THE city of Gweru can be proud. It gave the nation a Soccer Star of the Year award winner in 2001 — Maxwell “ Marhino” Dube.
The city can also be proud because it produced one of the best penalty takers of all time in Zimbabwean football history — Ashton “Musharukwa” Mhlanga.
Legend has it that he never missed a penalty in his long career spanning over 15 years. And yes, Gweru also produced one of the fastest players to play in Zimbabwe — Bheki “Pisa Pisa” Mlotshwa. Lest I forget, Gweru had Gweru United, nicknamed “Pisa Pisa”, a team which gave the nation Wonder Chaka, the baby-faced assassin. He was lethal, a sniper!
And Gweru United was a great team, shame about their demise.
However, Gweru has many suburbs — Ascot, Mtapa, Mkoba, Senga, Thornhill, The Bata Compound and Mambo, among others. Allow me therefore to ask, which one of these suburbs produced the most or best footballers?
Let me be clear on the parameters and spirit of the article. I will try to cover as many players as possible in the two decades after Independence. I know many legends will be omitted but it will not be out of malice. I had to rely on my memory, a bit of what is written and I also consulted two legends from the city — Maxwell “Marhino” Dube and Bheki Mlotshwa.
I steered clear of the pre-Independence era although I know a bit about William Sibanda, one of the best midfielders to grace our football fields in Zimbabwe.
Unfortunately, I could not find anyone confident enough to talk about this era. Indeed there is a lot which needs to be done to capture all the football history and I hope we can treat this with the urgency it deserves.
On the bragging rights, Maxwell “MaRhino” Dube did not mince his words.
“I grew up in Mtapa and I can declare that most legends came from Mtapa,” Dube said.
Before he gave me the list, the 2001 Soccer Star of the Year award winner, who broke into the Chapungu United side as a mere 16-year-old, had this to say: “I lived a few hundred metres away from what are known as the Gafa Grounds. These grounds were the meeting place for all talented youngsters who wanted to play football.
“I would leave home in the morning and not return until late in the afternoon. All the boys congregated at the grounds. There was also the Ndlovu Youth Centre and it had teams of all the age-groups. Young talent was nurtured here too!”
According to the legend, the grounds are now neglected. There is little attention being paid to the upkeep of the grounds. This has deprived the youngsters the stage to develop their talent.
“Many youngsters are now into drugs and alcohol because they have nothing better to do,” added Dube, who is now based in the UK.
Yes, in the high-density areas, including those in Harare, many playing facilities have become dilapidated. The local authorities have simply lost the will to maintain these facilities. This is really unfortunate because such neglect kills the dreams of young people. When the young cannot dream, the nation loses a lot of talent.
This is an urgent matter which needs to be addressed.
From the list of players that the legendary Dube gave me, it was self-evident that Mtapa indeed was the hotbed of talent in the city of Gweru.
Here is the roll call of honour.
From Mtapa emerged Melody Wafawanaka, Charles Gutu, Benedict Kondowe, Ishmael Meki, Ashton Mhlanga, Roseman Dracko, Alexander Useni, Milton Makopa, Jacob Mzokomba, Smart Muchabaiwa, Bheki Mlotshwa, Stephen Zingwe, Admire Zingwe, Shepherd Mabhaudhi, Liberty Musanhu, David Magocha, Mackereza Navaya, Callisto Maheya, Moses de Souza, Peter Mlauzi, Nelson Kuretu, Tawanda Marimo and the man himself “Marhino”.
Most of the names on the list are familiar with many Zimbabwean football fans although others might get the fans scratching their heads. However, with names such as left-back Ashton “Musharukwa” Mhlanga, tearaway striker and speed merchant Mlotshwa, Ishmael Meki and Dube , then indeed Mtapa can claim the bragging rights.
These are players who played at the highest level of football in Zimbabwe for teams such as Chapungu United, Gweru United and Dynamos.
With a Soccer Star of the Year in its ranks in Dube, Mtapa certainly has the bragging rights.
According to Mlotshwa, Ascot also boasted some great legends who put it on the football map.
Players such as Isaac Mbvure, Edmos Pazvakavambwa, Charles Muroyiwa, Gilbert Muroyiwa, Takesure Tito, Brian Nhamo and Kisdo Matsika. I am sure the list is much longer but some might have slipped the legend’s memory bank.
I remember well the balding steady defender Charles Muroyiwa who captained army outfit Tongogara. He was a tough nut to crack at the heart of the Tongo defence. Matsika and Tito both helped to make Gweru United a formidable outfit in the 1980s.
From the suburb of Mkoba emerged Clever Remigio, John Mukandatsama, Oliver Juru, Ishmael Mapuweyi, Ranga Mutunga, Peter Mazarire, Staben Mafunga, Temba Chigwena and veteran defender John Baison.
For those fans who grew up in the 80s, the names on this list will be very familiar. Baison was a permanent feature of the Gweru United defence. He played for a very long time and only retired well into his late 30s.
The suburb of Mambo had dribbling wizard Collin “Computer” Semwayo and his brother Sam, Norbert Zimuto, Knight Mathe, Dominic Maredza, Kuda Mukosi, Mathew Chewe, Tichaona Lunga and Edmore Chifungamwoyo. I am sure my sources missed a number of legends here because this list looks a bit thin on paper. There must be more.
Apart from this concentration of talent in these suburbs, there was some gold dust scattered in some areas too.
For example, Senga had Elliot Mkhonto, a rising defender whose career was, however, cut short by death.
He played for the national Under-23 team but I am sure he would have reached full potential with the senior national team.
The Bata compound, which housed most of the Bata employees, produced dribbling wizard Nkulumo “Daidzaivamwe” Donga.
Said Mlotshwa: “Daidzaivamwe (Donga) was born in Gweru, he went to Chaplin High School and his father worked for Bata. He was a dribbler par excellence.”
It’s a pity that Donga’s son, Nigel, did not follow in his father’s footsteps and play football although his daughter, Vanessa, briefly played women’s soccer before she got married.
Other legends such as Francis Shonhayi, Jimmy “Livewire” Mbewe, Lazarus Pararayi, Machona “Gweje Gweje” Sibanda and Samson Phiri played for Bata Power but I am not sure if they were Gweru born and bred.
It will be amiss not to talk about Wonder Chaka. Neither legends Mlotshwa nor Dube could tell me where the legend grew up. My research showed that he was born at Gweru General Hospital in 1958. His talent made him a first-team regular for Gweru United at the tender age of 17.
In 1981 he was among the Soccer Stars of the Year finalists.
Speaking to Danisa Masuku of the Sunday Times, “Wonder Boy”, as the legend was called, highlighted his rich vein of scoring form which made him such a feared striker.
“I scored 25 goals in 1981, 27 in 1982 and 24 in 1983!”. If these statistics can be verified, then the city of Gweru can indeed be proud of these remarkable achievements. Unfortunately, no suburb can claim him in this article, let me just call him Mr. Gweru!
Indeed the City of Progress gave the nation some great stars. Sadly the football pitches which helped to nurture this talent, the Gafa Grounds, no longer get the attention that they deserve.
A lot of talent has been lost, the city fathers should seriously consider the role of these sporting facilities in making Gweru the factory of football talent for the nation.
About the bragging rights, I will go with legend Maxwell “Marhino “ Dube’s declaration: Mtapa were the kings of talent in the decades under discussion.
Has the balance of power shifted? I will need to do more research in that regard. For now, let me salute Mtapa and say well done!