He was christened Joa Afonso Alfanzema when he was born on August 1 1939. Others knew him as Mahommed Afonso, but to the boxing world he was simply known as Beira Tar Taby.
Arguably one of the greatest heavyweight champions to emerge from Zimbabwe, Tar Baby’s brutal fights with Bulawayo-based Walter Ringo Starr – then a brash and handsome youngman will forever remain legendary.
There have been many Joe Fraziers’, countless George Foremans and variations of Cassius Clay/Muhammed Alis on the domestic boxing stage but Afonso’s moniker Tar Baby was derived from a black Canadian boxing standout Sam Langford, also known as Boston Tar Baby (meaning black). Langford fought greats from the lightweight division right up to the heavyweights, beating many champions in the process.
Afonso was cut from the same cloth and was thus nicknamed Beira Tar Baby as he was originally from Mozambique. Canada’s Tar Baby died in 1956 with the local boxing legend starting his professional career in 1963. The country’s best pound-for-pound boxer won 33 professional fights and lost 14 bouts in his 49 professional fights. The ruthless boxer also recorded 13 knockouts in the 373 rounds of brutal boxing. He drew twice.
In his first professional fight, Tar Baby beat Onias Gun Fighter on a technical knockout after four rounds to land the Rhodesia Light Heavyweight title on September 9 1963. Tar Baby was then aged 24. The following month he beat King Zaka also known as Wonder Boy Zaka Madziwa but born Irving Zaka to land the Rhodesia Heavyweight title.
Probably the most memorable fight by Tar Baby was beating to pulp King Motsi in 1964 at Rufaro through a knockout after just one round. He was to repeat this feat when he beat Malawi’s Mahomed Ganda in Blantyre on November 12 1967.
According to a former boxing trainer and promoter Dave Wellings — Tar Baby is a heavyweight boxing legend.
“Heavyweights always cause a stir and Tar Baby was not only the heavyweight champion but was something of a legend in the country”.
Wellings said Tar Baby was a cunning old fox, which also made boxing promoters like Paul Mangirosa quack as he would lose some fights, but would become a demon when defending his title with big bucks at stake.
Wellings said there was a widely held belief that boxers who were originally from Mozambique like Tar Baby used muti to gain advantage over their opponents although he did not believe it. He said the boxer was extremely talented.
“Boxers from Mozambique and Malawi were widely believed to gain advantage from muti long before steroids came,” Wellings said.
Tar Baby’s biggest disappointment was probably failing to defend his heavyweight title on August 21 1978 to Walter Ringo Starr, who claimed the belt on a technical knock out after seven of the scheduled 12 rounds at City Hall in Bulawayo. He tried to make a comeback but was deemed “too old” for boxing by the authorities.
Thank you for the memories Beira Tar Baby. RIP.