By Robson Sharuko
Orlando Pirates will today make an overdue pilgrimage to a city that has always held a special place in its hearts for them.
But, beyond the glamour which these Buccaneers carry, is a dark secret of an institution built on a belief in rituals and the imaginary powers of sangomas.
These Pirates are likely to find a City of Kings that has always had a romantic fascination with them, where their black-and-white jerseys are a familiar sight among Highlanders fans.
And where Bosso players also perform the pre-match crossed hands ghost war cry.
The Buccaneers have a Champions League date against FC Platinum at Barbourfields tomorrow.
It’s very unlikely Pirates, the Soweto giants who have the distinction of being the first Southern African side to be crowned champions of the continent, have ever been to a city, outside South Africa, where their brand is such a box-office attraction as is the case in Bulawayo.
Of course, things were very different the last time these Pirates came here on a similar mission, way back in 1997, given they played in Harare where attachment to their institution, among the local fans, isn’t as pronounced as is the case in Bulawayo.
That last visit now looks like an age away — Roberto Carlos was still rocking the world with his sensational “banana shot,’’ free-kick against France, Eric Cantona announced his retirement from football at the age of 30, Mike Tyson bit a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear in a heavyweight showdown.
And a certain Tiger Woods won the first of his 14 Major golf titles at the Masters at Augusta National.
Oh, by the way, Dynamos won their final league championship under Sunday Chidzambwa, Black Aces and Blackpool, Zimbabwe Saints, Air Zimbabwe Jets, Amazulu, Lancashire Steel, Mhangura, Arcadia United and Gweru United were still part of the domestic Premiership.
And a Scotsman, Ian Porterfield, who would succumb to colon cancer at the age of 61 in England in September 2007, was the man in charge of the Warriors, having arrived here with a CV that showed he had also coached English Premiership side Chelsea.
But, all that, now belongs to a past where the records will show that Pirates squeezed a 2-1 win over the Green Machine in a Champions League match at the National Sports Stadium with Stewart Murisa on target for Makepekepe.
That match, back in 1997, can never match the hysteria that is certain to greet these Pirates when they roll into the City of Kings today where, unlike in Harare, they have an appeal that can probably never be matched, anywhere outside South Africa.
The Buccaneers, to be fair to them, have earned their stripes — leading the way in showing this region that a club from here could be crowned champions of Africa when they tamed the continent in 1995, and again reaching the final of the same tournament a few years.
But, beyond the glamour associated with their brand, lies a disturbing world that was laid bare by one of the best players to wear their iconic jersey in recent years, midfielder Teko “General’’ Modise, who spent four years at the Buccaneers.
In November 2017, Modise released an explosive autobiography, “The Curse of Teko Modise,’’ where he blew the lid on some of the scary issues that are part of the Pirates culture which he picked from his time at the club.
“There was a lot to get used to at Orlando Pirates,’’ he says in his book. ‘’One of the most interesting things was the role of muti‚’’
The book was written in conjunction with journalist Nikolaos Kirkinis and provides some interesting insights of life at the Pirates, including the employment of a resident sangoma by the club.
“ . . . when Teko arrived at Pirates he met their resident sangoma. In Teko’s first week‚ the sangoma said he was going to try something new.
“In the change room before the game‚ the sangoma placed a stick at the entrance.
“All the players had to jump back and forth over the stick.”
While some of the players were not happy with these traditional ways of trying to empower them to, according to the sangoma, play better and get positive results, they were all forced to do as instructed because they were part of the team.
The players would be woken up at midnight to take a bath using water mixed with a concoction of some traditional medicine which the sangoma would have prepared.
“The players would bath in a special mixture‚ then shower‚ climb back into bed and try to sleep before the game,’’ the book reveals. Even with this practice the results were not improving. (The sangoma) determined that the players were not using the muti correctly.
“He realised that they were showering after their bath and therefore the muti was washed off‚ so he devised a new plan.
“Now‚ instead of the players bathing at midnight‚ before the game they would grab their bags‚ go bath . . . then get on the bus to the stadium.
“The water was very black. You have no idea what is in there. You could see some sticks and leaves but who knows what else was in there. It would be very itchy‚ very strange.”
Predictably, the Pirates’ establishment dismissed the story and said they owed their success to their professionalism.
Whatever the case, FC Platinum will be hoping tomorrow’s battle takes the shape of the real life version of the “Curse of the Pirates,’’ the daring sea robbers who used to terrorise the high seas, raiding passing ships, before they were chased away from a business that has now lost its glitter.
After all, these Pirates have never won their domestic league crown for seven years now. The Herald