albert.jpgBy Albert Mirirayi Chekayi.

In her book, ‘The Divine Revelation of Hell”, Mary K. Baxter takes the reader through a horror experience of a place called hell. In a chilling narration, Baxter reveals how she was taken by the Lord Jesus for 30 consecutive nights and shown the place called hell while she experienced the beauty of paradise for 10 consecutive nights. The reason: simple. That she could tell others what she had seen and heard so that some might be saved.

Do I hear someone say, here goes another of those who claim to have monotony to the truth of God? I have to confess: I might be strong with the pen but I am not a good preacher. And this is not a sermon. Pastor Makandiwa or Evangelist Chiweshe can do a better job. I rather bring the ‘gospel’ of Zimbabwean soccer after 30 years.

I remember very well through a child’s memory how Zimbabwe got into the international soccer arena. It was the 1980 Independence Trophy. A four team invitational tournament featuring a new born baby called Zimbabwe, a Siamese ally called Mozambique and two brothers called Zambia and Malawi.

mandigora david.jpgThe new Zimbabwe coached by Mick Poole had players such as David Mandigora, Sunday Chidzambwa, Shacky Tauro among others. After mauling Mozambique 6-0, Zimbabwe faced the Mighty Zambia known in those days as KK Eleven (after the then Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda) in the final on 18 April 1980. It was supposed to be a baptism of fire for Zimbabwe, facing a side that had reached the African Nations Cup finals 6 years earlier only to lose to the then Zaire after a replay. But the football gods had a particular script penned for the newly born Zimbabwe. After goals from David Mandigora and a hotly contested Shacky Tauro winner, the new nation lifted the trophy to announce a grand entry into the football world. So angry were the Zambians in their loss that you would think it was a World Cup qualifier they had lost and the great Peter Kaumba was quotted as saying” Even a pilot in a jumbo jet could have seen that Tauro was offside…” But the warriors had come. With great hope for the new nation. But hope is just what it is. Hope. Reality is entirely another word. And another world!

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It was to be a long and arduous journey. Through the jungles of the Congo, the crowded streets and shanty hotels of Lagos, the Pyramids of Egypt, the scary streets of Dakar, Abidjan, Yaoundé, Conakry, Addis Ababa, Kampala, Nairobi, Maputo, Mbabane, Maseru, Luanda, Ouagadougou, Bamako, across the oceans to Lyon, France and to the islands of Mauritius, Seychelles, Mauritius via the copper belt of Zambia. It turned out to be a journey to hell through hell. All in search of the Holy Grail, an appearance at either the African Nations Cup or the World Cup. But what we reaped was misodzi, dikita neropa (tears, sweat and blood). Or was it reaping the whirl wind?

 

A CECAFA Senior Challenge Trophy in 1985 was the only respite for a nation rich in talent. Talk of Stanely Ndunduma, Joel Shambo, Oliver Kateya, Willard Khumalo, Madinda Ndlovu, Japhet Mparutsa, Bruce Grobbelar, Sunday Chidzambwa, Stanford Stix Mtizwa and Moses Chunga whom former Swaziland and Kaiser Chiefs goalkeeper William Shongwe described as “that dangerous stubborn trickster’. That talent deserved a better level to showcase their artistry. It never came to be. Some will say maybe it was never meant to be. But I am not a disciple of pre-destination. Nothing just happens. It is caused. Who took us through the paths of hell? Heartbreak after heartbreak! Every leap year. 1982, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2002. Pese pafa mwana hapashaye muroyi. All those years wondering in the wilderness?

ian-porterfield1.jpgExpatriate coaches came. Name them. Ben Koufie, Armando Ferreira, Rainhard Fabicsh, Rudi Gutendorf, Ian Porterfield, Zoran Pesic, Clemence Westerhoff, Valinhos.  But what did we reap? Some of the painful experiences are still fresh. The more I talk about them, the more I feel tears almost about to embarrass me.

Remember 1991 at the National Sports Stadium. How the nation was plunged into mourning after Congo shipwrecked Zimbabwe’s dream to play in the 1992 AFCON Finals in Senegal? That day when John Sibanda (whom an expatriate coach selected ahead of the inform and experienced Peter Fanwell) spilled a harmless shot into his own nets deep in injury time to condemn Zimbabwe to be the bridemaids of continental football once again. I still remember Charles Mabika crying on the radio “John Sibanda, John Sibanda, O, nooooooo, o my God, ……’’, the radio went silent. For a moment I thought my beloved commentator was dead. But he recovered. Kept his hope for success to come another day. The whole nation believed with Bla Charlie that we will fight another day.

