THERE is a school of thought in the Zimbabwe football fraternity which declares that the pre-independence era produced better footballers, administrators, and referees and hence better entertainment value than the post-independence era.
Among the adherents of this line of argument is my brother in law, Manyika D.T  a man who will tell you everything you need to know about the pre-independence football. His roll call of honour in defence of this position include George Shaya, Peter Nyama, Tendai Chieza, James Nxumalo, Freddy Mkwesha, Topsy Robertson, the great teams of the 1970s’, administrators like John Madzima, and great referees like Felix Sanyika.
As a student of the game, I prefer to keep my counsel on this one, but in this article, I will record the great players of the post-independence era, the administrators, the high and the lows of the game and the powerful force that makes football what it is – the fans. I will also try to suggest a way forward to restore our national game to its former glory.
When Zimbabwe attained her independence in 1980, a new sense of optimism permeated the nation through all aspects of life. The country was ready for a great leap forward and sport benefitted from being readmitted into the international arena after years of isolation. Sports people could now exhibit their skills on the international scene; hockey led the way with that Olympic gold in Moscow in 1980.
In football the country played its first international tournament with a win over Zambia. Abraham Mkanga, Graham Boyle, Sunday Marimo, Ephert Lungu, Oliver Kateya, David Muchineripi, David Mandigora, Wonder Phiri, Robert Godoka, Shakeman Tauro, Onias Musana, Joseph Zulu with Joe Rugg as coach announced the arrival of Zimbabwe football on the national scene. The new era however marked the end of such greats as George Shaya, Peter Nyama, Chita Antonio, Gibson Homela, Lawrence Phiri and many others – a new era had begun.
Great teams comprised the Super league of 1980 which was run by ZIFA under the chairmanship of Nelson “Jumbo Jet” Chirwa and sponsored by British American Tobacco (BAT). Some of the teams have fallen by the wayside but others have continued to exist despite the increasingly difficult atmosphere.
Dynamos, Highlanders, Caps united and Wankie have managed to negotiate the difficult terrain of football to this day. However, the majority who started the journey in 1980 have fallen by the wayside. Great teams that come to mind are Rio Tinto, Ziscosteel, Arcadia United, Gweru United, Zimbabwe Saints, Black Aces, Olympics and Eagles. Some of these teams have become extinct or are now consigned to the lower leagues. While they existed, these teams produced some great players to grace the league and provide us with some great memories.Advertisement
Dynamos, Caps dominance
Although Dynamos dominated the league, they always faced stiff competition when they travelled to places like Cam and Motor Mine, Ascot stadium, or Danny Bismark stadium. Dynamos won the league seven times in 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986 and 1989 but this should not be used by critics to dismiss the league as weak. What was interesting about 1980’s football was the quality of players to be found in all the teams even the so-called weak ones.
Dynamos had star players like Japhet Mparutsa, Oliver Kateya, Sunday and Misheck Marimo, Ernest Mutano, Kuda Muchemeyi, Moses and Kembo Chunga, David Mandigora, Edward Katsvere, Hamid Dhana and Gift Ghetto Mpariwa. This was concentrated talent, hence their ability to dominate the league for so long. Their dominance was only disrupted by Black Rhinos – an army team formed in 1982 and which went on to win the league in 1984 and 1987. In the other teams, there were sprinklings of gold dust. Highlanders had Madinda Ndlovu, Peter Nkomo, Fanuel Ncube, Alexander Maseko, Douglas Mloyi, and Tymon Mabaleka, all great players who could light up any match.
Another Dynamos rival, Caps United, had in their ranks Duncan Ellison, Size Torindo, Joel Shambo, Stix Mtizwa, Stanley Ndunduma, Shacky Tauro and Friday Phiri. This team with its attacking talents would rip teams apart and they became cup game specialists earning the moniker CUP KINGS. They won the ZIFA cup on countless occasions, in addition to the Rose Bowl trophy, the Chibuku Trophy and the Rothman Trophy. This Caps United team had the best midfield combination of Stix Mtizwa and Joel Shambo which could unlock any defence with Shacky Tauro putting to bed any chances these two created.
As earlier stated, most teams of this era were packed with talent. Rio Tinto had Raphael Phiri, Graham Boyle, Ephert Lungu, Robert Godoka, Wonder Phiri, and Joseph Zulu – all good enough to play in the national team. This team was renowned for its super fitness and in Joe Rugg they had one of the best coaches to work in Zimbabwe. Joseph Zulu was so good he was a soccer star finalist for ten consecutive years; Ephert was soccer star of the year in 1983.
