Born Bonifaciu Papu Matingu on 24 January 1970 in the then Zairian capital Léopoldville, now Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, young Papu started playing competitive football at a very young age — 16 to be precise — for Congolese giants Malibu Football Club.
After some eye-catching displays between the sticks for the Congolese giants, his old man persuaded him to try his luck in neighbouring Angola, where his Angolan mother was residing.
"Eish… I was still very young when my old man told me there was a team in Angola that wanted to sign me. I immediately packed my bags and headed to Angola to join Atletico Sport Aviacao (ASA) Football Club. Nicknamed ‘The Eagle’ because of his agility between the sticks, the young Papu developed itchy feet and crossed the Kunene River to South West Africa.
Persuaded by his boyhood buddy Mundu Camana, who was then an established squad member of the Ramblers, Papu’s arrival in Namibia was in fact by default, as he was initially headed for South Africa, where he was left stranded in Auckland Park, Johannesburg, by a crooked agent who left him on his own after promising to find him a club.
His next stop was Windhoek, where he joined compatriots and other football-playing refugees spearheaded by Fernando Simao, Tony Belange, Domingo Martin, Paolo Yamba, Frederico ‘Chicco’ Goncalves, Aime Pascual, Makalele Yuyu Yekeni, and Mundu Camana, following in the footsteps of other refugees that had previously found refuge in the Land of the Brave, Zenga Dodo, Amerigo de Almeida and Zeka Malunga.
In general, natural goalkeepers are very hard to come by, but the arrival of big-frame net minders in the shape of ‘Chicco’ and ‘Papu’ changed the landscape of domestic football.
And whereas the gigantic Chicco made a name for himself with breath-taking saves with cross-town rivals Ramblers, the acrobatic Papu caught the imagination of football followers in the black, dark, and dark and blood strip of Black Africa before he jumped ship to join forces with ‘Ingwe Inyama’, as Tigers are affectionately known among their ardent supporters.
His arrival on the domestic scene coincided with that of other foreign footies who joined local clubs en masse, notably from war-torn nations Angola and Congo Brazzaville. After a few eye-catching performances between the sticks for Black Africa, Papu was hailed as the messiah as he almost singlehandedly saved the Gemengde outfit from the dreaded relegation axe that hovered over the undisputed knockout cup conquerors in the 1991 season.
His next destination was Donkerhoek, where he found fame with Tigers. The acrobatic goalie warmed himself into the hearts of ‘Ingwe’ supporters as he proved unbeatable between the sticks. The agile shot stopper fashioned outstanding performances for ‘Ingwe', but one cannot fail to mention his heroics in the final of the NFA Cup against his former employers Black Africa at Windhoek’s Independence stadium in 1995.
With 'Ingwe' having taken a well-deserved one-goal lead through Foresta Nicodemus’ well-taken goal, it was left to Papu to rescue the day for ‘Ingwe’ when he majestically rose in the air to stop a goal-bound stinger from Bobby Samaria with almost the last kick of the game to hand 'Ingwe' victory.
A bird of passage, Papu vacated the Tigers cage only to resurface at Black Africa after he was lured into the lions’ den by the wide-awake Uncle Bob Kandetu and head coach Seth Mataba Boois. He immediately established himself as a vital member of the Gemengde outfit’s starting line-up, cementing his place as the number one goal-minder.
The acrobatic shot stopper played an instrumental role in Black Africa’s march to multiple championship victories that included the coveted league title, knockout cup triumphs, and other high-profile accolades.
There is an old saying that even a good dancer has to leave the stage at some point, and having won all the silverware there was to be won and gradually reaching the sunset of his playing days, it was time for him to hang up his trusted gloves.
However, the agile goalie was not entirely lost to football upon retirement from playing competitive football. ‘Papu’ turned his hand to nurturing young goalkeepers.
He went on to mentor aspiring goalies and establish himself as an astute goalkeepers’ coach. Notable net guards such as Heribert Kapeng, Arnold Subeb, Abongile Grootboom, Jack Mabuku, Fox Nambundunga, Ephraim Tjihonge, Dawid Williams, and Helmut Maletzky all counted among his protégés.
‘Papu’ also took the Brave Gladiators net guards under his wing, a task he executed with great aplomb. Regrettably, football politics stalled his progress as the adorable retired net guard was systematically sidelined from the national team set-up while also being given a cold-shoulder by his previous clubs.
This treatment left the retired goalie destitute and feeling isolated and discarded, as he has been systematically denied job opportunities in football structures.
"I’ve dedicated my entire playing career to the overall growth of Namibian football, but once my playing days were over, I was dumped like discarded garbage and left to rot in the wilderness. Sometimes I feel gravely discriminated against because I’m a foreigner, or maybe it’s the result of not knowing or having the right connections to influential people within the football structures.
What really hurts me is that I’m still called a foreigner in my adopted country, notwithstanding my unconditional loyalty and contribution towards the overall growth of domestic football", fumed the retired shot stopper.
He added that he still believes he has a lot to offer, but football politics make it very difficult for some of the most retired players to plough back the experience gained throughout their days.
His former teammate at Tigers, now retired midfield general Peter Oubaas "Boere" Mokwena, aka ‘Siwelele’, echoes Papu’s sentiments, weighing in with a few strong words.
"It’s heart-breaking to see former players being sidelined by their former employers and football authorities alike. Many former footballers have no other means of survival besides football upon their retirement from competitive football. From a humanitarian point of view, clubs indeed have a moral obligation to integrate former players into their systems, be it at youth level, as team managers, or in any other portfolio within the club’s structures," Mokwena laments.