By Charles Mabika in Harare

The late great George “Mastermind” Shaya hails from Mbare.

DURING the past two decades almost every kid in the high-density suburb of Mbare continues to have dreams of becoming another one of the residence’s dancehall icons like Killer T, Seh Calaz, Kinna or the late Soul Jah Love.

The mimics of these musicians’ lyrics from their hit songs like “Ndini Uya Uya” or “Takangodaro” are all too familiar sounds wherever you go around the sprawling suburb.

Yet long before the turn of the millennium, every primary schoolboy at Chirodzo, Gwinyayi, Chitsere, Shingirayi or Nharira Primary Schools would yearn to be a reincarnation of football greats like George “Mastermind’’ Shaya, Freddy “Karamba” Mukwesha, Peter “Thunderboots” Nyama, Alan “Teacher” Hlatywayo, David “Naughty Flea” Muchineripi, Stanford “Stix’’ Mutizwa, David “Broom Boy” George, Edward “Madhobha” Katsvere, Maronga “The Bomber” Nyangela or Japhet “Short Cat” Mparutsa who were all born and bred in the suburb.

Football was the suburb’s “religion”, as most schoolboys would be seen shouting the above heroes’ names and more in praise every time they kicked plastic balls as they played street football after their school lessons.

 Now that seems to be a thing of the past as music and other hobbies or occupations have overtaken the love for the “‘beautiful game” amongst the youths.

The country’s oldest former township, which dominated in the production of the game’s stars as it continually churned out great footballers who would go on to shine for giants like Dynamos, Chibuku Shumba, Rufaro Rovers, Metal Box, CAPS United, Black Rhinos and Fire Batteries and also represent the junior and senior national teams, has fallen down the pecking order to other surrounding residences like Highfield, Mufakose, Glen Norah and Chitungwiza.

What caused this gradual downward trend?

Many observers strongly believe that the disappearance of sporting activities at community centres like Stodart, Mai Musodzi and Chinembiri is the main cause of this “football conveyer belt tear”.

Others feel that the birth of modern technologies which have given rise to social media interaction and electronic video games and more have seen football taking a back seat in extra-mural activities for growing kids.

In particular, Stodart Hall, part of the biggest community centre in Mbare, also owns a big piece of the country’s Chimurenga history about Independence’s founding nationalists like the late “Father Zimbabwe” Joshua Nkomo, former President Robert Mugabe and current President Emmerson Mnangagwa met and plotted confrontation of the colonial Government at this emblematic building in the late 50s and 60s.

Later in the 70s and onwards, Stodart Community Centre had a strong and vibrant sports leadership which spearheaded the drive for the impressive production of not only footballers like Shaya, Nyama, Hlatywayo, Katsvere, Mparutsa and many more but other athletes of different sporting disciplines like the late Proud “Kilimanjaro” Chinembiri (boxing) and Siriro Chirau (marathon runner).

 The sports mentors at Stodart were led by an English expatriate named James Roberts who had strict lieutenants like “Teacher” Chamunorwa, Naathan Gebs (football); Patrick Zaremba and Bhendifa Kuwana (body building); “Mudhara” Nowero, “Mudhara” Douglas and “Mudhara’’ Desire (swimming).

Stix Mutizwa is another son of Mbare township.

This brilliant combination would encourage budding sportsmen and women to take their disciplines seriously and even visit their homes to update their parents on the offsprings’ progress and assist in the acquirement of sports bursaries and scholarships outside the country.

Mutizwa, who starred for Mai Musodzi Youth Club, situated near Mbare Musika terminus and market place, echoed the sentiments of how the now derelict structures at the suburb’s community centres as a big reason why many youngsters don’t have places to develop their love of the game as in the past.

“The competitive matches between our community centres would be an awesome event whenever they took place and would draw amazing crowds at Stodart, No. 5 and Chinembiri grounds, as people from Mbare and elsewhere converged to watch young talent,” recalled the former Warriors skipper.

Dynamos founding member Alan “Teacher’’ Hlatywayo’s younger brother, Dennis “Danger”, who was also a product of Stodart Community Centre’s grooming project and later starred for Rufaro Rovers alongside his Stodart compatriots, Muchineripi and Peter “Skipper” Manyara, cited the modern technology networks like video games, dancehall music and other activities as the setbacks to football’s pole position for every boy or girl child’s sporting development.

“While there’s nothing wrong with our youngsters becoming compatible with modern technology and listening to dancehall music, it pains me to see them not taking the game of football seriously and what hurts more is that when they talk about the game, their idols now are the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi . . . and not anyone from Mbare or other Zimbabwean areas,” he lamented.

The alarming increase in the addiction to illicit drugs like “musombodhiya”, “mutoriro” and “kambwa” among Mbare youths, resulting in the apparent lack of interest in football the last two decades, has also contributed to the game’s decline.

Some other observers also blamed the Harare City Council of ignoring this development of high-density sporting activities by not giving new facelifts to the suburb’s community structures.

One of the suburb’s senior citizens, Timothy Munhenga (78), said if centres like Stodart, Mai Musodzi and Chinembiri were to be re-equipped by the City Fathers, there is nothing that would stop Mbare from reclaimimg its pole position as the nation’s dominant football breeding powerhouse.

“Most of the top players who shone for club and country and even in foreign lands like Mukwesha, Patrick ‘Amato’ Dzvene and later, Charles ‘Madzibaba’ Yohane, Innocent ‘Land Rover’ Chikoya, Gilbert ‘Gidza’ Mushangazhike, Edward ‘Dhudhuza’ Sadomba and Eric ‘Spanner’ Chipeta , just to name but a few, were born and bred here and cut their teeth for the game through vibrant development programmes,” he said.

 At least the Mbare folks can take comfort in the fact that whilst they have fallen down the rankings as far as football stars’ production is concerned, they are the indisputable leaders of one genre of the music world with the likes of Killer T, Seh Calaz and Bounty Lisa leading the dancehall posse. – The Herald.