Gweru United, known by their fans as Pisa-Pisa, had in their ranks Ashton Mhlanga, Richard Manda, Jonah ‘Chivhumudhara’ Murehwa, and Wonder Chaka – a goal machine to rival the likes of Tauro and Mpariwa. Ziscosteel had Frank Mkanga before he moved to Dynamos; they also had Ephraim Dzimbiri, James Takavada, Rodrick Muganhiri and Machona “Gweje-Gweje” Sibanda. These were top players consistently selected for the national team.
The other teams
Elsewhere, Zimbabwe Saints had Joseph Machingura, Onias Musana, Max Tshuma and a young Ephraim Chawanda and, by the time they won league in 1988, they were known as a ball passing team. Chauya Chikwata, as they were famously known, were a joy to watch for anyone who loves football. For their part, Black Aces ‘Shaisa Mufaro’ had Archiford Chimutanda – one of the most talented midfielders the country has ever produced – Byron ‘PiriPiri’ Emmanuel, Fresh Chamarenga, Sunday Masauso, Maronga ‘The Bomber’ Nyangela, Shadreck ‘Waga Waga’ Dzvairo and Emmanuel Nyahuma.
At Arcadia United, players like Majid Dhana, Bethal Salis, George TNT Rollo, and Danny Jambo oozed quality. Wankie, or Vakomana VeChipangano as commentator Choga Gavhure Tichatonga was fond of saying, included in their ranks Posani Sibanda, Rodrick Simwanza, and Nyaro Mumba – great players who made it difficult for any team to pick up points at the colliery stadium. Eagles had a young Boy Ndlovu – a dribbling wizard, an emerging Rahman Gumbo and Elvis Chiweshe who once dominated Moses Chunga in midfield so much that Dynamos fans pleaded with him to join them – he later did.
Black Rhinos formed in 1982 by the Zimbabwe National Army had the cream of players from Dynamos and these included Japhet Mparutsa, Hamid Dhana, Ernest Mutano, Lovemore Chikunha, Simon Mugabe; the best from Caps United – Stix Mtizwa, Stanley Ndunduma and William Chikauro and the best from the rest – Jimmy Mbewe from Bata, Mike Abrahams from Arcadia, Maronga Nyangela from Black Aces and their own goal poacher Jerry Chidawa. These players made them champions in 1984 and 1987 breaking the Dynamos grip on the league.
One can argue that football in the 1980’s was at its strongest with top players in each given team. The league was well-sponsored by BAT and well-run by the likes of Nelson Chirwa. There were a lot of knockout competitions, the ZIFA Castle Cup, the Chibuku trophy, the BAT Rosebowl trophy and the Rothmans trophy. There were some larger than life characters coaching in the league, the likes of Obediah “Wasu” Sarupinda, Ashton “PAPA” Nyazika, Shepherd Murape, Gibson Homela, Lovemore Nyabeza, Mick Poole, Sunday Marimo, Roy Barretto and Joe Rugg. There were good referees as well like Felix Sanyika, Paul Pretorius, Frank Valdermarca and Martin Gede. Later Felix Tangawarima came to the fore and became the star.
Football commentary also added spice to proceedings with Choga Gavhure with his signature statement ‘Zvinhu zvaita manyama amire nerongo, mirai tione kuti zvinofamba wani wani’, and Nesbert Nasasara in Ndebele, Jabulani Sibanda, Evans Mambara with all those military metaphors and Charles Mabika long regarded as the doyen of Zimbabwe football commentary. This was indeed a golden decade and despite Dynamos dominance, the excitement levels never waned. Football writers also came to the fore – among them Allan Hhlatshwayo, Sam Marisa, Collin Matiza and Jahor Omar, to mention a few; the sports page was a must read for us then.
The standard continued to rise with new players coming through the ranks. The 1990’s saw Highlanders establishing themselves as a force to reckon with after a first league win in 1990. They played great football and produced great players in the mould of Peter Ndlovu-one of the greatest footballers to emerge from Zimbabwe – Adam Ndlovu, Willard Khumalo, Mercedes Sibanda, and combined this with the talents and experience of Peter Nkomo, Fanuel Ncube, Titus Majola and Alexander Maseko. They grabbed the league in 1990, 1993, 1999 – a very good return over the decade.
