Zimbabwe: Juju, Ganja and Mafia At Dynamos

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Today Zimbabwe'S global avatar has maxed out on grand narratives and pop consumables but occasionally underestimated the place of biography as a long night of the soul.

Dynamos Football Club legend Memory Mucherahowa's new book, "Soul of Seven Million Dreams", refreshingly does away with airbrushing strokes and puts the health of a national institution up for public scrutiny.

A long-serving captain at the country's most successful football club, Mucherahowa identifies, in the course of his own life story, some of the millstones holding back Zimbabwe's version of the beautiful game.

Even at the high point of its glory days, during the 1998 CAF championship campaign, Dynamos reliably unwound administrative disasters under a management for whom professional basics were stacks of Mandarin.

Mucherahowa gives an inside view of Dynamos' inordinate obsession with juju (witchcraft for enhancing results), players' erroneous reliance on ganja (marijuana), mafia administration and factionalism during his tenure.

The book looks beyond DeMbare's occupational hazards to take on other evils including regionalism, setting players from the north against players from the south in the national team, match-fixing and hostile stratagems by host clubs during CAF away legs.

Born in 1968, five years after the inception of Dynamos, Mucherahowa found his groove while growing up in Mufakose, joined Dynamos FC Juniors in 1983, and secured a place in the first team in 1985.

He got an early call to national duty but would have an on-off tenure with the Warriors. Moses Chunga arranged a stint for him with a Third Division Belgian side, which did not bear fruit either as his papers were not in order.

We get Mucherahowa's close-up perspectives and unresolved beefs with contemporaries and football administrators including Chunga, Reinhard Fabisch, Ephraim Chawanda, George Shaya and Leslie Gwindi.

He also shares about his interactions with fellow players, musicians, politicians and ghetto criminals - with Warriors legend Peter Ndlovu, Chimurenga maverick Thomas Mapfumo, Dream Team talisman Tauya Murewa, CAPS United Class of 1996 skipper Joe Mugabe and Zanu-PF legislator Joseph Chinotimba, who is particularly cast in endearing light.

It is not all glamour as Mucherahowa privileges the world with a look into the Glamour Boys' dressing room where Stone Age administration and shocking ineptness muddy one of the biggest pools of the country's footballing talent.

The autobiography, written with assistance from UK-based sports journalist Albert Marufu and edited by Zimpapers innovation strategist Robert Mukondiwa, is a fascinating addition to Zimbabwean athlete memoirs by Bruce Grobellar, Japhet Mparutsa, Allan Butcher, Henry Olonga, Tatenda Taibu and others.

Marufu extensively interviewed Mucherahowa and transcribed his story in first person. Given the format, I approached the book apprehensive of third party intrusion but was delightfully proven wrong. The reader hears Mucherahohwa's own voice, as it were, mastering almost imperceptible.

As captain, Mucherahowa, routinely presided over the juju rituals to a point where Dynamos fans erroneously thought of his onfield name, Gwenzi (translated as "bush"), as having come about from his dabbling in the "muti" business.

DeMbare's on-off gaffer Sunday Chidzambwa was also meticulously invested in the rituals, although the club's unquestioning belief in juju almost cost him a job as the administration believed that his return would draw bad winds to the club.

Peter Nyama was pushed out when the administration alleged that he had mixed his juju with the club's, thereby prejudicing DeMbare. Mucherahowa boarded a train to confirm this with a witchdoctor in Bulawayo and Nyama was duly kicked out into the streets.

Belief in juju held sway to a point where it demobilised strategy and impeded on performance, with a witchdoctor, at one point, slitting players' toes to apply his concoctions so that the onfield 11 braved the pain throughout the game.

Chunga let out this painful secret by limping to the dressing room, boots in hand, blood on toes, under the intrusive gaze of the fans. In Algeria, the hosts caught wind of a mystical ploy and their attempt to intercept it ended in scuffles.

"Just like me, Chidzambwa also believed that juju helps in enhancing the team's performance. Whether it actually aided us, I do not know. Whether he totally believed it or just as a placebo I may never know," Mucherahowa recalls.

"Every week before a game the team would consult a traditional healer. I, as the team captain, would be the one to execute whatever the sangoma had said.

