GONE TOO SOON: They popped champagne and splashed money into his grave before his casket was lowered down. It was the kind of life that their colleague lived, so we cannot blame the Rich Gang for sending off Ivan Ssemwanga in a way he would have probably loved to leave this world. Isaac Ssejjombwe and Lawrence Ogwal look at Ivan Semwanga’s life and the dramatic moments from his burial.
The last time Ivan Semwanga was in Uganda, he did not pop bottles at Blankets & Wine, because he was a man on a mission – charity. He visited M-Lisada, a children’s home in Nsambya. Together with a few members of the Rich Gang, they donated items to children and as though that was not enough, the children lined up and received cash from Semwanga.
During their visit, one of the children asked Semwanga if he was doing charity just for the fame or it was from his heart. “I don’t do charity to make a name but I do it from the bottom of my heart,” Semwanga said. He added that he is Ugandan but he also finds it in his heart to help the needy in South Africa.
And indeed the Daily Sun in South Africa once plastered his face on its cover page as the mysterious giver. Photos and videos of Semwanga giving out money to the poor living in South Africa have been circulating on social media.
Survived death in 2010
While at the burial, many people were shocked to hear that Semwanga survived death in 2010 while in South Africa. Ritah Semwanga, a sister to the deceased said gunned men stormed Semwanga’s home in South Africa with intentions to shoot and kill him but they instead found Brian Semwanga, Ivan’s young brother who looked exactly like Ivan. They shot him to death.
Ritah also cleared the air about Winnie; a girl that members of the Rich Gang had earlier pronounced as Ivan’s publicly unknown daughter. “Winnie is not Ivan’s daughter. Winnie is Brian Semwanga’s daughter whom Ivan decided to raise like his own after his death.”
Celeb showbiz stunts
Most Ugandan celebrities are always looking for an opportunity to make news or do anything for their presence to be felt. Ever since Ssemwanga passed on, celebrities have been showing presence. There is no doubt that Ivan was someone they enjoyed being around, but during the vigil in Muyenga, Mozey Radio showed up not to grieve but to cause a scene. As mourners kept sombre faces, Radio threw the DJ’s laptop in the swimming pool because he had ‘refused to play music’. The chaos he caused saw him undress and jump into the pool to get the laptop. While at the burial in Kayunga, Bobi Wine and Chameleone arrived late, hence diverting the mourners’ attention from the speakers. And then Young Mulo came with T-shirts printed on Badman Gadget (who does that?). No surprise that he was bounced with his goon-looking crew and they had to join the rest of the locals who were camping behind the house.
Ssemwanga once posted a photo of him in a university gown showing he had graduated with a degree in Business from a South African university. At the burial however, it turns out that the businessman’s education background was as brief as Senior Two. According to Ivan’s sister Ritah, the deceased attended Nkyoyoyo Matale Primary School in Kayunga then went to Namagabi UMEA Secondary School before he went to Central Academy in Mengo where he dropped out in Senior Two to later embark on his hustle.
Sheik Nuhu Muzaata: It is rare to find Sheikh Nuhu Muzaata, Head of Dawa in Uganda, giving a speech at a non-Islamic funeral but the cleric spoke highly of the late. Perhaps because he hosted him a number of times when he went to South Africa?
Muzaata referred to Ivan as an elephant because of his flamboyant lifestyle. “Ivan Semwanga was an elephant on the social scene. See all the coverage he has received since his hospitalisation and death. Few people can afford to get such coverage,” Muzaata said.
He added that he was not that close to Ivan but knew him on a personal level since he was among the members on the committee that welcomed him to South Africa. Known to brag, Muzaata said he instructed Ivan to build some mosques in South Africa, a thing he did in Pretoria and some other places. “Grieve but not so much. You should be grateful that Ivan has died in such a manner. Saddam Hussein was hanged and Gaddafi after being picked from a trench was buried by only two people,” he said.
