball, boxing, ring tennis and athletics.
“Luckily, we had a significant number of enthusiastic white soldiers-cum-tutors at our school. They took us through the ropes, showing us the finer points of how to master the art of modern boxing,” recalls Tjivaro with a twinkle in his eyes. Although he started boxing at primary school, using primitive outdated training methods, the desire was still there when he ended up at Okakarara Senior Secondary School. “The interest was phenomenal from fellow students – we managed to assemble a formidable team of great boxers in the mould of Maru Tjihumino, Moses Hengari, Mike Kangombo and the Hijarunguru cousins Ellison and Sagarias, amongst others.
“We used to compete fiercely amongst ourselves having a whale of a time with the hostel boys.”
Tjivaro announced his presence with some impressive performances in the annual inter-schools multi sport tournaments. He started out as a welterweight but soon upgraded to the light heavyweight division where he established himself as one of the finest. His first competitive bout was against a then hard-hitting northern dude going by the name of Erick Kemanya in Ongwediva during the preparatory fights for the national schools championships in Uis in 1978.
And though he narrowly lost on points, the lanky boxer came back strongly in his next bout with back-to-back victories against Kelly Ngixulifwa in Uis and the crowd favourite Ben Awaseb from Augustineum Secondary School. Interestingly, both his victims suffered the same fate via 3rd round stoppages.
“Awaseb was quite a tricky customer to deal with – I was in deep trouble from the word go as he built up a sizeable lead on the score sheet. I was obliged to pull out all the tricks in the book of tricks and somehow managed to wangle my way through the pain. “He (Awaseb) was a very skilful boxer and had me in all sorts of trouble. I peppered him with a combination of body punches which tired him to the extent that his corner threw in the towel ... obviously much to my relief.”
In his own words, his toughest fight was against another Augustineum product Ephraim Tjingaete at the packed to rafters Okakarara Secondary School Hall. “To be brutally honest, that boy packed dynamite in his fists and was the only guy who really hurt me. Strangely, I won the bout on points but I think it was more of a hometown decision ... (laughs).” His flirtation with boxing gloves came to an abrupt end when he made mince meat of sparring partner Ellison Hijarunguru during a hotly contested sparring session.
The latter was obliged to seek medical attention and though Tjivaro still believes it was a recurrence of vicious blows sustained in a previous fight, the dominant view amongst stable members was that he went a bit overboard during the sparring session.
Being the gentle giant he has always been inside and outside the ring, Tjivaro lost further interest in trading leather and resolved to hang up his gloves for good in 1980.
His next stop was the city of bright lights (Windhoek) where he took up employment with the Ministry of Finance as an administrative clerk before being elevated to the position of assistant accountant within the same department.
He rose up the ranks and landed the plum position of deputy director in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs upon Namibia’s democracy in 1990, doubling as financial advisor, human resource (transport auxiliary services, salaries and creditors).
After a period of seven solid years, he was posted to Malaysia as acting high commissioner in 1996 where he spent eight months before he was recalled to his native land.
In 1999, he was shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to New York, USA occupying the portfolio of first secretary responsible for office administration and 5th committee of the UN dealing with budgeting and peacekeeping operations as well as representing Namibia on committee contributions. He was also tasked with the responsibility for determining scales of assessment for member states.
After four years, he came back home in 2003 before he was dispatched across the Orange River to South Africa, holding the portfolio of deputy head of mission under veteran High Commissioner Phillemon Kondja Kambala.
Two years later, he was duly appointed high commissioner to Malaysia where he also doubled as ambassador to Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, and Timo Leste in the Pacific Islands. Tjivaro returned home in 2016 a year before he went into retirement.
His interest in politics took off during the widespread student uprisings in the mid-70’s. He joined the liberation movement Swapo in 1978. As a raw political activist, he was exposed to politics at an early age under the watch of his late militant aunt Rikumbi Kandanga.
“My late aunt (Rikumbi) inspired me to take up politics as a result of the constant harassment by law enforcers. She was under house arrest and would frequently sneak into Windhoek with security agents watching her every movement.”
With politics running thick in the veins of the Kandanga clan, Tjivaro is no exception and is determined to carry the torch. He is now contesting the soon to be vacant position of councillor in Okakarara constituency.
He strongly feels he is the right candidate for the much sought-after position since he knows the area very well in terms of its shortcomings, needs since Namibia’s democracy.
“There has been no significant improvement in the livelihood of residents. I’m confident I possess the required capacity and drive to deliver despite my advanced age; I am still feel fresh and more importantly, have an unquenchable hunger to change the lifestyle of my community.
“The major concern is education, poor performance of students particularly Grade 12’s; more efforts are needed to improve performance, obviously with the collective efforts of community leaders. As it stands, sub-standard and inadequate health facilities remain an eyesore.
“Poor infrastructure hampers development, we need to speed up the process of upgrading the roads linking Okahandja to Okondjatu and the 100-kilometre stretch between Okakarara and Okondjatu to bitumen standard.”
On top of his list of priorities, if elected, is the burning issue of food security, agriculture through big scale community gardens that will supply schools and water distribution. “My main aim is to have the eastern water carrier extended to serve virgin lands whilst utilising space limitations.”
“It’s essential to upgrade amenities such as electricity and ablution facilities in the village towns of Okatjoruu, Okakarara, Okondjatu, Okamatapati and Coblenz. And with the prospect of the mooted opening of coal mines in the area, we must all put shoulder to the wheel, ensuring the natural resources benefit the immediate inhabitants.”