The Long Kiss Goodbye V
Sharuko On Saturday
FOR our resident sangoma, there was only one way for us to win, probably the biggest game in the history of our football club.
We had to play the game on our pitch.
The problem was that we had been drawn away from home.
The ZIFA Cup had thrown us the battle of our lives — a monumental duel against the stars of State House Tornados.
This was the ’80s!
Domestic football was thriving, its production hub was operating full throttle, producing scores of quality stars, in all corners of the country.
And, as its devoted fans, we were smiling.
Everywhere you went, the stadiums were filled to capacity, itself a reminder that the national game was in very good health.
I was a teenage fan, back then, in love with my hometown football club, Falcon Gold, otherwise known in our compounds as Bwela Ufe.
Translated to English, this means ‘Come and Die.’
And, embedded in the belly of that simple but provocative phrase, was the soul of our little community – a combination of our sheer arrogance and supreme confidence.
I guess when the majority of the community’s workforce have to go underground, just about every day, to look for gold, without any guarantee that they will come out alive, it breeds a certain form of confidence.
The more you survive such tough conditions, day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year, it brings this feeling that you are indomitable.
We grew up being told tales of powerful magicians, within our community, including the godfather of them all, who was feared by our entire little town.
His fierce reputation was aided, in part, by an incident in which he was said to have somehow used his magical powers to kill a certain newcomer to the community.
The young man, unfazed by the tales of the town, had made the mistake to challenge, and insult, the old man in the public bar following a dispute.
The next day, he was dead.
Somehow, all his shift colleagues, 14 of them, did not report for duty that night because all of them had fallen sick.
So, the young man found himself being the only one in the cage for the trip to his work station, deep into the underground world.
No sooner had the cage started its journey downwards did it suddenly plunge, at searing pace, without any control, sending it crashing, in a tragedy which left the young man without any chance of survival.
The explanation was that the old man’s powerful magic had made all the young man’s shift colleagues fall sick that night, because he didn’t want them to be collateral damage, since none of them had insulted him.
Once the young man was alone, in that cage, so goes the tale, the old man struck with his magical powers by “planting a bull elephant into that cage.”
Burdened by the weight of a 6 000kg of a ‘bull elephant’, we were told, the steel string, which holds the cage, could not sustain the pressure and it broke, sending the cage, and its human occupant, crashing down, to the young man’s death.
Of course, I never believed all that, even though it’s something that the majority of people, in our community, took seriously.
However, one day, when the five of us decided to steal some mangoes from a very old man, who lived alone at his house, it changed my beliefs in all this supernatural.
We found ourselves trapped in that tree, which was at a house which belonged to an old man known as Mudhara Kavarura, unable to come down, after our mango feast.
We must have spent more than four hours in that tree.
And, it wasn’t the old man returned from his errands, coupled with our mothers going down on their knees pleading for him to forgive us for our stupidity, that we finally found a way back to the ground.
Mudhara Kavarura must have been about 90, or thereabout, when he died, when his body was found floating in one of the town’s main sewage ponds.
He should have been retired for at least 30 years before his death, especially at a company where the mandatory retirement age was 65 years.
But, Mudhara Kavarura was still working, until the last 10 years of his life, passing the annual medical age tests, even on the occasions when he could barely walk.
The solution to all this, we were told, was his magical bath, which he used to take in a dish in the open in his yard, every morning of the annual tests.
When he finally failed the test, leading to his long overdue retirement, the doctor’s remarks read that it was incredible that this man, who should have been retired decades ago, was still on the company’s payroll.
It was the only test conducted at night and without notice.
THE STRANGE BUS RIDE TO THE CAPITAL
But, for all these magical powers, presumed or otherwise, among these so-called heavyweight magicians, the mine management had to go outside our small town to secure a resident sangoma for our local football club.
Back in those days, the resident sangoma for the football club was a full-time employee of the company whose job was specifically to use his powers, presumed or otherwise, to help the team win matches.
Most of them, as far as I can remember, were from Malawi, the majority were usually single elderly men, the explanation was that marriage usually diluted their powers.
And, most if not all of them, lived lonely lives, isolated from the rest of the compounds, never mingling with the residents of the town and only being seen roaming the stadium.
We were not the only community which believed in all this wild and weird stuff.
It was the same set-up at Golden Valley, the same set-up at Patchway, the same set-up at Chegutu Pirates, the same set-up at Lulu Rovers, the same set-up at Come Again.
The irony about all this is that none of these clubs, for all their huge investment in the dark arts of these resident sangomas, made it into the domestic Premiership.
Of course, Rio Tinto and Mhangura didn’t only make it into the top-flight league ,but they also became regulars, who enjoyed a considerable amount of success.
We were told the two heavyweights also invested heavily in the services of these resident sangomas.
And, those donkeys, which were bizarrely pushed into Mhangura stadium to graze on the pitch before a game against Dynamos, remain a case in point.
By the time we found ourselves with a glamour date against State House Tornados, at the tail-end of the ’80s, we had a new resident sangoma at Bwela Ufe.
Everyone called him ‘Yellow Man,’ a term borrowed from his light complexion, even though he could have qualified to be called the ‘Quiet One,’ because I hardly remember seeing or hearing him talk.
He was quite tall.
And, in a way, he was an ’80s throwback of how Osama Bin Laden looked like and, just like the slain Al Qaeda leader, he was a man of very few words.
