Two of Kenya's most renowned boxing clubs are fighting for their survival. For Ndirangu “Coaches” Mahungu, head of the Dallas Boxing Club, the price of continuing the club’s boxing heritage is sleeping with his eyes wide open. If he blinks, Muthurwa Community Hall, home of the boxing club will simply disappear. Since the building changed hands from Kenya Railways to City Council of Nairobi, there has been enormous pressure to cut it up into match box-size stalls and distribute them among the traders teeming around it. Of course, only a few would benefit, making the competition ever more fierce. People often go there demanding their portion of the building. They say they have already paid goodwill money at City Hall. Together with the Dallas Boxing Club, Madison Square Garden in Nakuru, the oldest boxing club in Kenya, accounted for a good number of famous names that comprised the Hit Squad, Kenya’s once great national boxing team. The building that houses the club was gifted by a British settler in 1957. Now, the last trustee has died and his family is refusing to hand over the title deed to the club. Club Manager Mwangi "Don King" Muthoga leads the fight for the club which, along with its counterpart in Muthurwa, has always been a refuge for young people in the neighborhood for whom boxing is a lifeline from a life of crime, drugs and alcohol. .
Content House is a collective of Kenyan writers, photographers and filmmakers formed to create and distribute content on topics that were in the public interest, yet were underrepresented in the mainstream media. Content House seeks to bring to the public domain stories that would not otherwise find their way into the media and also find innovative ways of delivering the content and making sure it finds the widest possible audience.
In 2012, Content House undertook the project Kenya and the Olympics and successfully produced feature and radio documentaries, a photo exhibition, print and online articles and media workshops for sports journalists. The feature documentary “Gun to Tape,” which followed 800m World Record Holder David Rudisha and Marathon World Champion Edna Kiplagat in the run-up to the London Olympics, was nominated for Best Documentary at the 2013 Africa Movie Academy Awards and was an official selection at Zanzibar International Film Festival and Africa in Motion (Scotland African Film Festival). In 2013, Content House undertook the project Kenya at 50 and published more than 50 articles published in the Daily Nation and Saturday Nation, held documentary screenings with discussions in Kenya and abroad, had collaborations with local media and invitations to present the organization’s work both locally and abroad.
Jackie Lebo is a director, writer, photographer and Team Lead at Content House. In 2012 she wrote and produced the documentary “Gun to Tape”, a film following 800m World Record Holder David Rudisha and Marathon World Champion Edna Kiplagat in the run-up to the London Olympics. The film was nominated for Best Documentary at the Africa Movie Academy Awards. Jackie is currently directing “The Last Fight”, a documentary on the once great Kenyan national boxing team and working on “Turkana: Race for Resources,” a documentary on the oil and water discoveries in Northern Kenya.
Ndirangu grew up in Nairobi’s Muthurwa neighborhood. His father worked for the Kenya railways for over 30 years. When he we young, he and his friends spent a lot of time on the Muthurwa footbridge watching trains that their fathers worked on pass by. They would wave to the trains as they went by, naming the engine types. Ndirangu started boxing so he could defend himself against bullies. Though Muthurwa in those days was a gentler place than it is now, it was still a working class neighborhood in Nairobi’s Eastlands area and hemmed in by rougher neighborhoods. Muthurwa Social Hall itself sits in the middle of a teeming bus stage and hawkers market. Before the Structural Adjustment Programs that privatized state corporations including Kenya Railways, life was good and the railway community had the hall all to themselves. It was part of the colonial era network of facilities and social services that the independence government inherited. All of Nairobi’s working class estates – Jericho, Pumwani, Ziwani, Kaloleni and Bahati – had similar facilities. Out of them, a generation of Kenya’s sportsmen rose. Today, the privatisation of many state corporations has led to the disappearance of spaces that nurtured some of Kenya’s greatest sportsmen including Robert Wangila Napunyi, Africa’s only boxing Olympic gold medalist. Ndirangu now fights to save the hall from land grabbers so the next generation of championship fighters can be nurtured.
For Issa Mwangi, an orphan whose mother used to work for the railway, boxing is a connection to the only family he knows. The daily sessions at the club kept him going when he was homeless and sleeping in abandoned train carriages. Through the boxing club’s welfare association, he has joined with other neighborhood youths and earns a living washing buses at the stage. He hopes that his skills will be noticed by the disciplined forces at a tournament and they will employ him. The film follows the young boxers, observing as they go about their daily lives, train and fight in bouts to show how the boxing club is a very real chance at a better life.
John Kariuki is the national lightweight champion. He didn’t get a formal education beyond primary school certificate. For a living, he heaves farm produce at the Nakuru wholesale market, carrying sacks of potatoes and fruits almost double his own weight. After the back breaking labour, he goes to Nakuru’s Madison Square Garden for still harder work, training under the relentless urgings of his coach. He is his family’s breadwinner and hopes that boxing will do for him what football and motor racing have done for David Beckham and Lewis Hamilton. On the walls of his house, he keeps their pictures as a constant source of hope and inspiration.
Mary Muthoni is the bright light of Nakuru Amateur Boxing Club, also known as Madison Square Garden, as women boxers go. In between early morning roadwork sessions on the shores of Lake Nakuru and evening training sessions at the club, Muthoni earns her keep as a motor mechanic in the outskirts of the town. A single mother of two, she lost two husbands to the harsh streets of Nakuru. She looks to boxing for deliverance from grinding poverty and hopes her children will get the education that eluded her. Along with her parents, they are the reason for her existence which she describes as sometimes too hard to bear. She lives in a single room in one of Nakuru’s teeming estates whose Kshs 1500/- rent is sometimes a challenge to raise.
Mwangi Muthoga, better known to everybody as Don King, has boxing in his bones. A pillar of Madison Square Garden for three decades, Mwangi is a referee and judge. He sits on the youth commission of the International Amateur Boxing Association and that of Boxing Association of Kenya. Don King has been a mentor and father figure to a generation of Nakuru boxers and is the walking archive of the club. He knows the history of Madison Square Garden from its establishment in the 1950s, through its glory days as home of Olympian Philip Waruinge and his illustrious generation to today as a nursery of the boxers who end up with the Kenya Police, Kenya Prisons and the Kenya Defence Forces.