SHARUKO ON SATURTAY
THE giant grain silos at Lion’s Den – where a fiery explosion this week killed five people and sent shock waves throughout this little community – always provided a reminder that it was time for us to turn right.
It meant branching from the main highway, which had taken us from Harare and which, if followed to its end, provided the gateway into Zambia.
The intense traffic, which usually characterises the road trip on that main highway, now gave way to the tranquillity of a journey travelled without the chaos of scores of cars, once we took the exit towards the east.
Along the way, we would pass a small community of some thatched houses, perched on the right side of the road, which was commonly known as “Musakanena,” a reminder of a change, in both language and scenery, which we had ventured into.
Legend has it that for all its primitive outlook as another ordinary compound deep in Zimbabwe’s rural heartland, “Musakanena” was a unique and mythical place for many who dared enter into that settlement.
What the place didn’t give you in terms of first impressions from outside, legend has it that it provided you once you enmeshed yourself in its mythical society hidden in those little thatched houses, some romantic pleasures plucked from the heavens.
Its enduring identity, a Nyanja word for “Don’t Discuss What You Experienced Here Wherever You Go,’’ told the powerful story of some romantic experiences, which only could be enjoyed in that shanty compound.
How it came into being, a little shanty dwelling on the fringes of the road whose only residents were some mysterious women said to be blessed with the powers of seducing powerful and rich men from all over the country, remains one of the greatest mysteries of that era.
Of course, we never got a chance to venture into that little village, even though our journalistic instincts kept plugging at us to do that and see exactly what happened there every time we took this road trip and passed by this settlement.
The big and expensive cars, which were always parked outside those little thatched houses, were a reminder to us that this was a territory, not for poor folks like us, but a strange weekend retreat for the rich and famous where we would be out of place.
Whether “Musakanena’’ still exists to this day, I don’t know, because it’s been some time since I made what used, back in those days, to be regular trips along that road.
What “Musakanena’’ provided for us, though, back in those days, was a reminder that our road trip from the capital was about to come to an end because, a short drive past that little settlement, brought us into full view of our destination.
Mhangura was a thriving small mining town, almost 200km from where our journey had started in Harare, perched far away from the razzmatazz of the capital, whose belly was rich in copper deposits, the mineral which gave it its name and provided it with justification for its existence.
A commercial bank, the compounds where most of the miners lived, the suburbs where the bosses, most of them white, stayed, a sports club for the elite of the community and a golf club all looked distinctly familiar for someone like me who had grown up in another mining settlement.
There was also the other bar, the bigger bar deep in the compounds, where the majority of the community’s residents converged for their beers – at subsidised prices – where Chibuku and Shake-Shake ruled supreme.
And, of course, there was also the stadium – a compact, well-maintained facility – which was the home of the community’s football team.
It was here where this isolated community, detached from the events of the capital far away in the distance, usually converged every other Sunday, in pursuit of their dreams to conquer the invading forces that used to come there to challenge them.
It was here where memories, which would last a life-time, were crafted by generations of some of the finest football players to ever grace a football field in this country.
And it was also here where an immortal football family, whose name will always be associated with the best that Zimbabwean football has to offer, found a way to transform it into a majestic arena where their magic charmed those who called this place home.
The Chieza brothers – seven of them – were a blessing to this community, the leaders on the football field from whom so much was expected and demanded by those who believed in them, and – more often than not – to whom they would always deliver, doing it for their town, for their people.
And in 1970, Tendai Chieza, probably the best of these football-playing magicians, gave this little town probably its finest hour when he was named Soccer Star of the Year in a contest in which he beat a number of the game’s finest players.
For a small community, which at its peak had no more than 10 000 people, about half the numbers who usually vote in Mbare alone, this represented greatness, and the celebrations were so widespread they even declared a holiday the following day.
