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Acclaimed Zimbabwean referee & judge Steven Masiyambumbi officiating at a past international tournament


Countdown to Mandela African Boxing Cup Tournament in Durban, South Africa, April 15-21: Zimbabwe’s renowned R&J sold his car to CAR TO fulfil burning ambition

Zimbabwe’s former international boxer Steven Masiyambumbi was seized with an intense desire to become a 3-Star referee/judge when he switched to officiating boxing matches in 2014.

“I knew if I got to that grade I’ll be able to officiate in big international tournaments such as the World Championships and Olympic Games, that was my dream but for one to officiate at that level you must be a 3-star RJ,” explains the 41-year-old father of two boys whose wife Cynthia has played a key role in his success.

As the burning desire to attain his ambition was building up, at the back of his mind he was always thinking of one major hurdle to clear: how to raise money to achieve his goal because most 3-Star courses are held overseas.

“Where would I get all that money to cater for my air ticket and accommodation while attending the course, that’s what bothered me,” recalls Masiyambumbi.

On switching to refeering and judging, Masiyamumbi’s rise was fast but not without bumps and potholes on the his way.

“After I hanged my gloves in 2012, I became a coach and did club refeering and judging, then proceeded to provincial and national level.”

As a coach, Masiyambumbi was more focused on handling junior boxers to groom future champions.

In 2014 he was named the assistant national team coach for the Region Five Championships held in Zimbabwe.

“After the tournament I decided to try my luck in 1-Star RJ course in Bulawayo. My father (Petros Masiyambumbi) encouraged me a lot to go for the course.

“My decision to go for the course was at first resisted by some people because they felt I was too young for the course.

“My father believed in me and said I should ignore whoever thought I was too young for the course. I passed the exams, and besides my dad I want to thank Mr Andile Mofu from South Africa and Mike Moroka from Botswana for encouraging me to write the exams.

“I was then appointed to officiate in Zone 4 Championships in Pretoria in 2015. My father told me go there and make him proud and my country. I did exactly that and when I went home with the video my father was so happy, unfortunately that same year in 2015 my father died, it was a very painful experience for me and the entire family. My mum had passed away earlier on.”

Painful as it was, Masiyambumbi had no choice but to put behind the death of his beloved father and move on. His next challenge was to pass 2-Star course he attended in Botswana in 2019. Again he defied all odds to emerge the best judge.

“I received a glittering trophy, and this gave me more confidence that eventually I would realise my dream of becoming a 3-Star judge.”

That chance finally presented itself in 2019 when the Zimbabwe federation nominated him for the course in Thailand but due to lack of a sponsor he failed to make it.

He received yet another invitation in 2021 to attend a 3-Star course in Dubai but again inadequate funding was his obstacle.

“No one was ready to assist me, my federation had no money to send me to Dubai, I was becoming frustrated how can I miss this chance again, I was so desperate.”

This is when his wife Cynthia chipped in and came up with a suggestion which at first Masiyambumbi thought was a big joke.

“Whether you like or not we will have to sell your car for you to take this important course,” my wife told me looking at me straight in my eyes.

“What! sell my car! thats impossible,” I told my wife my eyes wide open in disbelief surprised by her suggestion.

“How will we be going to work without the car?,” I posed to my wife.

She was then working at a supermarket and I was employed by the government.

“Steve you had been going to work before you bought the car, were you born with it? if you want to achieve anything big in life you must sacrifice especially in this particular situation we’re in now, let the car go and chase your dream,” she told me but I was still not convinced. I treated her wild suggestion like a bad dream because I loved my Nissan tidal, it was like my second wife.

“Remember Steve as a boxer you failed to represent your country in the World Championships and Olympic Games, and it was always your dream and also to make your dad happy but if you let this chance go you will not achieve your dream.Through refeering and judging you’ll succeed,” my wife told me emphatically.

“Finally, I had to grudgingly accept her suggestion. We sold my Nissan tidal I had bought for around 3,500 US dollars and I spent 2,100 dollars to attend the course. Just like in business if you develop fear you can’t make any headway that’s how I looked at it.”

He’s also grateful for the spiritual nourishment he got from Bishop Owen Madori of Grace House International Ministries who prayed for him before departure.

“I thank Bishop Madori for his prayers and positivity on the task ahead, he was very impressed with my Faith to sell my car in order to attain my ambition.”

Steve travelled to Dubai bubbling with confidence he would fulfill his ambition and stayed at the Meridien Hotel.

“I spent sleepless nights for five days reading and comprehending a huge technical document we were given by the instructors,” recalls Masiyambumbi when he was in Dubai.

“We were told all questions for the exams were to come from the document,” he told *_AFBC Communication_* in an interview.

“Throughout the course I was just thinking what Cynthia had told me if I’m to realise my ambition, she was my inspiration, I said to myself I must pass the exams.”

Indeed Masiyambumbi did pass the course with flying colours to become a 3-Star referee/judge.

What a memorable achievement it was for the former Zimbabwean international boxer who worked so hard to avoid letting down his lovely wife Cynthia.

“I thank my wife for encouraging me and coming up with the bold decision to sell my car, the decision didn’t go down well with my two sons Leon and Leonell but today they’re seeing the investment we made was worth it because to officiate in the big international competitions like the World Championships and Olympic Games you must be a 3-Star RJ.

