Situated in the suburb of Belvedere, historically Salisbury’s Asian residential area, Louis Mountbatten Primary School was established in the then Rhodesia for the children from the sizeable Indian population of the colony. In the 1970s, Paul De Souza was one of the first non-Indian kids to attend Louis Mountbatten. As a coloured boy growing up in Salisbury, De Souza says he was accepted because of his then pre-adolescent Asian features. His father was Portuguese and his mother African.
“I passed as Indian because of my ‘Parker’ hair,” De Souza recalls.
After going through grade one and two at Louis Mountbatten, Paul had to move to the all-white Blakiston Primary School, where he first came face to face with the toxic racial politics of the land. “They ran a pen through your hair to determine if you were white enough,” De Souza says, recalling the pencil test. “If the pen went through your hair with ease, you were accepted, but still rather unwillingly.”
Interracial marriage in Rhodesia
Paul De Souza grew up to be a disciplined young man who used his fine physical attributes on the sports fields and quenched his thirst for contact in martial arts.
He was born in Harare in 1971 to Angelo De Souza, a professional electrician who had served in the Portuguese regiment in both Angola and Mozambique and then in the Rhodesian army, and Phyllis Masarakufa, a beauty who hailed from the small Zimbabwean town of Enkeldoorn (now Chivhu).
“My dad told me that he had been visiting in Rhodesia when he met my mother at the real estate agent where she worked as a receptionist, and it was eye to eye,” says De Souza. “And from there I was born.
“My father decided to abandon his job in Mozambique and move to Rhodesia. He put down the gun and plied his trade as an electrician. He was arrested by the Rhodesian police twice for going into a black area to see my mother. He beat the odds by paying lobola to my late grandmother and took my mother to a multi-racial area in Kopje, where we lived for three years. The Rhodesian army then tracked him down and forced him into the army call-up. He had to abide or face deportation.”
In the beginning the union was made uneasy by the fact that Phyllis had her feet in opposing camps. Her brother was a liberation war fighter in the struggle against white minority rule, while her husband was fighting in the army that was defending it.
Phyllis Masarakufa had been married previously and bore a daughter, Violet Tavengwa, who in her early 20s married a boilermaker from Mbare named Paul Chisora. They were blessed with a baby boy, who they named Dereck. But the two divorced when Dereck was only four. The young boy grew up in the care of grandmother Phyllis Masarakufa and step-grandfather Angelo De Souza.
From the tough experience of his parents’ divorce and the ghetto life of Mbare, Dereck Chisora would go on to enjoy a comfortable middle-class upbringing in the home of his grandparents in Hatfield.
Uncle Paul, the mentor
It was Phyllis and Angelo’s first son Paul, a martial arts enthusiast, who spotted his young nephew’s aggressive streak and took him under his wing.
“Dereck grew up under my watchful eye. My dad really took a liking to him after my sister and his father divorced. He educated him at Churchill Boys High, but Dereck was a problem at school. He once beat up the headmaster,” says De Souza.
“Academically Dereck was not strong, but I saw something good in him and I groomed him. I think his early life experiences made him the person he is now; from the divorce of his parents, to the military discipline instilled in him by me. I used to make him hit punch bags at home. As a young boy he could take on much older guys and beat them senseless. I remember the time when some older guys attacked him and my young brother Aires and took their bicycles. They came crying to me and I said, ‘Go back and recover the bikes and I will do a follow-up.’ When I got there, the bicycles were back. They had gone back and fought.
“So, those were early signs. Dereck was the product of two warriors. I was once a bouncer for Dynamos (Zimbabwe’s biggest football club) in addition to my martial arts. My sister, his mum, could hit a man to the floor. I suppose that’s why she divorced her husband – they were two different characters.”
At 15, Dereck went back to Mbare to live with his father. In 1999 he joined his mother in the UK, who had gained a foothold there when economic hardship began to prevail in Zimbabwe.
“When I took him to the airport, he was wearing a black leather jacket I’d given him. I told him that he was going to be a great man. He just laughed, shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you, sekuru (uncle).’”
De Souza has not spoken to his famous nephew for four years due to differences with his sister. “There are issues between his mother and me,” he says. Chisora last spoke to his uncle and mentor before his big fight with Vitali Klitschko in 2012.
“I said to him, go for it, mupfanha (young man),” says De Souza. “He asked me what I was doing and I said I was cutting timber outside. He laughed and said, ‘Some things never change.’ I replied, ‘Mupfanha, I’m still young.’ He almost knocked Klitschko out, but he lost that fight in the end.”
Tender, generous Dereck
Chisora has courted controversy in his career. His bad-boy image has seen him being fined, suspended and reprimanded by British boxing authorities.
In 2012, the British Boxing Board of Control withdrew Chisora’s licence due to his outbursts before and after the Klitschko fight. He was involved in a brawl with opponent David Haye before a fight, which also landed him in trouble. Other incidents include being found guilty of assaulting his girlfriend.
But De Souza speaks of a kind-hearted and generous person, recalling how, unexpectedly, Chisora once paid his rent six months in advance. The pride he takes in his nephew is obvious. “I believe his talents have finally matured in the UK,” he says. “Moving there was advantageous for him. He should be proud that he has been the heavyweight champion of Britain. Not many men can achieve that.
“My hope is that he has met a good woman because women can cause a man’s downfall. I also ask him to make God his antidote against any form of failure. He must look at time and age and think about how people will respect him in history. He must be aware of false friends and bring unity to the family. He has the power.”
Chisora is an accomplished fighter, a former world title challenger, but to De Souza he is still the young boy who used to hit punch bags at home.
While to the rest of the world Chisora is an accomplished fighter, a former world title challenger, to De Souza, he is still the young boy who used to hit punch bags at home. And Uncle has advice for him: “He needs to have more of a killer punch and to finish his fights early,” says De Souza, “He needs to have that kind of mentality. He needs to make use of his upper cuts.”
Uncle’s special request
Chisora has shown generosity towards his uncle before, who has one more important request for his nephew and also for his brother Aires, who is a cage-fighter in England and grew up alongside Dereck in Hatfield. “Before Independence, Prince Charles came to Louis Mountbatten school and I did a performance for him as a redcoat. I was the leader of seven other redcoats. Prince Charles was delighted with the performance. I presented him with a ring of flowers. He lifted me up and pictures were taken, and perhaps my laaities there can help me locate them.”
“He needs to have more of a killer punch and to finish his fights early. He needs to make use of his upper cuts.” – Paul De Souza
That is a tall order, but perhaps, if Chisora happens to find himself at Buckingham Palace to receive honours, he might whisper in the ear of someone who could relay this message to the Prince. It would make his uncle and number-one fan a happy man.