From prostitutes to pastor
Mention the name Chancy Gondwe to anyone who watched him during his playing days and they will start salivating in admiration of his abilities. But behind that talent was a flawed character who, in his own words, became an alcoholic and a womaniser that also regularly slept with prostitutes, fathered four kids with different mothers and became destitute. He has since become a reformed character and is a pastor back home in Malawi. He spoke to KICK OFF’s Lovemore Moyo.
You could see within the first 10 minutes of watching Chancy Gondwe just how gifted he was as a footballer. He was blessed with a crisp first touch and an immaculate ability to pass both short and long with the outside of his foot from any position on the pitch.
The proof to how good he was came from the way he fitted in at Mamelodi Sundowns after arriving from Malawi’s flagship club Bata Bullets in April 1993 just a few games into the season, back in the days when domestic football was played on a full calendar year.
In Malawi he was already worshipped having spent nearly a decade at Bullets, winning over a dozen trophies. But unfortunately, behind all the talent on the field lived a flawed character who failed to handle all the fame he enjoyed in his prime.
“Most of the times I just didn’t even understand myself why I did all the bad things in my life,” recalls Gondwe. “It was like I was possessed by some evil spirit that I didn’t know. I was naïve. As a little boy I spent some years living in the rural areas, then left my parents’ home when I was 16 to join Bullets in Blantyre.”
Gondwe is so forthcoming and captivating in the way he talks as he regularly mixes it up with Chichewa and isiZulu in his English, which is spoken with a heavy Malawian accent.
“I was already drinking when I came to South Africa because I came to town to join Bata Bullets when I was still young. Coming to town [Blantyre] changed my living because I was not staying with my parents, so I had no direction whatsoever.
“Then when I came to South Africa the disorganisation in my life became worse. What helped me in South Africa is that I was a good player, otherwise I wouldn’t have even lasted a year,” he confesses.
‘I was robbed’
Gondwe is set to launch a book named ‘Chancy Vinny Gondwe and the untold history of Malawian football’, written by Reuben Chilera, which details his career and the life he lived.
Was money the root of all evil in his troubles in South Africa?
“It [money] was better but not so much because though I didn’t earn much in Malawi, I enjoyed a lot of privileges because after games fans bought me beer, businessmen gave me money and groceries, while fans always had baskets full of foodstuffs and money for me. I was a hero.
“When I arrived at Sundowns I was paid R2,600 per month and had to take out money for accommodation, so it was like living hand-to-mouth, even though it
was increased before the end of the year because of how well I was playing.
“I heard rumours that the best paid player was Phil Masinga on R12,000, followed by Ernest Mtawali, Sizwe Motaung and the likes. When I came to South Africa, I didn’t have a manager [agent], so I was robbed in a lot of ways in a new country.
“The trouble is that when I got to South Africa, I continued with what I was doing in Malawi but here there were a lot of beautiful women. For the first time in my life, I saw five women walking together and all of them were beautiful and I didn’t know which one to go for.
“I must give credit to [ex Sundowns official] Natasha Tsichlas for being like a mother to me and trying all she could to give me direction all the time, even though I was naughty. Whenever I wanted something to drink, I would go to her and claim that my father is sick in Malawi and I need money.
“She would then immediately say, ‘I know that your father is not sick, and you just want money for something else, so I will not give you much, but just R500’. She gave me direction, but I failed,” admits Gondwe.
The famed bright lights of the night life in Johannesburg sucked the Malawian in as well.
“I met some other Malawians who were happy to hang with me and even when I did bad things like missing training, none of them could bring me to order. They were just happy to be next to me because they knew I had extra money for drinking and going out for magosha [prostitutes].
“All those Malawians that I was hanging with were not telling me the truth. I went to all the dirty night clubs in Hillbrow, where after drinking you would buy a woman. I was popular with the ladies of the night. That type of life was terrible because it affects you as a sportsman.
“Marijuana was not really so much of my habit because I only smoked when I found others smoking. What crippled my life was alcohol and women. I never fought with anyone, but I could drink my life away. It even reached a point when I wanted to commit suicide by drinking alcohol.
“I bought a crate of Black Label quarts and finished it, but I was still sober. Sometimes I don’t believe that I am now approaching 20 years without drinking. When I see people drinking recklessly, I always advise them to stop because I lost a lot of money on alcohol and womanising. It never takes you anywhere,” he warns.
From sleeping in a car to training
Gondwe is so intense in his recollection that he creates vivid pictures with the way he talks.
“When you are telling people, it is like they are watching a movie but that is a true life that I once lived. I know you think this was bad but there are players still doing it up to now and one day they will regret this kind of life.
“I never had someone to save me from falling. The old man [the late Eddie Lewis] at Wits tried to cool me down by giving me the captaincy but failed to control me and ended up saying I should be given a free clearance. He even said, ‘Chancy, I think you need counselling’,” recalls Gondwe.
“I mean at times I would go out to the night club then sleep in my car and from there have my breakfast at Wimpy. After I would then proceed to training in my Mercedes Benz. I am being open because this is my testimony, plus I feel free talking to you about this.
“The way I am now and the way I was back then is different because I now know about life and nobody can cheat me. I believe I have seen it all and that is why I feel players really need to look after their careers because if they don’t then it will all end up a mess like what happened with me,” he says.