It was normal for scores of fans to accompany our team, for its away matches, with supporters filling the back seats of the bus, while the players and coaches took up the front seats. It was a strange arrangement, given one would expect the players to enjoy some tranquillity, ahead of their assignments on the road, rather than the wild distractions which came from the fans.
But, that’s what it was!
It’s understandable, of course, that the trip to Harare, for a date against State House Tornados, was a box office attraction, among the fans, it’s fair to say that everyone in our town wanted to make the journey.
The problem was that the bus could only take, at most, 30 or so fans.
On the morning of the bus trip, a bombshell was dropped by the management that only a handful of fans would be allowed to board the team bus for the journey to Harare.
This appeared strange, especially given that, of all matches we had played on the road, this was the big game where the need for support, from the fans, was badly needed.
The explanation we received was that ‘Yellow Man’ had decided that the only way we could win the game in Harare was by playing it on our home ground turf.
How would that be possible?
Well, ‘Yellow Man’ had advised the management that he would take our home pitch to Dzivarasekwa and it would be loaded at the top of our team bus for its trip to the capital.
Well, this meant that, given the extra weight, which a full pitch would bring on the bus, our resident sangoma argued that the only way to handle this was to cut the number of fans who would ride on that bus.
I was one of the lucky few fans, who made it into the bus, thanks to the influence which my old man, a former ’keeper of the club, still wielded in the team.
The number of fans inside that bus could be counted on the fingers of one hand but, of course, ‘Yellow Man’ was part of the travelling group.
THEN, THEY BLEW THE ‘YELLOW MAN’ COVER
The general mood, among our players, was upbeat, despite the reality that we were in for probably the biggest test in the history of our beloved football club.
Whether that confidence was being drained from playing the game, on our own pitch, as promised by ‘Yellow Man,’ I will never know.
What I know, however, is that we hardly lost on our pitch, no matter the opposition, which in itself remains something, which these resident sangomas, will always claim credit for.
The quality and strength of the team we were going to face was there for everyone to see because, after all, our greatest football son, the immortal David “Chikwama” Mwanza, was now one of its stars.
James Takavada, a former Soccer Star of the Year, Fanwell Ariberto, Godfrey Paradza, John Phiri, Mphumelelo Dzowa, Forbes Ndaba, Ernest Makosa, the father of Cuthbert Malajila, Cosmas Pritchard, Allan Jalasi, Noah Cox, Dadirayi Dube and Danny Jambo.
All of these stars combined to make Tornados a powerful football unit and, man-for-man, this was the equivalent of FC Platinum taking on Banket United, in today’s environment, at Mandava.
Powered by the underdog spirit, the presence of the ‘Yellow Man,’ and probably the confidence that we were playing on our home pitch, even though we were in Dzivarasekwa, we took the lead in the first half.
Grey “The Really” Nyamwela fired us ahead and, through a combination of both luck and some incredible misses by the hosts, we held a slender lead at the break.
Mwanza, as one of our own, had probably seen this movie before and, as they trooped out for the break, he was surveying for possible answers to their situation, in the stands.
Then, he saw him, the ‘Yellow Man.’
When Mwanza left our little town to join Rio Tinto, the ‘Yellow Man,’ was not our resident sangoma but his work as some obscure football magician was already known throughout Mashonaland West.
So, without hesitation, Mwanza acted by simply ordering the Tornados chiefs to eject the ‘Yellow Man’ from the stadium.
What followed was not an ejection but a humiliation, the poor ‘Yellow Man’ being ridiculed, splashed with all sorts of liquids, including urine, his shirt being ripped off and being carried out of the stadium.
To say they beat him up would be an understatement, they bashed him and his face was swollen, he was bleeding excessively and he probably didn’t know where he was when they dumped him outside the stadium.
Whether his ejection also meant he had taken our home pitch with him, we will never know, but it was a different game, in the second half, and by the end of the game, we had conceded five goals to lose 1-5.
What I didn’t also know, back then, was that all this was also happening at bigger clubs like Dynamos. Now, I know, because Memory Mucherahowa revealed it all in his autobiography, ‘Soul of Seven Million Dreams.’
“Every week, before a game, the team would consult a traditional healer. I, as team captain, would be the one to execute whatever the sangoma had said,” he wrote.
“Whether it actually aided us, I do not know.
“The team believed more in juju than players’ ability. We believed in collective use of juju and consulted one traditional healer as a team.
“In most cases, we had the team’s traditional healers who were on the team’s payroll. The belief was so high at the club that coach (Peter) Nyama lost his job in 1990 after being fingered by a traditional healer as being guilty of jinxing the team.”
Memory could have been talking about the ‘Yellow Man.’
After the ugly events at Dzivarasekwa, the ‘Yellow Man’ was never the same, he became a lame duck resident sangoma, who no longer had the trust of his constituency, in what was a slow and brutal fade into oblivion.
Dzivarasekwa was a defining moment in my relationship with football, its dark arts, its rituals, its flirtation with the supernatural world, its fascination with sangomas and its enduring romance with juju.
It’s a chapter, God willing, I will include in my book about the “Ugliness Of The Beautiful Game.”
To God Be The Glory!
Peace to the GEPA Chief, the Big Fish, George Norton, Daily Service, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and all the Chakariboys still in the struggle.
Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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