This success was built on a solid junior policy headed by Cosmas “Tsano” Zulu and it comes as a surprise therefore that they have since abandoned this fruitful approach. Caps United also had a fruitful junior policy headed by Alois Patsika and it produced talented young players like Oscar Motsi, Kudzai Taruwinga, Edwin Farai – one of the greatest passers of the ball before his career was curtailed by injury – George Nechironga , Silver Chigwenje, Joe Mugabe, Tobias Sibanda and Never Chiku. Later they brought in Stuart Murisa and Alois Bunjira and they managed to win the league in 1996.
Dynamos continued to be a force with league wins in 1991, 1994, 1995 and 1997. The team was driven by the boundless energy of Memory Mucherahowa and had platinum quality in Tauya ‘Doctor’ Murehwa, Vitalis ‘Digital’ Takawira, Claudius Zviripayi, and anchored by the defence pillars Kaitano Tembo, Eddie Muchongwe, Stanley Chirambadare and Francis Shonhayi. Peter Fanuel kept goal and this made the team a force.
Dynamos advanced to the finals of CAF Champions league in 1998 before losing to Asec Mimosa of Ivory Coast. The list of champions is completed by Black Aces who won the league in 1992 with a team comprising Emmanuel ‘SHUMBA’ Nyahuma, John Mbidzo, Wilfred and William Mugeyi, Percy ‘Master’ Mwase, Stanley ‘Jaws’ Mashezha, the underrated Davis Mbidzo and coached by Peter Nyama.
The Dream Team
The 1990s were the golden generation for the Zimbabwe national team. Every Zimbabwean of a certain age will remember the Dream team years which started with that 4 -1 drubbing of South Africa at the National Sports Stadium. This match will forever be remembered for that great goal by Peter Ndlovu which Charles Mabika described as ‘cutting through the South Africa’s defence like hot knife through butter’. The game will go down as one of the greatest matches ever seen at the giant stadium.
Reinhard Fabisch, who led the team from 1992 to 1995, was a clever tactician who galvanised the team and taped into the patriotic fervour of the nation. The whole nation was behind this team – blacks, whites, and Asian communities – rallied behind the team, fostering a new feel good comradeship among the populace; football united the country.
Notable stars in the team were Bruce Grobelaar, Ephraim Chawanda, Francis Shonhayi, John Phiri, Norman Mapeza, Mercedes Sibanda, Willard Khumalo, Benjamin Nkonjera, Memory Mucherahowa, Vitalis Takawira, Peter Ndlovu, Adam Ndlovu and Agent Sawu. Players like Rahman Gumbo, Madinda Ndlovu and Paul Gundani also played an integral part in the team but the failure to qualify for the 1994 Nations Cup courtesy of that Kalusha Bwalya headed goal resulted in a collective national heartbreak. Interest in the national team began to wane and, although it revived in 2000, it was never the same.
The decade ended with a league win for Highlanders in 1999 and further wins in 2000, 2001, 2002; this was a golden period for Highlanders. Again it was success built on a junior policy with players like Gift Lunga, Zenzo Moyo, Johannes Ngodzo and Siza Khosa coming straight from the academy nurtured by Cosmas Zulu. This again strengthens the argument for a strong junior policy. Of late, most teams have abandoned this well-trodden road to success, preferring to buy players.
This decade saw the arrival of Amazulu FC a team formed in 1997 by Delma Lupepe which stopped the Highlanders juggernaut by winning the league in 2003. The Amazulu project was the polar opposite of the Highlanders approach; it was a cash project, the Zimbabwean Galacticos. Players like Muzondiwa Mugadza, Ronald Sibanda, Nkosana Gumbo, Esrom Nyandoro, Isaac Riyano, Ferdinand Mwachindalo and Nqobizitha Maenzanise joined the team.
The club however had an uneasy relationship with the football powers because of its religious stance. Being a Seventh Day Adventist, the owner refused to let the team play on Saturday and despite various attempts to strike a compromise, the team eventually got relegated due to unfulfilled fixtures.
Caps United also had a fruitful decade, winning the league in 2004 and 2005 under Charles Mhlauri. Thereafter other, one off champions came to the fore like Monomotapa, Gunners and Motor Action. After 2010, it has been all Dynamos in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 – a record by the glamour boys and the coach Kalisto Pasuwa although ZPC Kariba ran them a close second in 2014. The Dynamos teams of this decade cannot be compared to the ones of the 1980’s or 1990’s but they seem to be matching them for success. The league’s journey has been exciting but I think standards are going down.