Gondwe fathered four kids with different women, with three of them born before he oined Sundowns.
His first-born child David Chancy Junior (32) is now a pastor in Zomba, the second, Kondwane (29), works in Lilongwe, while the third Ellen (28) lives in Ireland. He says his last child that he had was born in South Africa to a woman named Palesa, who had roots in Lesotho.
The child was named Bokang and Gondwe believes he still lives in Pimville, Soweto.
“I last saw my last-born child when he was maybe about five years old or younger towards the end of my time at Wits University. I don’t even know how old he is now, and I would really like to find him when next I come to South Africa.
“I would really want to meet him again, even if it takes the television station helping me to find him. Maybe my former teammate Marks Maponyane might help. I know the place in Pimville because I used to go there to see his mother.
“The surname confuses me, but I know that their roots are in Lesotho. This thing of not knowing my son is draining me because as long as I am still alive, I should at least be acknowledged as the father,” he pleads.
‘Why I really left Sundowns’
Gondwe won the league in his first year (1993) at Sundowns but was then offloaded to Wits University at the beginning of the 1997/98 campaign as his off-field issues became a concern.
What hurt him was that his move to The Clever Boys – where he played for two seasons and was transfer-listed in his third year – was done while he was away with the national team, leaving him upset and deepening the mess that his life had become.
“It was all because of the life that I was living. I left Sundowns not because I wanted to, but Screamer [ Tshabalala] had problems with Malawians before like [Cedric] Nakhumwa, the late Lovemore Chafunya and even [Ernest] Mtawali, so I was alone in the end.
“We never had an argument, but I felt he
was side-lining me and then recommended that I should go to Wits. I only knew about my move from the newspaper when I landed at the airport on my way back from the national team.
“That was when my football started going astray because of frustration. I didn’t prepare to leave Sundowns that way and when I got to Wits, they were playing kick and run football which didn’t help.
“I remember arguing with Eddie Lewis when he told me that whenever I get the ball, I should just kick it down the line and people will find it. The game was on television and so I asked him why I should just kick the ball forward where there is no one.
“He said I should do as he says because he will send someone towards that space. Then we started arguing. So, from there I was just playing for formality at Wits until they gave me a free clearance because they couldn’t handle what I was doing.
“With that free clearance I told myself that being the good player that I am I can still get a team but then I didn’t realise that all these clubs communicate. Every club that showed interest was told that I was good but there is a problem and they would hold back,” he remembers.
Gondwe then returned home and had a brief spell with Bullets after leaving Wits, but it all turned sour as he was now past his best years.
He then returned to South Africa, keen to revive a career that was already in the drain and trained with Bloemfontein Celtic in their first year in the First Division in 2001/02, but never played any games.
End of his career
He says after leaving Wits he survived an attempted murder while staying with one of his girlfriends in Mamelodi over the issue of his Mercedes Benz, which was crashed while being driven by another lady he had picked up on one of his drinking sprees.
“The gun jammed while pointing in the direction of my head and so that is how I survived, only to find out that the lady that I was staying with had hired those guys to kill me over the Mercedes Benz, which I wanted to drive back to Malawi for a funeral.
“I then abandoned my Mercedes Benz after it crashed into someone’s house in Mamelodi while being driven by another woman because I was drunk in the passenger seat. I had only met that woman where I was drinking but I wouldn’t even remember her if I was to meet her now.
“I only realised afterwards that the woman didn’t know how to drive. She was so beautiful, but I didn’t know that I had taken an angel of death,” he relates.
Later, former SAFA CEO Albert Mokoena’s efforts to rehabilitate Gondwe by giving him a coaching job at his club Soweto Panthers were unsuccessful.
“I was drinking beer every day and ended up staying in a shack in Meadowlands Zone 9 when things were completely out of order. coached Mokoena’s team but then left his team because my life was completely gone staying in an umkhukhu.
“I had become a s’boto (vagrant). It was then that God started talking to me and telling me that I should go back to Malawi. could hear God speak to me, even when I was in that drunken state.
“I just had to come back with only a bag of my clothes and took a bus from Johannesburg to Malawi. It came to a point where I just said I had to go back because nothing was working out for me. I tried so many things and failed.
“I stopped eating and was just drinking until I became sick. The body was changing because I was not even sleeping. The time when I knew that I was sick was when I was partly paralysed because of stress.
“When I came back home, I went to the doctor and they put me on a machine to check if all is well with me and they found that I had a problem in my brain caused by stress and alcohol abuse.
“By the Grace of God, I have since recovered and can run again. What hurts me the most is that there are still players living that reckless life driving nice cars and looking for women every day.
“I don’t wish for anyone to make the same mistakes that I made so that is why I am coming out in the open now. I have to meet these players just to tell them that there is need to respect your career,” he points out.
After wasting the opportunity handed by Mokoena, he relocated to Alexandra where he was offered free accommodation by a fellow countryman and then moved to work as a bricklayer in Tembisa. By the time he returned home he was sickly and a defeated man.
Back home there were issues, he did not attend his father’s funeral but was able to mend the relationship with his mother in the rural areas where he sold a cow in order to raise the R1,000 needed to enrol for a Diploma in Theology at Assemblies of God School of Theology in Lilongwe to set him on the path to being a pastor.