Godfrey Kirumira: The chairman of the Kwagalana group was there from Day One. He attended the first two vigils before the body was flown back home and was also there on Sunday when the final vigil happened. He was among the key speakers during the church service and on the burial but kept advising the public to preserve Ivan’s legacy for the sake of his children. Grieving aside, Kirumira made most people burst out in laughter when he politely asked people of Bugerere, which is next to the burial grounds and known to many as a village of cannibals, to spare Ivan and encouraged Nakaliro people to tighten security at the grave.
Bobi Wine: Though it was a brief speech, Bobi Wine left many youths inspired when he encouraged them to work hard because it is never too late to make it in life. “Ivan Semwanga wasn’t born rich but he died a very rich man. He died a very young man, below 40 years and this should be a lesson to all the youth that it is not late to start working on your dreams.”
Herbert Luyinda- uncle: Herbert Luyinda’s name first popped up through a Facebook video where he claimed that money flows in their blood. Since then, he has been avoiding the microphone, claiming his pressure levels had risen. Not until at the burial where he said Ivan Semwanga has contributed a lot in making him a celebrity now. “Everywhere I go now, people know me. I don’t need to introduce myself. Even business tycoons can afford to give me a call,” he said.
Rich Gang: When they called them to say something about their former chairman, the crowd was surprised to see more than five people come forth but we could only identify Ed Cheune. From their speech, we learnt that the late socialite started the gang with the aim of uniting South Africans living in Uganda as well as start small businesses to sustain their lives while in a foreign country. The idea was born after a series of visits from Ugandans at his home where they used to go for drinks. “Ivan even promised to lend us money to start different businesses and pay him later. That is how Rich Gang started,” a member of Rich Gang we couldn’t identify said.
Hope for the children
During the vigil on Sunday in Muyenga, Charlie Lubega suggested that a development trust fund be formed for the children. He opened the bag with Shs10m and at the end of the day, slightly more than Shs20m had been contributed. At the burial, SK Mbuga paid Shs6M to the fund, President Museveni pledged Shs10m through a representative, Rich Gang pledged Shs35m, King Lawrence who was absent pledged Shs17m, the same as Ssemwanga’s uncle.
Ivan was rumoured to be a sangoma (traditional healer) but during the burial, Rashid Nsimbe, one of the employees at Brooklyn Schools in South Africa owned by the late said Semwanga was never a Sangoma. “If Semwanga was a sangoma, then I am also a sangoma and all Ugandans in South Africa are sangomas,” Nsimbe said. However, we had a chat with one of the Ugandans living and working in South Africa and he told us that he knows Semwanga almost more than every Ugandan in South Africa. “I have known Ivan for 16 years and he was a hardworking man,” the source who preferred anonymity said. He told us that Semwanga used to work at the brother’s Delight Salon in Nakulabye before they moved to South Africa together.
The source further said Ivan’s first job in South Africa was a Sangoma but he only did it for four years and that was when he got the money to start a school. “Selling traditional medicine in South Africa brings in a lot of money and if you are a business minded person, you can put the money into good use and that is exactly what Ssemwanga did.”
Zari lost her cool…
Zari is known as a person who loves the media. At the burial however, when Zari saw her sons reading a newspaper with pictures from the church service, she furiously grabbed the paper from them and threw it away.
It was a chance for some neighbours to make a killing. A nice residential in Ssemwanga’s neighbourhood had a poster showing that VIP parking cost Shs10,000. Only expensive cars were seen parked in the gate.
Members of the Rich Gang have since refused to reveal why one of the members, King Lawrence, has taken a year without coming to Uganda. The last time he was in Uganda was two years ago. During the Rich Gang annual party last year, the members said King Lawrence was on a business trip in Thailand. When Ivan died, King Lawrence was posting burial arrangements but alas, “he missed his flight to Uganda for burial”.
A day to the burial, Zari’s boyfriend and Tanzanian singer Diamond Platinumz was on a Kenyan TV station saying he would be in Uganda for Ivan’s burial. He foxed!