Zanzibar. It is a sport whose popularity is increasingly growing both in Tanzania and beyond the borders of the East African nation, catching the attention of the world’s most celebrated superstars as iconic as the Oscar award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o.
Traditionally done for leisure and fun, the sport has now become one of the most coveted marketing strategies, used by both corporate brands as well as several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to promote events, slogans or products.
It is none other than ‘Makachu,’ a sport that involves jumping off the seawall at Forodhani Gardens into the ocean, with varied styles, commonly done by boys under twenties, that has increasingly become sensational recently.
Nobody knows who named the sport ‘Makachu,’ or when exactly did people start to use the word to describe the sport, but legends say it is as old as Zanzibar itself.
Mohammed Hamad Ali is a 57-year-old resident of Stone Town, a UNESCO-inscribed World Heritage site, who remembers how in his youthful years he and his fellow youngsters swarmed Forodhani Gardens to excite revellers with the sport.
“And we did not even start it,” Ali says during an interview. “It used to be one of the leisures that were hard to resist, when you start it, it becomes very difficult to stop. There is something very addictive about it if I can say.”
For fun and money
As the sun is about to set here at Forodhani Gardens, The Chanzo can see tens of boys taking part in the sport, many of them wearing only shorts, and tens of others sitting by and enjoying the sport.
Is-haka Mussa is one of those boys who says that he comes here almost every day to do the sport. Mussa, 19, says that he has been doing the sport since he was as young as eight-years-old.
“It’s fun and refreshing,” Mussa, who lives in Malindi, tells The Chanzo. “We do the sport for the love of it, for fun. Others come as by the way. Even without it, we will still do the sport. It’s cultural.”
The “others” that Mussa is referring to is to be paid to promote events or products, something that they usually do in a group. Taking part in one promotional event earns an individual member a sum of about Sh30,000.
Nabil Juma, another ardent player of the sport, doesn’t think that the sport pays them, calling the money they receive by doing promotions “pesa ya chai,” or money for the tea. But this doesn’t bother him at all.
“I don’t come here to make money,” Juma tells The Chanzo, his body wet with water. “I come here to play. Some go to the pitch to play football, I come here to play ‘Makachu.’ And I’ll keep doing so regardless of whether deals come or not.”
Despite its growing popularity, the ‘Makachu’ sport has a very dangerous side, a fact that many of its players are well aware of. Many of the risks associated with the sport concern the injuries, and even casualties, that its players often suffer.
Ahmed Abdallah Hamid suffered spinal cord injuries one day he did ‘Makachu’ while the water was low, hitting a rock under the ocean, something which paralyzed him and forced him to lay in bed for the past five years, unable to do anything.
Ahmed, 19, who has sought treatment as far as India and Thailand but has not been lucky to recover from his ailment, thinks authorities should prioritize the safety of young people doing ‘Makachu’ over the opportunities they get.
“First of all, those called opportunities are not opportunities per se,” Ahmed tells The Chanzo while lying on his bed. “The sport is not safe at all. And in case you’re involved in an accident, you’re on your own. There is no support whatsoever.”
Ahmed’s is not the only sad story involving the ‘Makachu’ story in Zanzibar though. Moza Mansour Suleiman is yet to recover from the misfortune that involved the death of his son in the sport.
Salum Said Abdallah died in 2021 at the age of 20 when he suffered spinal cord injuries, leading to his untimely death. Abdallah died when he had just started working as a sailor.
His family’s attempts to send him to India for treatment failed to prevent Abdallah’s death. His mother thinks it is dangerous to promote the sport as it is not safe for boys who do it.
“The government makes money but the boys gain nothing,” Moza thinks. “It is not right to promote the sport as safe because it is not. The situation becomes even more serious when you come from a poor background. Nobody should ever go through that torment.”
At Forodhani Gardens, however, the sport is in full swing, the boys jumping off the seawall at the huge pleasure of their spectators.
But could there be a way to make the sport safer than it is now? The Chanzo asked the Manager of Forodhani Gardens Mr Amir Hamza Amir.
“We have a couple of plans to make the sport safer and minimize its risks to the young boys who do it,” Amir says during an interview at his office.
“One of these plans is educating the boys on safety issues, which we think is most important, safety must come first,” he emphasizes.
Mr Amir named other plans which include introducing the first aid service at the gardens to reduce the risk of death to the boys doing the ‘Makachu’ sport.
Other plans include getting rid of all large rocks in the ocean and reducing the risk of swimmers knocking them while jumping off.
“Closing off the area, or stopping the boys from playing, is not a good idea,” Mr Amir ruled out.
“It is not even possible,” he added. “Risks aside, the boys benefit from the sport. I think our role is to maximise those benefits and minimize the risks and that’s what we are trying to do.”
Najjat Omar is The Chanzo’s journalist based in Zanzibar. She is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.