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Football in Zimbabwe: A brief history up to 1980

By Lot Chitakasha

Any attempt to record the history of football in Zimbabwe has to take cognisance of the historical context under which the game developed. The reality of colonialism and a dominant white settler community directly impacted on the development of the sports in general and football in particular.

Dynamos and Highlanders have the most passionate and loyal fans in domestic football and their intense rivalry has become a subject of academic studies
Dynamos and Highlanders have the most passionate and loyal fans in domestic football and their intense rivalry has become a subject of academic studies

It is often said that sports and politics should not mix but sport is not separate from society. It is integral to it and an important part of its fabric, [J. Burton, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH,NOV,21 2014]. The purpose of this paper is to tell the story of football in Zimbabwe from the first edition of the league in 1962 as the Rhodesia national league up to independence in 1980.

The contributions of various players across the racial divide and the impact of teams like Dynamos, Highlanders and Zimbabwe Saints in raising the nationalistic consciousness of their supporters which in a way fed into the nationalist struggle which was taking root in the 1960s and 1970s. It is my hope that another paper will look at the post-independence era.

According to Andrew Kovak in his paper, “Sport and racial discrimination in colonial Zimbabwe-a reanalysis” sport in Rhodesia was controlled by the state and was used among white settlers to create a sense of identity, pride and friendship. He points out that sporting life was vibrant and was seen as a tool of social acculturation and identity formation.

Elitist sports such as cricket, rugby and tennis were highly segregated even at schools level and it was difficult for blacks to participate. However athletics, boxing and football were an exception in allowing the participation of blacks but the administrators viewed this as a tool of social control, teaching the values of discipline, hygiene and sobriety.

Maidei Magirosa in her paper, “Racism and the beginning of football in Zimbabwe” reaffirms the use of football for social control. She asserts that missionaries taught football to promote good behaviour, sobriety, discipline and cooperation among the blacks.

It is important to note from the above that sport was not just for leisure, but it served the purpose of the colonial administrators. Although segregation was rife in some sports, it was not as rigid as the one practised in neighbouring apartheid where laws were in place to stop white from competing with blacks.

Novak cited above asserts that although cricket, tennis, hockey, rugby and golf were considered to be the domain of the white minority, football was easily accessible to blacks. Douglas Mpondi “Cricket, racial discrimination and racial integration in colonial Zimbabwe” agrees with Novak who says “legal restrictions on public meetings turned football into one of the few areas in life in which Africans could gather legally.”

As earlier stated, missionaries saw sport as a means of imbuing the values of discipline, respect and cooperation [Magirosa, 2013]. Teams like ST. Pauls Musami, champions in 1966 under the leadership of Father Davis were a product of this approach. Companies and mines also sponsored boxing and athletics and legends like Artwell Mandaza in athletics benefitted from this.

Football also benefitted hence the proliferation of such teams as Mhangula, Wankie and Rio Tinto and company teams like Metal Box, Glen Strikers and later Caps United. Most of the players also found employment with their teams’ sponsors.

Another dynamic came to the fore, participation of blacks in large gatherings led to inevitable political dialogue and the nationalist leaders were able to utilise this growing political consciousness. The authorities were worried but according to Novak, the government never completely captured the field of association football as it remained easily accessible to blacks.

The first black team to be formed was Highlanders which began life as Lions F.C in 1926 and later changed the name to Matebeleland Highlanders then simply Highlanders. The team was formed in Makokoba by Lobengula’s grandsons, Albert and Rhodes who had returned from studying in South Africa with a new passion for football.

Highlanders owe their existence to the attempt by colonial administrators to placate the Royal family by sending the two boys away to study. The team did well in the league restoring a sense of pride, identity and nationhood among the people.

They were invited to join the league in 1966 and despite the challenges, they were able to establish themselves in the Super League by 1970. In 1973, they won the Chibuku trophy with the likes of Andrew Jele, Edward Dzowa, Lawrence Phiri, Tony Macllveen, an Irishman who had joined the team in 1972, Barry Daka, Josiah Nxumalo and Bruce Grobbelaar among the stars [wikipedia ].

It is amazing that 98 years later we have this football giant still going strong. They have done well, winning 7 league titles and numerous trophies and have also given us one of the greatest players of all time in Zimbabwe-Peter Ndlovu.

Their iconic black and white jersey has become part of the culture of Zimbabwe football, a source of great pride and passion for the fans. It is unfortunate that nothing has been done to maximize the great potential of the team and hence they remain one of the sleeping giants of the game.

Zimbabwe Saints are one of the oldest clubs formed in 1936 but were known as Mashonaland United at some point. A Wikipedia site points out that Dr H. Ushewokunze and Dr J. Nkomo felt that the name was divisive at a time when all people needed to unite to confront colonialism and hence changed the name to Zimbabwe Saints in 1975.

This is a clear illustration of how sport and politics often fed into each other as politicians strived to use sport to unite the people. The tribal connotations were never far from the surface however as matches between Saints and Highlanders always had a tribal dimension to them. This is an uncomfortable and unfortunate reality up to this day.

Zimbabwe Saints have had notable success over the years, 2 league titles in 1977 and 1988. Chauya Chikwata as they are known by their adoring fans went 23 games unbeaten on their way to the league in 1988. Roy Barretto was the coach and Ephraim Chawanda the captain of team who played what was known as carpet football, perfecting the pass and move approach.

Their junior development has always been strong but power struggles have led to the demise of the Saints who are now playing in the lower league, a shame for a team with such a rich history. We hope the administrators get their act together and bring the glory days back to the Saints.

