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My last sight of Ricky Phuka

Do you remember the old days? The days when karate shoes, upturned collars and punky or table hair-cuts were the defining symbols for the trendy on the Malawi streets?

In the days of darkness when everyone wearing dreadlocks was associated with puffing the hard stuff, the conclusions were not too difficult to make on this sunny afternoon.

The towering Ricky ‘Mabomba’ Phuka entered MDC Stadium, dreadlocks carelessly flying. Next to him was Holman Malunga wearing a pony tail, his hair in smooth curl kit, silver earrings complementing his handsome looks.

Phuka had then played for Kaizer Chiefs and AmaZulu among others, before making a brief return back home in Malawi.

It was supposed to be a happy reunion with the giant of Malawi club football Telecom Wanderers FC for Phuka and his fellow returnee from South Africa, Holman.

Wanderers were at Blantyre’s MDC Stadium playing their bitter rivals, Bata Bullets the South Africa equivalent of the Soweto derby.

The year must have been 1993. I edged closer to Bullets’ goalposts. I did not mean to get a close up of enigmatic Bullets goalkeeper George ‘Amunamtape’ Waya in his unmatched trademark Power-branded socks.

I was only interested in the two returnees especially Phuka who in 1984 was a key member of the Malawi team that debuted at the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Ivory Coast.

He cut a figure of an eccentric striker; his dry dark trademark-dark turn up lips stark from a distance.

Phuka did nothing to justify his presence on the pitch. The afternoon belonged to Lawrence ‘Teacher’ Waya who netted two unanswered goals for Bullets.

Yet on this afternoon it was Holman took the most stick from Bullets fans who took turns in calling him Aunt Eluby. Suddenly, there was heated debate among Wanderers players with Phuka at the centre of it all.

He did not take it lying down. The big man exploded in street slang: “Kulayankhulayankhu kwarimbi njibwa? Tamangonyameni rampi paa.”

In proper Malawi vernacular this should sound: “kuyankhula yankhula bwanji? Tamangomenyani mpira apa!” In English that should mean: “Guys you are talking too much...lets concentrate on playing.”

After that game Phuka was never to be seen in Wanderers colours again until the tragic news of his death in Durban, South Africa filtered in last month of April.

What ought to be said and written about the circumstances leading to the death of the former Kaizer Chiefs and Amazulu great is enough.

To hit the nail on the head, he died a destitute in Durban from where well wishers made contributions to repatriate his remains back home to Malawi for burial last week.

There are many lessons to be learnt from the life and times of late Phuka.

I count myself lucky to have watched one of Malawi football legends.

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