A GOLDEN PERIOD, SHINING STARS AND A RAGING DEBATE
The ascendancy of Tendai to become the finest footballer in the country that season came during a golden period for Mhangura, when the power of football was casting its spell on this community and giving them a reason to celebrate their greatness.
In 1966, four years before Tendai was honoured with the top gong, Mhangura won the most prestigious knock-out football tournament in the country, the Castle Cup.
Two years after Tendai’s finest hour, the footballers from Mhangura came to Rufaro for another Castle Cup final and, in probably their greatest performance ever, destroyed Dynamos 3-0 in the final to lift the silverware again.
A year later, they reached the Chibuku Cup final, underlining their pedigree as a force to reckon with, back then, and made another pilgrimage to Rufaro, where this time they were humbled 0-3 by Highlanders in a classic match.
That game is celebrated by some Bosso fans, as the rebirth of their beloved side, as thousands of the team’s supporters packed the train, dozens of buses and a number of private vehicles, and descended on Harare where they turned Rufaro into a cathedral of their dreams.
Along the way, Mhangura paraded some of the finest players to grace our football fields – Tendai, George, Itai and Winston Chieza,
Aleck Masanjala, Jonathan Munjoma, Philemon Phiri, Lovemore “Mukadota’’ Nyabeza, Booker Muchenu, Joseph Galloway, Benjamin Zulu, Clifford Makiyi, Webster Chikabala, the Milanzi brothers – Jani and Moses – and John Phiri to name but a few.
Sadly, today, Mhangura is now a football club that time destroyed and this mining community has now been reduced to a ghost town that football forgot.
And, in a strange era when a 46-year-old forward is hogging headlines in the domestic Premiership after scoring a goal for a team that also features his 17-year-old son, the game finds itself at the crossroads as it battles questions on a number of fronts:
To accept the present, where a man just four years short of his 50th birthday, dominates the headlines and the game’s narrative after scoring a goal in the Premiership, as something that should be celebrated as a sign of his impressive endurance as an athlete.
Or to choose the other argument that what this actually means is that the standards, which used to separate our Premiership from the rest of our football leagues, have fallen badly its stars can now even be someone whose age is clocking towards his Silver Jubilee.
To find some comfort in the argument that if Roger Milla actually played for Cameroon at the 1994 FIFA World Cup at the age of 42, and even scored against Russia, what then is wrong about Innocent Benza scoring for Herentals at the age of 46 in our Premiership?
Or to choose the other argument that what happened at Rufaro last Saturday, when Benza scored, is a sad reflection of how much our league has marched into the darkness in recent years as standards have plummeted and fans have chosen to stay away than watch this reality show disguised as real football.
To find comfort in the argument that if Stanley Matthews, the only player to be knighted while still playing, kept playing the game until he was 50, what is then wrong with the resilient Benza pushing the boundaries of endurance in his beloved sport and playing at the ripe age of 46?
Or to choose the other argument that there is a world of difference between Matthews – a rare talent who was good enough to be honoured as the European Footballer of the Year and, in 1953, single-handedly won the FA Cup for Blackpool – and Benza that to compare them, simply because they both played well into their old age is an insult to reality.
To find comfort in the argument that age is nothing but a number, and Kalusha Bwalya even played for his national team at the age of 41, or to choose the argument that it’s a mockery to the game to even compare such immortals like King Kalu with the Benzas of this world.
To accept the argument that when our Premiership was a true reflection of excellence in the game, back in the days when teams like Mhangura were powerful forces on the domestic front, and it was a playground for genuine talents, the likes of Benjamin Zulu, as brilliant a footballer as any that will ever grace our fields, such superstars – as Benji did – at about 33 because, for all their greatness, they could no longer compete with the younger and stronger footballers who had emerged on the scene.
Benji was 38 when he died and, thinking about him now, and everything he did on the football field in the colours of his beloved Mhangura, it’s hard to imagine how it would have been possible for him to even play four more years, late alone eight more years, just to be like Benza, had he lived longer and not hung his boots five years before his death.
