Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Legends Corner: An interview with Tendai Chieza

By Lot Chitakasha

“My heart bleeds for Zimbabwe Saints. Power struggles, factionalism and regionalism destroyed the club. I will not mention names, suffice to say those who have participated in this should take a long hard look at themselves and search their consciences. At one point when I was the coach under the Chairmanship of Amon Tupeni, people within the club paid players to lose matches. I remember losing one match 10-1 against Rio Tinto. Even John Rugg said to me, Tendai, something is not right…!”

Tendai Chieza the 1970 Soccer Star of the year
Tendai Chieza the 1970 Soccer Star of the year

These were the words of legendary attacking linkman Tendai Chieza, the man who played for Mhangula, Bulawayo Sables, Salisbury Sables and the Zimbabwe national team then known as Rhodesia. The fact that he decided to start this discussion with that hot issue on the demise of the great Zimbabwe Saints clearly reveals the love that he still harbours for the club. It also reveals the pain he feels about the club’s fall from grace.

Indeed the case of Zimbabwe Saints remains a fresh wound on any football fan who had the pleasure of watching them play. Their brand of one touch football, the pass and move approach was scintillating. Tendai says, “We played to win, but we always wanted to win in style, this was the Zimbabwe Saints way even when we were still known as Mashonaland United .” No one with a good understanding of Zimbabwe football can dispute this assertion.

But who is Tendai Chieza? I decided to give the legend a ring and after three hours of football discussion, I was enriched by his football narrative.

Tendai Chieza the 1970 Soccer Star of the year is one of the seven brothers who played for Mhangula in the 1960’s and early 70’s . His football journey started while he was still at school at Bernard Mzeki College in 1954. During the holidays, he would play for Mhangula.

His father Gideon was the Welfare Officer at the mine and hence all his sons had an opportunity to play for the team. The other six brothers were Hector a goalkeeper, George ,Itai, who is now late, Isaac, Winston and Temba. The team also comprised Jonathan Munjoma and Aleck Masanjala both nephews thereby making it a family affair in the true sense of the phrase.

A snippet that I got from Soccer Star of the year awards in 1970 describes Tendai as, “ Linkman, captain and player coach for Mhangula. One of the most versatile players in the game and the brain behind Mhangula success . He is also one of the only two qualified Africans coaches in Rhodesia.” This was some achievement, player coach, captain, midfield kingpin!

Most people know that Tendai was the Soccer Star of the year in 1970 but he also won the national award in 1968 when the awards were sponsored by the Rhodesia National Football league. “ I have two Soccer Star awards but the one sponsored by Castle lager is the only one that is officially recognized.”

According to Tendai, the Mhangula team of the 1970’s was a formidable one which struck fear in the hearts of many teams including giants like Dynamos. The notable stars in the team included George Kondowe, one of the best attacking linkman of his era, Jonathan Munjoma, Pillemon Phiri, Aleck

Masanjala, Lovemore Nyabeza, Booker Muchenu, Joseph Galloway, the six brothers earlier mentioned and James Banda.

One of the highlights for this team was to lift the Castle Cup in 1973. “I have vivid memories of that cup final. I even remember our goal scorers, Itai, Aleck and Lazarus. We spend time in camp and talked about how to attack ,amazingly the goals came exactly as we had rehearsed them” , recalled Tendai. The team also won the Chibuku trophy, this was a very successful era for the club.

In between his stints with Mangula, Tendai also had a spell at Bulawayo Sables, a team sponsored by the National Breweries. As as a qualified coach, he also had the task of coaching throughout the region. This was under the National Breweries coaching scheme in 1968.

After going back to Mhangula as player coach, an offer came from Salisbury Sables. Tendai did not hesitate to move. Salisbury Sables secured him employment with Rothmans and among his teammates were Simon “Super” Supiya, William Sibanda, Peter Nyama, Daniel Chikanda , Shepherd Murape and Goose Galloway.

“We were paid well and also had a bonus for each goal scored. To maximise , we came up with a game plan. We instructed Peter to stay as far up field as possible and conserve his energy. We supplied him with good passes and his job was to bury the chances…and boy did he bury them! We were all happy, our wallets were always fat..” said legend Tendai with a knowing smile.