Rivalry between fans
Even so, Zimbabwe football is what it is because of the fans. Over the years we have seen some passionate supporters from Highlanders, Dynamos, Caps United, the colourful ‘NDOCHI’ supporters of Blackpool and even the Pisa-Pisa supporters of Gweru United who would burn papers after each win. These fans drive the teams. A fierce rivalry also exists between the fans.
The one between Dynamos and Highlanders stands out. Ncube (2014), in his paper ‘DYNAMOS vs Highlanders: The interface between Ethnicity and Ethnic identity discourse in Zimbabwe’, argues that there are tribal connotations to this football rivalry. Ethnicity come into play with Highlanders whose origins are in Ndebele royalty seen as representing the Ndebele people and Dynamos formed in Harare representing the Shona. This rivalry, according to the writer, is played out in the Soweto Stand of Barbourfields Stadium were hard-core Highlanders supporters gather and the Vietnam stand at Rufaro a Dynamos stronghold.
Matches between the teams are often referred to as the battle for Zimbabwe by the media which further increases tensions.Violence in these matches is never far from the surface. Highlanders also had a fierce rivalry with Zimbabwe Saints which also has an ethnic dimension. The rivalry between Dynamos and Caps United is also well documented, on match days the capital city is often divided into the green half – the Caps colours – and the blue half – the Dynamos colours. This rivalry has endured for years but it is not laced with ethnic tension; it is just football bragging rights at stake – but the fans hate to lose.
Fans also have deep knowledge of their teams and their players and always have a story to tell; they are the fountain of knowledge. A few stories have been passed down the years and Zimbabwe football stadiums are the perfect setting to hear a these tales.
Here are a few:
1. Gift Mpariwa had a great season and was a goal king mainly because he benefitted from Moses Chunga’s perfect passes and crosses. After collecting the cheque he disappeared without so much as a thank you to the chief provider. The next season Moses starved him of service and he could not replicate his form.
2. Moses Chunga went for trials with Nottingham Forest but did not get the contract because he opted to shoot when told to pass by the legend Brian Clough.
3. Mercedes Sibanda bought a television set for his favourite watering hole – a shebeen in Makokoba so that patrons could watch him play during his peak days at Highlanders.
4. Archford Chimutanda never trained the whole week but would appear on Friday to demand his number 10 shirt. He would wear this to the ground on match day especially if Black Aces were at Gwanzura Stadium, a stone’s throw away from his Canaan home in Highfields.
5. Oliver Kateya went for trials in Greece but was advised to try athletics because of his tendency to run with the ball.
6. Most teams have in their employment a sangoma to help with the results. Teams are told to avoid official entrances. Others are told to urinate on the pitch, spray salt or bute (snuf) on the goal posts and never to have sex before a match.
All these stories help to spice up the game and, although most of them are unfounded, they have become embedded into our football folklore. The fans have also contributed to the nicknames that are embedded into our football folklore. I have argued before that nicknames reflect the creative nature of the fans. Nicknames like Gift ‘Ghetto Muduso’ Mpariwa, Moses ‘Razorman’ Chunga, Joel ‘Jubilee’ Shambo, Nkulumo ‘Daidzaivamwe’ Donga, Maronga ‘The Bomber’ Nyangela and Wellington ‘Money Maker’ Shangiwa to mention a few reflect this creative nature. Alegi (2004) in Laduma! Soccer Politics and Society in SA goes further to assert that nicknames linked the fans directly to their sporting heroes and their teams, the fans will be, in a way, directly involved in creating the identity of the team and its players and hence a sense of ownership and belonging is created.
Zimbabwe football has had its fair share of tragedies down the years. In the year 2000, 13 fans lost their lives after a stampede at the National Sports Stadium [NSS] during a national team match against South Africa. Versions about the cause of the tragedy differ; some blame the police for firing teargas into the crowd while the police blame the fans for throwing missiles onto the pitch.
John Fashanu, the former Wimbledon striker who had been a guest of ZIFA, seemed to blame the police first then changed tact and blamed the fans who were perceived to have been chanting opposition MDC slogans – a newly formed opposition party which was very popular in the urban areas. For a short period stadiums turned into turfs for political contest but the government moved in swiftly to crush any inroads that the opposition might have wanted to gain at football matches. This perhaps explains the heavy handedness with which they dealt with the NSS situation.
