HARARE – Dynamos legend Memory Mucherahohwa says regionalism was very present during his days with the Zimbabwe national team.
The former Dynamos skipper, now based in the United Kingdom, made the claims in his recently released autobiography; Soul of Seven Million Dreams: The Story of Memory Mucherahohwa.
“This is not something that most people would want to admit, but yes, bullying and regionalism exists in the national team,” Mucherahohwa writes.
“I am not sure if coaches and selectors were instructed to strike a balance between selecting Northern Region (Harare) and Southern Region (Bulawayo) based players, but I know that players were heavily divided along regional lines.
“It was not tribalism as some people may want to put it. At training sessions, it was not unusual to find Northern region-based players passing the ball among themselves ignoring their southern region counterparts. This was also the same case with the southern region-based players.
“The sharing of rooms also went on regional lines. You could feel pity for players from the Midlands. Because of their lack of numbers, they mostly looked lost. They did not know which group to side with.”
Mucherahohwa, who is one of the most decorated players on the domestic scene, claims that he was faced with this problem from the very first time he stepped into the Warriors set-up.
“For me, the initiation to the regionalism came on my debut Warriors trip in 1989. I was 20-years-old then when the now late Ghanaian coach Ben Koufie called me up for the 1990 World Cup qualifier which was to be played in Algeria on January 6, 1989,” he writes.
“An uncharacteristically huge number of players were invited for camp at the outskirts of the capital Chikurubi because the technical team also wanted to select another team to also represent Zimbabwe at the 1989 Fifa Futsal World Cup held in Netherlands around the same time.
“I made it into the A team to Algeria and some of the players who made that team included Japhet Mparutsa, Ephraim Chawanda, Henry Mckop, Peter Fanuel, Angirayi Chapo, Moses Chunga, John Phiri, Edward Muchongwe, Alexander Maseko, Mercedes “Rambo” Sibanda, Joel Shambo, Rahman Gumbo, Stanley Ndunduma, and Willard Khumalo. Though I wanted to be in the team that was going to Europe, I was equally happy.”
However, what was supposed to be a happy memory after earning his debut for the national team quickly turned into one of his darkest encounters as regionalism took centre stage.
“More surprises awaited me in Algeria as I was selected in the first team on my debut match appearance in the…Warriors colours. However, events prior to the match had unsettled me,” write.
“It is my belief that events that led to my being in the first team ahead of the late great…Khumalo did not go down well with some of the players from the southern region especially vice-captain…Chawanda.
“Khumalo shared the same room with Chawanda and throughout the trip they were always in each other’s company. That is why I hinted early on that it was regionalism and not tribalism that was the problem in the team as people were from different tribes but just rooted for their region mates or hometown boys.”
Just a few hours before kick-off tempers would boil over inside the Warriors camp as the northern region versus southern region camps clashed.
It so happened that a few minutes before the team left the hotel for the match venue, Chawanda was tasked to collect bibs from the players by the coach Koufie,” he writes.
“Unfortunately, we had been told that we will be going back home soon after the match, so I had already packed my bags. ‘I will give you the bib after the match. I can’t unpack my bags now,’ I told him. Unfortunately, Chawanda mistook my response for rudeness.
“‘You should give me that bib now,’ he said, charging. Chawanda, who was now fuming in anger tried to punch me. I blocked the intended blow. Things happened so fast that Moses Chunga, who was the team captain, just looked on at us in surprise.
“We did not think that such an argument would lead to the team’s vice-captain assaulting a junior player. A rookie on his debut for that matter! I was scared and just unpacked my bags and gave him the bib.
“I could not understand his sudden surge in temper. The experience shook me and being only 20, I was scared.”
Mucherahohwa went on to start ahead of Khumalo and the Warriors lost the match 3-0 Djamel Menard (brace) and Raban Madjer scoring for the Desert Foxes.
However, with tensions high after the defeat, more trouble was in store on the Warriors journey back home.
“The incident however threatened an all-out war amongst the players on the plane on our way back to our home country Zimbabwe,” Mucherahohwa writes.
“It was clear that the fight was along regional lines. Soon after we had boarded the Harare bound plane in Athens, Greece, a misunderstanding arose between CAPS United’s Joel Shambo and Khumalo.
“The late Highlanders defender Mercedes Sibanda joined in on Khumalo’s side. It is at this point that Northern region based player Stanley Ndunduma joined in the brouhaha on Shambo’s side.
“Chawanda joined in support of his Southern region counterparts Sibanda and Khumalo. This is when all hell broke loose as Eddie Muchongwe challenged Chawanda telling him that he was aware that he had attempted to punch me just before the game we had lost in Algeria.
“‘As for you Chawanda keep quiet. We know that you punched Memory just before the game. I challenge you now to come into the passage for a fight and I will silence you with a sound hiding,’ Muchongwe charged at Chawanda.
“There were about four Dynamos players; myself, Peter Fanuel, Muchongwe and Angirayi Chapo and they all confronted Chawanda who backed off.
“There was chaos on the plane and since we were travelling at night, the lights were supposed to be off so that passengers could sleep. However, the captain had to switch them on and tried to talk sense into them but nobody listened. It ended up being Chapo versus Sibanda and they promised to fight soon after landing.
“The captain threatened them with arrest and that is when they calmed down. However, beer has its own way of uniting people. The players were drinking whiskey and by the time that the plane landed at Harare International Airport, Chapo and Sibanda were the best of buddies yet again. The incident showed how players were quick to fight in each other’s corners along regional lines.”