It’s a rough and tough debate, and it’s hard not to understand those who are celebrating Benza’s heroics, his refusal to be buried by the passage of time, his resilience in a quest to remain fit by playing the game he loves and how he has been breaking records in the domestic Premiership.
And, for some of us who grew up in an age when the domestic Premiership was a different entity to what it has become today, back in the days when it was a true playground for real magicians, when a simple trip to Mhangura represented a date with enduring romance in this game – with a number of genuine stars on parade – something feels wrong even when it appears very right.
MAYBE, THIS WEEK REMINDED US OF HOW FAR WE HAVE FALLEN BEHIND
Those who believe our Premiership has fallen very far behind the others will probably argue that, in the very week that followed Benza’s heroics in becoming the oldest goal-scorer in the Premiership, clubs from serious leagues where real football is being played were involved in the final round of fixtures for a place in the group stages of this year’s CAF Champions League.
They will say it’s a sign of how far our domestic Premiership has fallen behind that while we had no representatives in those fixtures, the likes of Swaziland, who had Mbabane Swallows, South Africa, who had Mamelodi Sundowns, Zambia, who had ZESCO United, Botswana, who had Township Rollers and Angola, who had Primero de Agosto, were all represented.
To them, and it’s hard to argue against their evidence – primary or otherwise – it’s the barometer that shows that, away from the reality where real football is being played, we are fooling ourselves, in our Premiership choking from average players, that we have a top-flight league that is going on.
Maybe, they argue, that is why we now see a 46-year-old forward dominating its narrative – controlling the ball expertly and firing it with aplomb, technique and power.
Jose Mourinho this week said the best judges of football are the fans, not the sports writers, and if the Portuguese gaffer is right, it then explains why the majority of supporters are now turning their backs on our domestic Premiership.
They will say that back in the days when our Premiership was the real deal, even John Charles, the man widely regarded as the greatest British football all-rounder who played for Leeds, Juventus, Roma and Swansea, would come all the way down to Mhangura with his select side to play the copperminers.
Charles was not your ordinary kind of footballer, he was very, very special, a man who could one week play as a centre forward and the next week play as a centreback.
At English side Aberystwyth Town Football Club’s stadium, the lounge is called the John Charles Lounge in honour of this gentle giant.
In Leeds, you find the John Charles Centre for Sport, which is also named after this unique footballer, and at Elland Road, the home ground of Leeds United, they have the “John Charles Stand,’’ in memory of what he did for this club in two spells as their player.
You even take a walk towards Elland Road, through the John Charles Way, a street that is close to this grand old stadium.
“John wasn’t only one of the greatest footballers who ever lived. He was one of the greatest men ever to play the game,’’ Bobby Robson, one of the greatest figures in British football, once remarked.
Fifty years ago, the John Charles XI – a select side – toured this country for a series of 12 games, with the visitors winning 10 and drawing two of those matches.
Such was the importance of their match against Mhangura, which was played on June 5, 1968, that an original team sheet from both sides has been preserved up to this day because it is considered a valued asset in the collection of this Hall of Famer called Charles.
It’s an enduring tribute to the pedigree of the players, which Charles and his select XI battled in that match against Mhangura, that the team sheet has been preserved as a lasting symbol of that fiery battle on those copperfields.
Fifty years since that battle at the copperbelt, when our Premiership football used to have more substance than reality shows, Charles – who died on February 21, 2004, at the age of 72 – will probably turn in his grave today if he were to know that Mhangura is now a ghost town which our football forgot.
But then, it’s the sign of our times, isn’t it, because the big story in the domestic Premiership this week was not about either Dynamos or CAPS United battling to qualify for the quarter-finals of the CAF Champions League, but a 46-year-old forward scoring a goal at Rufaro.
In case you are a visitor to our country, and you are shocked by all this narrative of a 46-year-old starring in our Premiership, please ensure you do us a simple favour when you go back home – please “Musakanena’’.
To God Be The Glory!
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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