HomeSportThe day Boy Ndlovu changed the script

The day Boy Ndlovu changed the script

ONE unforgettable Sunday in the mid 1980s, Boy “The Menace” Ndlovu and Eagles Football Club, passed through Nkankezi Bridge in Matabeleland South, and descended on the usually quiet, but football crazy asbestos mining town of Zvishavane in the Midlands, to play against Shabanie Mine in the old Southern Region Division One league.

yesteryear profile with PETER PHIRI

It was a long awaited match which literally brought the mining town to a standstill with a carnival atmosphere of drum-beating and dancing fans.

With anxious faces, the people of Zvishavane were eager to finally watch the man they had heard so much about — Boy Ndlovu.

Shabanie Mine then under the guidance of former Dynamos and Rhodesia legendary midfielder, Shaw “Kojak” Handriade were one of the best teams in the Southern Region and had adopted the blue and white uniform made famous by the Glamour Boys of Harare.

They were the darling and a symbol of pride in the mining community. Back in the days their supporters proudly called them the “national team”.

The asbestos miners were not just an ordinary team during those days because an outsider could not come from nowhere and easily fit in the system. It was a team for players born and bred in the mining compounds of Shabanie Mine, namely Maglas, Kandodo and Nil townships.

Their players were descendants of immigrants mainly from Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique. These players were commonly and proudly called mabhoni, children of the Nyasas who were well known for using black magic, juju, mbashito, mankwala or whatever to enhance their performances and win matches.

This was the common trend with all mining teams in Zimbabwe, like Mhangura, Hwange, Ziscosteel, Rio Tinto and other mining teams. One had to be a Banda, Phiri, Ngoma, Kaunda, Mbewe or any other surname along those lines to play for these mining teams.

Nyaro Mumba a prolific goal scorer with the Wankie team of the 1970s and 80s, narrated a very interesting story when he was coaching ZPC Hwange.

“There is something funny and strange about our football. We used to beat a team by eight or nine goals to nil at home. Then play the same team a week later away and lose by two goals instead of winning by even a small margin.
This sort of thing must stop,” said Mumba much to the laughter of those who were listening.

A player without Malawian or Zambian heritage would risk permanent injuries which would signal the end of his football career. Football in the mining communities was not for the faint hearted, but the brave and strong.

“We grew up with a sense of entitlement and a divine right to play for Shabanie Mine FC. Only us, the children of the Nyasas had that divine right and we had our fathers to back us. It was very difficult for an outsider to just come and fit in the system, especially if one was not of foreign origins,” said Asani Phiri who was a hard tackling defender with Shabanie Mine from the 1970s and through out the 80s.

Very strange things used to happen at Maglas Stadium before, during and after football matches. Strange animals like snakes, ravens and even baboons could be sighted and in a blink of an eye disappear just like that. At one time a raven flew over the field of play and dropped a dried piece of meat at the centre circle just minutes before the match.

“To an outsider those were shocking scenes but not to us the Nyasas. Those strange things were common at Maglas Stadium. And once such things happened, then Shabanie Mine would ultimately win the match against all odds,’’ said Mai Banda who grew up as a cheer leader and part of the female dancing troupe commonly called chimutale or sikili.

Shabanie Mine had formidable traditional doctors of Malawian and Zambian origins. These secretive old men ensured the team victory first in the spiritual realm and later on the field of play. They plotted the downfall of many teams especially visiting opponents.

These old men would invite the team for an all-night vigil of gule wamukulu (great dance or simply nyau dance) performed by masked men and boys mainly from Malawi and Zambia. This ritual dance was done to fortify the team and weaken the opposition.

“For almost 50 years I was the chief traditional doctor of Shabanie Mine F.C. My duty was to administer herbs and lucky charms to the team. The day before a home match I would sleep at the centre of Maglas Stadium performing rituals with my assistants. The idea was to weaken the opposition while fortifying Shabanie Mine. Sometimes we would dance gule wamukulu while stark naked and burning various herbs imported mainly from Malawi. At times I would fly to Malawi overnight and return within 24 hours with mankwala (traditional medicine),” said Mulokoti Banda who is in his late 90s now but still strong and going without the aid of a walking stick.

Then enter Boy Ndlovu and Eagles FC in the fortress of Maglas Stadium amid pomp and fanfare.

In the sweltering heat, it was a carnival atmosphere and the stadium was packed. A perfect Sunday afternoon, calm before the storm that would later befall Shabanie Mine.

With only 20 minutes played, Boy Ndlovu collected the ball from deep down his own half. With a war cry he shouted to his fellow team mates yekela babuye (let them come).

What then followed is the stuff of legends. It was total carnage as “The Menace” dynamited his way through the entire Shabanie Mine team, leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. The home supporters were stunned into silence. They had never seen one man taking on an entire team with such precision and brilliance to score a gem of a goal.

Shabanie Mine were hammered by five goals to one and their mysterious power was demystified by the boys from koBulawayo.

The nyau dancers, once a symbol of resistance, mystery and secrecy and who earlier on gyrated vigorously, were stunned into deafening silence and paralysis. Their mysterious powers neutralised and venom squeezed out. Black and red clay pots producing thick smoke from burning herbs, now lay broken on the ground.

The flying eagles from Bulawayo had landed on the once holy and sacred turf of Maglas Stadium, and ravaged the home team with ferocity.

The final score-line was not a true reflection of the match. It could have been worse for Shabanie Mine. But through some questionable officiating, the referee saved the home team from further punishment and humiliation.

Back then, Shabanie Mine had imposing and intimidating defenders with a bad reputation of kicking and punching strikers as well as viciously tackling from behind. The slippery Ndlovu, one of the best dribblers to come out of Zimbabwe made a mockery of those big and bullying Shabanie Mine defenders as he left them for dead.

In a post match interview the usually soft spoken Shabanie Mine coach, Handriade was furious and blasted his players for crumbling like a deck of cards on home turf.

“Yes, we are not invincible and it’s possible to lose games here and there. But conceding five goals at home is something else. Today my players gave too much respect to Eagles FC, especially that small boy (Boy Ndlovu) who was toying with my defence all afternoon,” said a fuming Handriade.

The architect of that destruction, Boy Ndlovu was carried by the jubilant home supporters after the match. The dribbling wizard became a darling of the crowds and his name was written in history books.

That Sunday afternoon was the day the football gods changed the football script at Maglas stadium. The sacred and mysterious power associated with the stadium was finally neutralised.

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