“I don’t regret at all selling my car, few people can take such a risk to spend 2,100 US dollars to fulfill their ambition. if I had not done that, today I would not be travelling around the world to officiate in international tournaments. So if you want to achieve your dream do anything possible but realistic to be there, sacrifice is part of it.”

Since graduation, he has officiated in several prestigious international tournaments among them the 2021 World Boxing Championships in Belgrade, Serbia, the 2022 Women’s World Championpionships in Istanbul, Turkey, the 2023 Women’s World Championships in Delhi, India and Men’s World Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. His latest assignment was at the 2023 Junior World Championships in Yerevan, Armenia.

What’s his advice to fellow referees and judges?

“They should be true to themselves and honest when in the ring, a slight mistake can mess up the future of a boxer, we must be fair and professional in our job.

“A dedicated RJ must also keep on reading and understand the technical document well. Physical training to maintain shape is a must. I train from Monday to Friday.”

Masiyambumbi trains boxers at the Tshaka Gym located in Makokoba, the oldest location in Bulawayo.

“I also do sparring with the boxers. If I don’t practise my performance will drop,” says Masiyambumbi whose involvement in boxing is not accidental.

To the Masiyambumbis, boxing is a family sport introduced to them by their late father Petros Masiyambumbi, himself a former Zimbabwean international boxer and later appointed the national coach and Technical Director.

The now accomplished referee/judge was born on February 4, 1983 in Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe. He’s the second born in a family of seven boys and four girls with five boys and a girl managing to represent the national team.

In addition to himself, other boxing brothers are Foster, Samson, James and Brighton who fought for Zimbabwe at the 2013 World Championships in Kazakhstan. James the first born and Brighton passed on.

Masiyambumbi’s sister Karen proved her mettle at the youth level before representing the national team.

“My late dad is the one who made me become a good boxer and all the credit goes to him, he was passionate in developing boxing at all levels in our country,” says Masiyambumbi.

“My dad founded the Nketa Club where he was coaching us with my brothers and sister Karen, our home was known for boxing. I started boxing at the age of 7 when I was in primary school.

“My father used to tell me it’s not yet time for me to enter competitions until I master all the basics of boxing and be able to prove to him I’m ready. It was a challenging task being trained by my father, you must observe all rules no crazy things during training.”

Secure in the knowledge his son had gathered enough boxing education, the father eventually allowed the budding boxer to start competing in school tournaments.

The young Masiyambumbi was also lucky in that Zimbabwe has over the years had a comprehensive junior and youth boxing development programme.

At the age of 12, he was already the Bulawayo schools pinweight champion.

“During those days boxing was very competitive in our country, you had to be very good to make it,” recalls Masiyambumbi.

“In 1998 I became the best boxer in Douglas Gadzirisa national tournament in the flyweight category, and later I started boxing for my province team in national championships. I lost my first fight in the national championships boxing for my province. I then went back to the drawing board, I blamed myself for being relaxed in training but I still believed I’m the best.”

Masiyambumbi was finally capped in 2002 in an international contest between Zimbabwe against Namibia and won his bantamweight bout.

“I was so much under pressure because the first three boxers had lost their fights so I had to win, I was on fire, I remember my dad telling me son relax you’ll win your fight because he knew I had prepared very well. I was so happy I won and made my dad proud. Everyone now had confidence in me.”

Young Masiyambumbi now became a regular member of Zimbabwe’s national team with his dad as the coach. He represented his country at the 2007 African Games in Algeria but lost to a South African opponent in his first fight.

“This is when I realised the importance of exposure, I lacked experience, I did my best in losing to Owethu Mbira of South Africa in bantamweight,” says Masiyambumbi who was so happy his dad was the national coach and therefore he would guide him better.

Armed with more experience and knowledge, Masiyambumbi was ready for the next major assignment. His determination earned him a place in Zimbabwe’s team for the 2011 African Games in Maputo together with his younger brother Foster.

“I was so happy I made it to the team with my younger brother Foster, I was a lightweight then and I fought a guy from Togo Rafiou Sorouna. I won the fight and lost my next one to a South African boxer.

“My last time to represent the national team was in 2012 in Botswana in the Africa Cup, I got a bronze medal in the middleweight class. After that I quit boxing and got married to my sweetheart Cynthia.”

Masiyambumbi recalls the most devastating punch to hit him in life was when he lost his father in 2015.

“Losing my dad who was my mentor and role model at a time I had started rising as RJ was the lowest moment in my life, it was such a painful punch in my life. I had lost my mum when I was 18 years. How I wished they were alive to see their son shining as RJ.”

Eventually Masiyambumbi, encouraged by wife Cynthia to move on, swallowed the hard punch of losing his father and soldiered on but happy he had fulfilled his ambition in refereeing and judging.

He is now a role model to his sons, 11-year-old Leon and 4-year-old Leonel.

“They’re also interested to emulate their father but I hope they’ll not face the same challenges I’ve gone through,” says the Zimbabwe government employee.
Masiyambumbi is currently the only referee/judge in the 50 sub-Saharan African countries officiating regularly at the global level, the others coming from North Africa.

Credit: AFBC Communication

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