 

Then came the 1994 edition. Again we began brightly, but when it mattered most it was again tears. This time it was Kalusha Bwalya whose assegai pierced the whole nation. It was a header just 10 minutes from full time and on that bright July day, Zimbabwe crashed out of Tunisia 1994. We again failed to make it to South Africa 1996, Burkina Faso 1998, Ghana and Nigeria 2000 and Mali 2002. So painful but did we learn anything? Even the World Cup when it looked so near after dumping out Egypt in that replayed match in Lyon France, we still fell short when it mattered with Guinea and Cameroon ‘conniving’ to spoil our dreams to reach USA in 1994. For France 1998 we were just out of it. Japan and Korea 2002 remained a pipe dream while Germany 2006 was never a reality. But the most painful part maybe was missing South Africa 2010. Not missing by an inch (though a miss is a miss anyway), we missed by a mile. But what did we learn? The two appearances at Tunisia 2004 and Egypt 2006 remain the highest points attained by Zimbabwean soccer in THIRTY years of toiling.

 

THIRTY is the number of maturity. Precisely the time Jesus Christ started his ministry. Maybe that is why Mary Baxter was shown hell for THIRTY days. Zimbabwe has just reached THIRTY. But did we learn anything in our tour of hell? From the times of John  Madzima, Job Kadengu, Nelson Chirwa, Leo Mugabe, Vincent Pamire, Rafiq Khan, Wellington Nyatanga and the madness associated with Henrietta Rushwaya (probably the worst tragedy to afflict Zimbabwean soccer was the coming in of the so called Iron Lady-iron rusts afterall!) to the present era of Cuthbert Dube. Did we learn a thing from the hell in Cairo in 1993? The hell in Yaounde in 1993? The hell in Dakar in 2000? The hell in Rabat in 2007? How about Windoek in 2008? Along the campaign some lost limbs and souls. The disaster Mugomba in July 2000. O, my God! Do we learn at all?

 

chidzambwa1.jpgIs it too painfull to just look at statistics. For they clearly show that no foreign coach has achieved anything with the Warriors? CECAFA 1985-Mick Poole, COSAFA 2000, Misheck Chidzambwa, COSAFA 2003, Sunday Chidzambwa, AFCON Finals 2004, Sunday Chidzambwa, COSAFA 2005, Charles Mhlauri, AFCON Finals 2006, Charles Mhlauri, COSAFA 2009, Sunday Chidzambwa. What has any foreing coach achieved except bringing heartache?

Enter Cuthbert Dube and his administration. Like always we believed salvation had come. What with the young talent of Nyasha Mushekwi, Justice Majabvi, Knowledge Musona, Method Mwanjali, Washington Arubi, Tafadzwa Rusike, Clemence Matawu, Quincy Antipas, Onismo Bhasera, Noel Kaseke, Benjamin Marere, Thomas Sweswe, Edward Sadomba and company. With the leadership of Norman Mapeza who fought in Lusaka, Cairo, Lyon, Yaounde and through the jungles of the continent. Yes we believed. But did we know that the new brooms would also want to sweep our success too. After leading a band of local based Warriors to wallop Malawi 3-0 at Babourfields in 2007 some people were not convinced Mapeza was a good coach.

 

After a brave fight against Brazil in a friendly match at the national sports stadium and a draw against World Cup finalists Japan did not convince some new brooms in Dube’s executive. Even a draw in the jungles of Monrovia against Liberia was not enough to convince these hardened Pharisees. They would rather have a coach who lost an away match 3-0 and was about to be fired by poor Namibia. Oh, my foot!

 

To err is human, but to continue in the same path that make you err is unforgivable. One would think that after treading in the same path for THIRTY years, we have grown wiser. But alas, as the holy book says through King Solomon’s wise proverbs, ‘there is a way that seemeth right unto a man but the end are the ways of death’.  Gumede brings Madinda, Twine Phiri brings Tswatswa, Kasu brings Chitinde and poor Joey Antipas whose flying Bulls are leading the local premiership is not noticed because none of those guys are colored. Do I smell something here? Thank you Cuthbert Dube for standing your ground. Norman Mapeza may have no relative in that panel but you can not keep a good man down.

THIRTY years is a long time to attain wisdom. It is biblical. It is a generation. Our time is now. Now is our time. But if there are men who want to lead us to tread onto the same paths of hell we have travelled over the past years, let them go to hell themselves. We have toured enough of hell in our past THIRTY days, oh, no THIRTY years. Appoint Mapeza or go to hell yourselves!