Mbangu’s Tightrope Walking Has Rundu Talking

12 Jun 2016 17:00pm
By Sawi Lutibezi

RUNDU, 12 JUN (NAMPA) – “Only one who has been given withcraft can do something like this,” a voice says. “It’s impossible,” says another.
The topic of discussion? A young man walking across a piece of rope strung between a pole and a tree. To the rest of the world it’s known as tightrope walking, but here at the Rundu Open Market people who can’t believe what they’re seeing, consider it witchcraft.
Trying his best to tune out the voices, Matamu Mbangu Shingandu concentrates on the task ahead of him – crossing from one end of the 20 metre piece of rope to another. The rope is hung some five metres from the ground and on a windy day such as this one, one shudders to think what could happen if he makes one wrong move.
The fearless 22-year-old doesn’t seem nervous. It is the moment of truth and Mbangu jumps onto the rope and crouches down, stretching out his right arm for some balance.
By now the market is packed with many holding their cell phones aloft for a photo – they need the evidence so when they tell the story, people would believe them.
Within seconds, Mbangu is standing with both arms extended. He takes his first step and second steps with intense focus, with his eyes glued to one spot as his walk speeds up.
“It is impossible for a human being to walk on a rope,” someone says.
But Mbangu is proving them wrong - and just for good measure he walks backwards and jumps in one place, leaving the crowd enthralled.
And just like that, he’s done.
Tightrope walking, also called funambulism, is the art of walking along a thin wire or rope. It has a long tradition in various countries - but definitely not in Namibia, where the strange sight stops people in their tracks.
For this Grade 9 learner from Shighuru village in the Kavango East Region, it started when an American volunteer teacher by the name of Ryan Cena introduced him to the art in 2011.
Mbangu was in Grade 4 at Neyuva Combined School in the Mashare Constituency when he heard his friends’ mathematics teacher could walk on a piece of rope.
Cena, who taught at the same school, was so skilled that he could do hand-stands on the rope.
Mbangu had to see for himself and one day after school, made his way to where Cena stayed, where he found him busy tightrope walking.
Cena asked Mbangu to try, which he did, but he kept on falling.
The determined young man didn’t give up and continued training with the teacher until 2013, when he returned to America.
By now, Mbangu had mastered the art of walking on the rope but did not have the equipment to continue training.
In 2014, however, Cena returned to Namibia and brought Mbangu all the equipment needed and encouraged him to continue training.
Until this day he practices every day, just as he promised Cena he would do.
“When you get onto that rope your mind should be clear of any thoughts of any kind. Your focus should just be on the rope,” he tells this reporter when quizzed about how he does it.
The 22-year-old, who has never been outside Rundu, says he dreams of one day teaching other young people the art of tightrope walking.
“I want to pass the torch that Cena gave me on to other young Namibians. This is what I want to be known for,” he said.
He is however not sure how to go about it and also does not know where he can showcase his skills.
Mbangu grew up in the care of his aunt and uncle at the Ndama informal settlement in Rundu.
Nankali Haireka, Mbangu's aunt, says her nephew who is like a son to her was brought to her and her husband Rufinus Haingura to complete his education.
“We are a poor family and we do not have much. My husband and I are unemployed but we try to make a living through the kindergarten,” she says.
The kindergarten she refers to is attended by about 300 children from the community of Ndama. Only about two of three of the children’s parents are however able to afford school fees.
The family has been trying for some time now to raise money in order to showcase Mbangu's skills but say the going’s been tough as they do not know who to approach that can help showcase his talent.
“We are also not able to give Mbangu everything he needs. Once in a while if we get hold of even N.dollars 50, we give it to him so he can get himself something with it,” his aunt says.
Haireka and her husband hope Mbangu's skill could be their way out of poverty.
“We want to help him make that dream of his a reality,” says his uncle.
He talks about how Mbangu wishes to one day perform in front of President Hage Geingob.
“We want to show the president that even people from villages such as Shighuru have amazing skills, it is just that no one really pays attention to what happens inland,” he says.
For now, Mbangu relies on his audience to spread the word of the man who seems to walk on air at the Rundu Open Market.