By Lot Chitakasha
I grew up in Highfield in an area called Jerusalem. The colonial authorities had a penchant for giving some weird names most of which we have retained up to this day.
There was Jerusalem, Egypt, Lusaka, Canaan and Western Triangle, one wonders why such names were given, the thinking behind them, but I digress.
Back to the gist of this article, we lived close to Gwanzura Stadium and a further one or so kilometre away were the historic Zimbabwe Grounds, the place I always refer to as the home of grassroots football. In this article , I pay tribute to these iconic grounds situated in the heart of Highfield.
The grounds are also renowned as the home of most political rallies. When Bishop Abel Muzorewa was trying desperately to breathe some oxygen into the short lived Zimbabwe- Rhodesia government, he held a three day mega rally at the hallowed grounds.
When rising political star Robert Mugabe returned from Mozambique to take over the reins of power, the only place that could hold his legion of supporters was the Zimbabwe Grounds. It was the mother of all rallies.
Thirty seven years later, an equally huge crowd gathered at the iconic grounds, this time demanding the resignation of the once upon a time hero of the people. The Zimbabwe grounds have played a pivotal role in the political life of the nation. In the midst of all this , it is important to remember why the grounds were established, the place for grassroots football and we should not lose sight of that.
Every young person who grew up in Highfield spend time either watching or playing football at the Zimbabwe grounds. The grounds are made up of four pitches aptly named Ground number 1,2,3 and 4. This ensured that there was a lot of space for the young people to hone their skills.
Young boys also organised what were then known as “money games” which were very competitive and often ended in fist fights. Friendships were formed, fights broke out and the peace pipe was smoked. Everything that happened at the grounds stayed at the grounds and our parents knew that the children were safe. The Zimbabwe grounds were like a second home to most of the boys.
The vision of the then Salisbury Municipality which gave birth to these grounds should be applauded. This was proper Urban planning not what is happening these days, sporting places being converted into housing stands by corrupt councillors. Do they think about the children, about their recreation? I do not think so . I call it Community development by leaving the people who matter behind, the young.
Many players who became household names cut their teeth at these grounds. I have in mind players such as Noah and Itai Kapini, Shadreck “Waga Waga” Dzvairo, Magarika Dzvairo, Allan MApila, Emmanuel Nyahuma,Nyasha Kanogoiwa among others.
The Zimbabwe Grounds also played host to two of Zimbabwe’ s top Super league clubs, Caps United and Black Aces for our training sessions. It was from watching Caps United train at these grounds which made me fall in love with the team.
Others followed Black Aces which trained at the neighbouring pitch just because they wanted to watch Archford Chimutanda train, when he did train. Just like I never missed a Caps United training session, my diehard Aces friend Charles Makuwerere never missed a Black Aces one . He simply loved to watch Archie train.
The Zimbabwe grounds were also home to the Makomva Supermarkets amateur league with two divisions. Although the league was for amateur teams , we should not be fooled by this term . The teams were very strong and most of them played some breathtaking football. There were some really good players in the teams and sometimes I wonder why some of them never reached the very top.
Teams such as Saltrama Plastics, Ferco, Chipinge, Lusaka Hotspurs, Eversharp, Cairns Motors, Mazda, Murehwa among others were really good . Most of them had company sponsors and the players had the added advantage of getting employment. Every talented young person wanted to play for one of these teams and the competition was really tight.
I have vivid memories of such great players like Charle “Ngwaru” Mapundu, he was a lethal striker, Mashaka, we called him Bla Shakes, he was the man with the flying tackles, tackles that would make Ramos a saint, he was a folk hero.
There was Billy Kembo, the Franz Beckenbauer of the Zimbabwe Grounds, a good defender with ball playing abilities. What about George, we simply called him Tigana after the French midfield maestro. The list of good players is endless and then there are those who made the step up to the Super League.
Among the teams was one known as Deaf United. Most of these players were deaf and the referees had to communicate with them using sign language. They were a good side but they did not take kindly to unfair decisions, they often took the law into their hands by chasing away the referee.
The Zimbabwe grounds became a community of football loving fans and like in any community, there were some outstanding characters. There was a Mudhara Mhlanga,he was the moving encyclopaedia of football. He had all the information and in between matches a crowd would gather around him to listen to all the gossip. Everything football related, Mudhara Mhlanga knew!
I have a dream for the Zimbabwe grounds. I want to thank the Harare Municipality for preserving these grounds albeit in a dilapidated state. Other Municipalities have lost their playing pitches, parcelled out as residential stands. Landlords have deprived the young of a place to play, places of recreation. This is a scourge which has affected most urban centres, greed has taken over.
I want the grounds to be converted into modern facilities. The perimeter fence must be reconstructed, this will stop people from criss-crossing the pitches. The pitches must be watered and maintained to the highest level. The dressing rooms should be modernised.
Indeed the neighbouring tennis courts and basketball courts will also be turned into modern facilities. The grounds have also become the home of Takashinga Cricket Club , formed by Givemore Makoni and Stephen Mangongo.
They decided to use the Zimbabwe Grounds because they wanted to identify with the Highfield Community. We should turn the Zimbabwe Grounds into a place of pride for the people of Highfield, a place where the young can spend their time. A good environment motivates, dilapidated facilities can be demoralising.
Indeed grassroots football is dying a slow death. There are many such grounds which are dotted around the country, from Bulawayo to Mutare but for me the Zimbabwe Grounds hold a special place in my heart. I hope the powers that be can show commitment by turning these grounds into a modern facility, a facility which the people of Highfield can be proud of.
My heart also bleeds for Gwanzura Stadium…but that is a topic for another day. Let us show our commitment to sports development and places like the Zimbabwe Grounds is crying out for better utilisation.