In 1975, he was approached by Reuben Zemura to be the player coach at Zimbabwe Saints, then Mashonaland United. This name was changed because of the tribal connotations that it carried, Dr, Herbert Ushewekunze insisted on this change.

On the other half of town, Dr Joshua Nkomo also encouraged Matabeleland Highlanders to drop the word Matabeleland and just stick with Highlanders. This was an attempt to unite the people since this was at the height of the liberation struggle. The Nationalists were trying to stop the football rivalry from being toxic because of the tribal nature of the names.

Despite the change of names, the football rivalry remained fierce and the tribal allegiances unabated. He recalls a situation which put this into perspective. In one season, Highlanders had signed Itai and Winston while he was at Zimbabwe Saints together with George. The four brothers were caught in a rivalry that divided a city. “The week before the derby, we did not speak, a week after the derby, we did not speak, this was a strange situation for all of us…football was keeping us apart..!”, said Tendai.

As earlier stated, Tendai prefers not to dwell much on the factionalism that bedevilled the club which he feels contributed to its demise. Power struggles were the norm but he preferred not to give names. I was left with a lot of questions , maybe if I get the chance to talk to Vincent Pamire and Gibson Homela the current main actors at the club, answers will be given.

Reuben Zemura, Dr. Ushehwekunze, Peter Nepare and Nyashanu all had an opportunity to lead the club in the past. A better understanding of the power struggles can only be possible if these powerful men could speak out. Unfortunately that is no longer possible because some of them are long dead, gone with their secrets. Meanwhile we can only lament “Cry the beloved Saints..”

One man who does not mince his words about the problems at Saints is Jethro “Chemmy” Hunidzarira. He has gave an interview and those who want to find out more can read for themselves.

Tendai ‘ s notable achievements at Zimbabwe Saints were winning the 1977 Castle Cup, the league championship in 1988, the Chibuku trophy and playing in the Champions league. He was the head coach/team manager in the all conquering Chauya Chikwata team. His assistant was Roy Barreto with Roger Russell as the physical trainer.

As usual, Gibson Homela can also claim credit for this success .Homela returned to the Saints set up with four games to go and three points needed to wrap up the league. Indeed success has many fathers. The team went on a 23 match unbeaten run, “When the Saints go marching in, go marching in, Lord I want to be in that number, when the Saints go marching in…”, the supporters sang! It was tiki-taka at its best and for that Tendai Chieza and his crew deserve credit.

Those who worked with Tendai Chieza attest to his leadership qualities. Former Zimbabwe National team captain and Saints stalwart Ephraim Chawanda had this to say, “Mr. Tendai Chieza was not just a football coach, he was a father figure and a life coach.

For me , some of the decisions I make today are influenced by my interaction with him so many years ago.” Lovejoy Mugadza simply said, “He was a cool headed leader, always kept his calm…” His wife said, “ All the football players used to camp at our house, we cooked sadza for the likes of Andrew Kadengu, Joseph Machingura, Ebson Muguyo and the other Saints players. We were one big happy family…”

While history is important in order for us to understand where we are going , there are dangers of pitching our tents in the past. The legacy is important, but we cannot make the past our permanent dwelling place. I was therefore keen to find out what the legend thoughts about our football now and the way forward. This was what he had to say.

“There must be more cooperate involvement and more sponsorship. Individual sponsorships are ok but not the ideal. We cannot have a scenario where individuals sponsor the National team no matter how well intentioned.

Former players should be respected and allowed to participate in the development of the game not only as coaches but as administrators. Better training of coaches and referees is important. Above all we should maintain grassroots facilities and revive the junior leagues.” Wise words from the legend!

Tendai now lives in Wolverhampton and is married to Roselyn whom he wed in 1972. He has four children Gideon, Gerald, Tafadzwa and Julian and five grand children.

This was an interesting conversation with one of the elders of Zimbabwe football, one of the big brains of the game but a brain currently underutilized. Why?

The history of Zimbabwe football cannot be complete without a mention of the Chieza football family for whom Tendai was a leading light. It is important to remember these pioneers, they served football well . Their voice must still be heard in times such as these! Nehanda Radio