Car-jacking is, sadly, something that South Africa is notorious for. A largely Westernised country, South Africa is nevertheless home to large pockets of extreme poverty. It’s also a tough place; violence runs nearer the surface there than in many other Western countries. For the criminals, human life is not only cheap, it is often not even a consideration.
Mwekassa – who has already survived civil war, a rebel kidnapping, a volcano eruption, a previous violent robbery, and a poisonous snakebite – was targeted as he drove home in his BMW. He isn’t sure if the car attracted attention or it was just something about him which caught the eye of his soon-to-be assailants. Whatever it was, minutes after their latching on to him, Mwekassa was about to be put through a whirlwind of robbery, loss, sadness and, thankfully, outrageous good fortune.
“They come behind you and assess you. They have two cars. They follow you to a quiet spot which looks convenient, one car overtakes you, they drive maybe 200 metres at the same speed as you then suddenly they slam on the brake so that you are forced to brake also. The behind car comes really close and traps you in, then they come to the car,” Mwekassa explains.
“I don’t know how they choose their victims, they just look at you and if they think you look interesting they make a move.”
Contrary to popular belief it is not only white South Africans – generally better-off than black South Africans – who are targeted.
“They definitely go after white people as well, but not exclusively,” says Mwekassa.
“So they stopped me, they came to the car, opened the door and put a gun my head. They searched my car and me; they took my money. Then the guy with the gun tried to shoot me. The gun clicked, nothing happened. He started to mess with it and the magazine dropped out. That’s the second time [criminals] have tried to kill me in South Africa.
“So then they went away. After they left I looked to see what they had taken; I realized they had also taken my passport. It was a really sad moment for me because my passport is from Congo not South Africa and Congo isn’t delivering passports at the moment. I thought I would have to cancel the fight. And because it would take some months to get a new passport, probably I would miss more than one fight.”
Mwekassa was shaken up by his ordeal but didn’t see much point in calling the police; the likelihood of any arrests or convictions in these instances is low. He went to a friend’s house nearby. They sat for several hours in dismay, before Mwekasa’s friend hit on an idea. The passport probably being of no use to the robbers, he wondered if it would have been discarded in the locality.
“So then we thought maybe we should speak to the street sweepers, the guys who clean the streets in the evening. We found a group of them near the area of the robbery and we explained what happened and about my passport. I said if you find my passport its 500 US dollars. They heard that and they were like, “Wow!”
“I told like twelve of them and gave a cell number to call. About an hour later I get a call from some of them. I go to meet them; they don’t have the passport, but they do have my passport holder. So I confirmed it was mine. Then they went away again, then about thirty minutes later they come back. One of them takes a call on his phone then passes the phone to me. It’s a guy who has my passport. He reads out some details to me. But he says “You must give me a thousand US dollars to get your passport back 500 is not enough. I was like ‘What the f—k!?’ but what choice did I have?
So I went away to get the money, then I came back to these guys and went with them to a place where the guy was waiting. It would have taken me five or six months to acquire a new passport from Congo – how many fights would I have missed? So I gave the guys their thousand dollars and got my passport back. I didn’t need to tell GLORY to cancel the fight. This had taken all night, so in the morning I finally made it home and I hit the couch and man, I just slept all day, I was exhausted.”
Back to more pleasant matters – if a professional fight can be categorized as such – and Mwekassa has a real energy when he talks about his plans for this year’s campaign. He has already had one shot at the GLORY title, losing a decision to Saulo Cavalari in September last year. This year he wants the gold around his waist.
South Africa is not a kickboxing hotbed – the late Mike Bernado was an exception and even when he joined K-1 was essentially just a boxer – so Mwekassa has always struggled to find the right training and sparring. A boxer himself, he has trodden the same path as Bernado in learning to adjust stance and mix different strikes into his game.
“Things are still difficult it’s true but this camp I brought in a new guy who has competed a lot in Thailand. He has implemented some new things in my training and it has brought more variety to my arsenal. I feel pretty good. This fight wasn’t really planned long-term, they called me up on late notice, but if I had longer notice I would have gone to Holland to do some training. I am still going to Holland but only a week ahead of the fight. So I will get the last week of sparring and then go to kick ass in Denmark.”
Mwekassa faces French national Zinedine Hameur-Lain and gives up a large experience advantage, though that is not new to him in his kickboxing endeavors. What is new to him is his new-found mind for research. Previously in his career he did not care to study opponents but now he likes to analyse them.
“I know lots about him. Two years ago I would have said I don’t need to know anything but this year I am coming with a very mean mind. I know everything about him. Who he hangs with, his parents story, where he trains, who he has fought… I have spoken to people he has fought. I know everything about him and I am going to kick his ass like it has never been kicked before,” he says.
“I am not playing this year, whoever stands in my way is getting hurt. ‘Bombs and Drama’, Zack Mwekassa. Its not just about winning, it’s about winning in an exciting and dramatic way. I want people to be like ‘oh my god, when can we see this guy fight again?'”
Mwekassa’s fight with Hameur-Lain headlines the GLORY 29 Superfight Series card and thus airs live worldwide via UFC FIGHT PASS. The GLORY 29 numbered card airs in the US live via ESPN 3 with a tape-delay broadcast on ESPN 2.
About the author