Muhammed Ali is gone, but the memories of his love affair with the beautiful “Mother Africa” lingers:
Ali embarked on his first African tour in 1964, saying: “I want to see Africa and meet my brothers and sisters.” His visit began in Ghana, the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to win independence from a European power.
“I am glad to tell our people that there are more things to be seen in Africa than lions and elephants. They never told us about your beautiful flowers, magnificent hotels, beautiful houses, beaches, great hospitals, schools, and universities,” he said.
His itinerary included Nigeria, Africa’s most populous state, where crowds welcomed him with chants of “king of the world”.
The African trip came in a historic year for Ali – he defeated Sonny Liston to become world champion and dropped his “slave name” of Cassius Clay.
The 22-year-old also visited Egypt, bridging the racial divide in Africa.
At the pyramids in Cairo.
His most famous visit to the continent was in 1974 to Kinshasa, capital of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), for the Rumble in the Jungle fight in which he reclaimed the world title after defeating George Foreman.
Zaire’s then ruler Mobutu Sese Seko (L) arranged the fight, which increased Ali’s fame and brought the country to the world’s attention. Mobutu agreed to pay $5m (equivalent to approximately $24m today) to each fighter.
Ali spent time in 1974 training in Kinshasa, built on the banks of the Congo River, getting acclimatised to its tropical climate and attracted crowds of fans when he went out in the city.
The fight was held at 04:00 local time. Millions watched around the globe on television as Ali entered the ring whipping up the 60,000 crowd, who chanted “Ali, boma ye”, a phrase in the local Lingala language meaning “Ali, knock him out”.
He visited Sudan in 1988, four years after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. “I think maybe my Parkinson’s is God’s way of reminding me what is important,” is his philosophical take on his life years later.
South Africa’s first black President Nelson Mandela, who had also been a boxer, once said: “Muhammad Ali was not just my hero, but the hero of millions of young, black South Africans because he brought dignity to boxing.” The pair met in 2005.
REFERENCE bbc.com IMAGES: TOPFOTO AP AFP ALAMY REX FEATURES
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