Maidei Magirosa’s assertion that football helped the confidence of the black populace as football victories over predominantly white team like Salisbury Callies demonstrated the possibilities of overcoming colonialism, can be borne out by the formation of Dynamos F.C

Dynamos was formed in 1963, in the Harare township now Mbare by a group of young black players led by Sam Dhauya [Collin Matiza, article on Patrick Dzvene, Herald]. They became one of the strongest in the league and by independence they had 6 league titles and at present they are at 21 and still counting.

According to a Wikipedia site, the formation of Dynamos was a direct response to the formation of a white only team-Salisbury Callies, and the disbanding of two local black teams Salisbury City and Salisbury United.

Among the founding members were Patrick Dzvene, Obadiah Sarupinda, Richard Chiminya, Nathan Maziti, Bernard Mariot, Josiah Akende, Alan Hlatwayo, Freddy Mkwesha, Ephraim Mpariwa, Jimmy Finch, Alois Masikano, Sam Dhauya and Jairosi Banda [Collin Matiza].

Support for the team was massive among the black populace and the impact of their league win in 1963 and 1965 was phenomenal. Dynamos raised the bar of black pride and victories over white dominated teams like Salisbury Callies were greeted with boundless joy.

It is not suprising therefore that Dynamos command the largest fan base in the country and this is rooted in their formation at a time of rising political awareness among the blacks. The nationalists tapped into this and helped to drive the struggle forward.

Up to now politicians are still interested in controlling the club..they are aware of its appeal among the masses, the appeal of that magical blue jersey. It is a pity that the team has not taken advantage of its immense popularity to evolve into a more professional entity.

Up to now they do not have a proper office, training ground and stadium to show for their massive success on the pitch since 1963. Like Highlanders who command the second largest support base in the country, Dynamos are the sleeping giants of African football who are failing to tap into their massive potential for growth. It is a shame.

According to T.D. Manyika an avid follower of the game in the 70s, football showed a glimpse of the possibilities in a racial society. On one hand it imbued the black majority with a sense of pride and at the same time the football arena became a level ground for competition.

It became a micro-society where everyone was equal for the duration of the game. Players, black , white and coloured [an acceptable term to describe those of mixed race parentage] gained a new respect for each other’s talents. Rob Jordan a renowned goalkeeper was in the habit of calling out “Mark Makwesha” in recognition of the danger posed by Freddy Mkwesha….of course Moses Chunga claims that he made Duncan “Zico” Ellison speak shona by calling out “Makai Moze”.

Topsy Robertson, Stewart Gilbert, Bobby Chalmers, Jimmy Finch among others gained the respect of both their peers and fans. White fans and players alike accepted the undoubted talents of George Shaya, William Sibanda, Gibson Homela to mention a few.

It is also important to note that the first national team to contest a World Cup qualifier in 1969 was multi-racial. It had in its ranks, Rob Jordan ,William Sibanda, Peter Haddon, James Chibaya, Isaac Chieza, Shepherd Murape, Topsy Robertson, George Shaya, Hylton Granger, Nelson Mapara, Alex Mwanza, Gibson Homela, Itayi Chieza, Philemon Tigere, Adolf Mtuma, Stewart Gilbert, Stewart Knowles and Bobby Chalmers [wikipedia]

The team lost narrowly to Australia.

The above clearly shows the ability of sport to break barriers and bring people together..football can play this role. The Dream Team days can confirm to this.

The period 1962 to 1979 witnessed the rise and fall of some great teams all who helped in the development of the game. Teams like Bulawayo Rovers, champions 1962 and 1964, Bulawayo Sables, 1968 and 1969, Tornadoes [1967] who later evolved to Chibuku Shumba then Black Aces, Mhangula, ST Pauls [1966], Metal Box champions [1973], Salisbury Sables [1972,1974], Arcardia United champions 1971, Rio Tinto, Caps united champions 1979 and of course Dynamos champions [1963,1965,1970,1975,1976 and 1978] had a part to play in the development of the game, even those teams that did not win anything helped to shape of our football today.

Some of the teams have fallen by the wayside but others have endured. Some teams buckled under the weight of running expenses and withdrawal of sponsorship like Mhangula, while others reinvented themselves into new entities like Chibuku Shumba to Black Aces.

By 1979 the white dominated teams had vanished and most white players simply stopped playing, only a few like Mark Watson, Graham Boyle and Duncan Ellison, continued. 1962 to 1979 produced a generation of great players.

Rob Jordan, Topsy Robertson, Peter Nyama, Ernest Kamba, George Shaya [soccer star of the year five times-a record], the Chieza brothers, Freddy Mkwesha who later played in Portugal, Chita Antonio, Daniel Chikanda, William Sibanda, James Nxumalo, Tymon Mabaleka, Jimmy Finch, George Rollo, Bethal Salis, Shaw Handriade, Shaky Tauro, Sunday Marimo ,David Mandigora, Posani Sibanda, David Zulu, Robert Godoka, Frank Mkanga…the conveyer belt of talent was relentless.

I have left out other great players of this period, it is not out disrespect, there is need for a data base to be created to record all the players. In Europe if one wants information on any player even from the 1930s, one can find it but in Africa and in Zimbabwe in particular such information is hard to get.

As earlier stated, sport in Zimbabwe before independence has to be appreciated with an awareness of the historical context. Although the so-called elitist sports like cricket and rugby were the domain of the whites, football managed to break this barrier.

Teams like Dynamos, Highlanders, Zimbabwe Saints who were among the pioneers of the game restored the confidence and the pride of the black majority. Above all they helped to develop the game, breaking racial barriers along the way. The independence celebrations in 1980 were marked by a football match between Zimbabwe and Zambia, once more symbolising the role that football can play in society.