"My loyalty was with the team's cause and I was prepared to do anything. I was prepared to die on the field for Chidzambwa and Dynamos FC and even volunteered to be the team's juju carrier.

"The team meant a lot to me. That is why some supporters mistook my clan name Gwenzi (bush) for a nickname in reference to the use of juju and smoking marijuana," he writes.

Curiously, the team equally believed in the power of prayer, hence their pre-match ritual of kneeling on the goal-line. Mucherahowa wonders why Lloyd Mutasa scrapped the tradition when he first returned as coach in 2011, seeing as he was part the squad that adopted it from a Nigerian team.

Dynamos' syncretism is typically urban Zimbabwean. Mutasa says he had no problem with both enhancement routes because he has spirit mediums on the paternal branch of his family tree and white-garment mystics on the maternal branch. The team bus's playlist, equal parts Thomas Mapfumo and Charles Charamba, reflected the mystical juxtapositions.

Alcohol played a debilitating role in Gwenzi's career. While nursing an injury, he would walk home, suburbs away from the bar, wasted and on crutches, extending his absence from the pitch.

He also confesses to pulling some ganja before every match. On the eve of the 1998 CAF final with ASEC Mimosas, Mucherahowa, Ernest Chirambadare, Chamu Musanhu, Gift Muzadzi and George Owusu's love of ganja would cost the whole team sleep as the smokers torched a row and threatened to boycott the final over sadza.

The skipper would actually miss the match as he got involved in a pre-match scuffle and sustained a head injury.

"I want to one day come back to my country and stand under my flag as I hold the hands of emerging youngsters and tell them to follow the ball but stay far from the alcohol, the weed and dangerous substances because what plays the beautiful game and performs lies within you and not in the heart of some green plant or pungent liquid," Mucherahowa says in his overly sentimental epilogue which has singing birds, waving flags and Homeric diction - the way exile probably lends itself to cheesy images of home.

Dynamos, for all its dial-shifting success, is saddled with administrative nightmares, with players tugged in mafia schism and routinely exploited by extractive administrations that cash in on their talent and kick them into the streets with empty pockets when the sun sets on their careers.

Mucherahowa graduated from football to become the apprentice of a long-distance truck driver before being called by a brother to join him in the UK.

Warriors Dream Team captain and Dynamos great Francis Shonayi died in SA, eking out a living on the road.

The fact that Dynamos is run from hand to mouth, with money spent as it comes, makes the players helplessly pliable to the administration to whom they look up to for their necessary bread.

After the 1998 CAF campaign, the George Shaya administration allegedly gave half the spoils to founding members and reneged on its promises to the players.

The most beautiful thing about Dynamos in this book is its junior policy which gave birth to Mucherahowa and later on Moses Chunga's Kidznet (Dynamos Class of 2002) which started young talent like Norman Maroto, Nyasha Chazika, Eddie Mashiri and Samson Choruwa.

Prefacing the memoir, reliably cynical Chimurenga maverick Thomas Mapfumo argues that more can be done to foreground and weaponise young footballing talent in Zimbabwe.

"Mucherahowa's story needs to remind those in power to empower every child. There are so many Mucherahowas out there in the ghetto. These kids should be encouraged to play the sport.

"Sporting community centres should be revived. It is unfortunate the current system is now only good enough to churn our players for the South African football scene. That is why we end up supporting English football," says Mapfumo.

A whole chapter is dedicated to Moses Chunga whom Mucherahowa addresses as the brother he lost.

It refers to Chunga's bromantic handholding of Mucherahowa throughout the latter's career, only to cut the lifeline for him when he needed it most in 2002.

Although there is a generous share of self-absolving hindsight, it is objectively offset by the inclusion of testimonial interludes by contemporaries, particularly one by Chamu Musanhu at Mucherahowa's own expense.

Musanhu says Mucherahowa played his politics in the management's corner at the expense of players' welfare during his captaincy. Dynamos teammate Japhet Muparutsa and Joe Mugabe's testify positively.

The book is generally well-written, informative and remarkably honest, despite the writers' uppercase-happy tendency.

Mucharehowa is ultimately the Dynamos great who might have been greater, given a little more professionalism. Hopefully more players are scripting their memoirs for our entertainment and introspection.

Authors: All Africa

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