Zim football loses two legends: Sibanda, Mhlanga
ONCE again death stealthily moved into our midst and stole two petals, one prominent in Zimbabwe football and the other in social soccer circles in Bulawayo.
I am referring to the death of Highlanders Football Club benefactors Jonathan Themba Mhlanga and Lucky “Gearbox” Sibanda.
Both were Bosso Life Members whose contribution to the Bulawayo and Zimbabwean giants is known to all those close to the institution over the last 53 years. Sadly the Hall of Fame Concept is taking too long to take off in Zimbabwe with administrators preoccupied with fights.
Sibanda was so passionate about the game. He played for Old Mutual Social Football Club in the 1980s and 1990s. He then moved to Izinsizwa but he distinguished himself with his non-partisan stance on Highlanders matters.
Sibanda was good to most club administrations of the past 20 years. Where he felt they were going off the rails he did not mince his words, he would speak out because of his undying love for the club. Bosso meant so much to him. It was a part of his life.
Football has one weakness. In most instances praises are sung of Omafikizolo, a majority of them self-seekers who do not even understand the history of the club and the people whom they are supposed to be serving.
In the self-aggrandising mode, genuine people who have served institutions with distinction are forgotten. There is a feeling that Highlanders FC’s existence started as soon as So and So came into power and before them there were no thought processes at all.
People like ‘J Themba’ as I had grown up knowing Mhlanga from the 1970s, sacrificed their businesses for the club. He sacrificed his own children for this big club which at some stage used to camp at his Tshabalala home.
So when the boys slept at his house, there had to be Plan B for his children, a situation no kid likes. Lennox and his siblings had no choice, it was the way it had to be.
Mhlanga was scheduled for a long owed interview where his son Lennox and myself had to play a part.
For four years Lennox and myself could not get to agree on the convenient day to capture him on DVD for the club and generations to appreciate his sacrifices because of the busy workloads each one of us has.
We wanted him to tell his own story about Highlanders, his sacrifices for this country and South Africa. In the late 1980s, it was not a surprise to see some ANC heavyweights who include former South African President Thabo Mbeki at koJ Themba in Luveve having a braai and a chat with Mhlanga.
He is a hero in all respects and deserves life recognition.
The idea of a DVD about him was hatched out of the desire to honour our own. There tends to be a habit of speaking glowingly when one has passed on yet in his living days, he would have been forgotten.
The Chronicle a few years ago profiled his sports history where he spoke passionately about the club and his involvement which dated to the late 1950s as a supporter.
But following the Big Three Football Club and the rise of Cobras, the first splinter club from Highlanders in 1963, Mhlanga is credited with not only funding the club and administering it but was among those who stood guard and ensured younger players were recruited to form the backbone of Bosso.
Since those 1960s, Highlanders is renowned for the best development programme in the land and structures that allow accountability with an annual general meeting and audited financial statements.
Thanks to people like Mhlanga, later generations of Bosso fans have found a team to call home.
It is their challenge too to play their part into the next 50 years with lots of sacrifices far bigger than those of the last 90 years.
By day the club’s future looks bleak because of financial hardships. Mhlanga, a fountain of wisdom at the club, was the first supporters’ association boss in 1968 and rose to organising secretary in the financially troubled days of 1974.
He worked in the club’s fundraising committees and at one time in 1974 wrote off a debt of 2,000 Pounds which Highlanders owed his family.
Among the chairpersons Mhlanga worked with at Bosso; are Christopher Zwambila, Mtshena Sidile, Landcart Gumpo, Silas Ndlovu, Ndumiso Gumede, Josiah Dube, Vic Naik, Wyatt Mpofu, Njini Moyo, James Mangwana-Tshuma, Roger Muhlwa, Ernest Sibanda, Douglas Mkwananzi, Malcom King, Elijah Ngwane, Themba Ndlela, Kennedy Ndebele and Peter Dube.
He was also at the forefront of forming the South Zone Soccer League at the beginning of 1977, pulling out of the John Madzima led Rhodesia National Football League.
Bosso and the nation are poorer following the death of a tireless cadre.