Another tragedy was the death of three Caps United players, Blessing Makunike, Shingie Arlon and Gary Mashoko together with a supporter while they were on their way from a match in Bulawayo. According to Vickers (2004), fatigue might have contributed to the accident because of the long drive. Stanley Ndunduma died on the road in Swaziland; so did Watson Muhoni a rising star defender at Dynamos while Titus Majola was stabbed to death in Bulawayo. Adam Ndlovu also died in a car accident.
Along the way we have also lost the cream of ZImbabwe football – Joel Shambo, Shacky Tauro, Never Chiku, Benjamin Nkonjera, Mercedes Sibanda, Ephraim Dzimbiri, Jerry Chidawa, Simon Mugabe, Rodrick Muganhiri, Joseph Machingura, Max Tshuma, Alois Godzi, Forbes Ndaba, Stanley Mashezha, Percy Mwase, Onias Musana, Sebastin Chikwature, Lucky Dube, Leon Ntawantawa, Felix “Kunyado” Antonio Ashton Nyazika,Lovemore Nyabeza… the list goes on and on. These are heroes who brought joy to our lives.
HIV and football
Another area of discussion which has remained taboo among football fans is the issue of HIV/AIDS and its impact on the development of the game. As a result of the stigma associated with the pandemic, players, administrators and fans do not talk openly about it, needless to say opportunities have been missed to educate everyone about the issue. Sport, especially football, can allow the message to reach everyone. I think this can be achieved through openness and more research into the subject to raise awareness.
At present Zimbabwe football is on its knees especially the national team. Administrators have not been up to scratch, our last moments of glory were the 2002 AFCON qualifications under Sunday Marimo and the 2006 one under Charles Mhlauri. Instead of building on these platforms we have been found wanting, the game has gone backwards. The blame game has continued and even the government seems to have washed its hands off the game. Scandals have rocked the sport with the Asiagate scandal tarnishing some players and coaches alike. What then is the way forward?
Garaba (2014), a football researcher based at Fort Hare University raised a number of points. He points out that there is need for youth development; structures should be put in place to cater for this. There is need to train more coaches; the way forward would be to train more teachers as qualified coaches since they spend more time with the young. It is important to train the administrators and encourage former players to get back into the game, he cites the example of Zambia whose F.A. is led by Kalusha Bwalya.
At the moment what we have are opportunists more interested in getting something out of the game rather than giving. Teams should revive their junior policies which produced the diamonds of the past. More scouting should be encouraged and a good example of this is Grabowski of DT AFRICA. I agree with Garaba, and would like to add that not all hope is lost. We have seen academies being established such as Black Aces, Agatha Shaneti and D.T. Africa; academies which are helping to develop talent. If run well and funded properly, they can be a starting point for youth development. Schools football is still going strong with the Coca-Cola tournament as popular as ever. Schools have produced players like Peter, Adam Ndlovu, Benjamin Nkonjera, all from Mzlikazi High; George Mbwando, Clement Mutawu and Esau Amisi from Churchill High; Francis Nechironga, John Mbidzo, Darlington Choto from St. Peters Kubatana; Ian Matondo from Sakubva High; Eddie Dube and Lovemore Mapuya from Gaza High; Harrington Shereni, Cain and Abel Muteji from Hippo Valley; Mayor Erick, Mugove Munyorovi, Kudzai Taruvinga, Tobias Sibanda from Mukai High.
We have also had Gift Mudangwe, Patrick Chapoterera from Marist Nyanga; Memory Muchrahova, Joel Shambo from Mufakose High; Oscar Motsi and Tidings Keta from Kwayedza High School; Nelson Bandura, Spencer Ngove, Blessing Makunike from Mutare Boys High, Felix Antonio from Kuwadzana High; not to forget Joe Mugabe from Churchhill High and Stuart Murisa and Alois Bunjira from Prince Edward.
The list which is by no means exhaustive strengthens the argument for empowering teachers at primary and secondary schools to identify and develop this talent. I am convinced that even in the most isolated schools, there is a diamond waiting to be discovered. It is also paramount for government to improve the economy to allow all aspects of life to flourish; sponsors can only come in when they can get returns.
The current economic reality makes sport and football development difficult. Many projects have been lying dormant, for example Sakubva Stadium has been waiting completion since 1990 and hosting the AFCON tournament will remain a pipedream in these circumstances. The football journey since 1980 has been a long and arduous one. It has had its up and downs; its high and lows. Any avid follower of the game would however, agree that it has been a rollercoaster but well worth the ride.