Football lifts gloom off Mbare Flats

HARARE - At first glance, it looks like an arid waste ground than a football pitch.

It’s one of the scariest and dangerous surfaces to play such a physical sport, especially the kind of fearsome battles camouflaged as social football matches often witnessed here.

It’s a potential source for some of the nastiest injuries in sport if one was to fall and land hard on the barren ground during contact situation.

ON TARGET: The crowd get ready to celebrate as the ball hits the back of the net. Pic: Annie Mpalume

It’s quite a skill, if not a miracle, that no such injuries seem to happen here. Well, at least not at the rate this graveyard of a football pitch cries out for.

There is hardly any grass on the entire playing surface. Just a “clay” football pitch, you might want to call it.

Welcome to a popular sporting facility adjacent the Mbare Hostels in Harare, where inhabitants in Harare’s famous “location” live in squalid conditions.

Not far off are heaps of uncollected garbage, a constant reminder of the threat of typhoid and cholera, epidemics whose ravaging effects are still fresh in the minds of residents who have been affected in one way or the other.

But on this sunny Sunday afternoon, neither that nor the high crime rate or biting poverty occupy the minds of Matapi Flats occupants, who have thronged the venue christened “Chemhanza Stadium” in the hope of finding some diversion from their daily troubles.

There is a tinge of excitement in the air as the referee blows to kick start the Matapi Social Soccer Zone Tournament amid frenzied chirping from spectators hanging from the windows of jammed apartments and others cramped on the edge of the whitewash that demarcates the pitch.

Cheered on by women with babies on their backs, youths smoking illegal substances and older men downing opaque beer, the match gets off to a high tempo.

It is only brought to a halt when the small framed man in the middle, who is having a torrid time controlling tempers from flaring, points to the penalty spot for an alleged infringement.

Emerging from the crowd, a burly man charges towards the referee while shouting all sorts of obscenities before the league’s executive members move in to restrain him.

“My brother this is what I have to deal with,” Matapi Flats Soccer Zone president Henry Akende tells this writer as he escorts the aggrieved spectator off the pitch.

“I’m doing this for his children but he doesn’t even realise it,” he says referring to the social football league which has become a source of recreation for many.

DEFT TOUCH: The level of skill on display is of a high standard despite the dilapidated state of the pitch and the surroundings. Pic: Annie Mpalume

Henry is the son of Josiah Akende, a founding member of the country’s biggest football club, Dynamos.

And like his father, he too has a pioneering mind.

He says the idea of the social league was mooted by a group of friends last year and now illuminates Matapi Flats like no other event in Harare’s oldest township.

“I grew up playing with the likes Tichaona Diya (former Dynamos goalkeeper), Gilbert Muzhangazhike (former Orlando Pirates striker) and Chamu Musanhu (former Dynamos centre back).

“I could have gone far had I not been trapped by this lifestyle,” he says of a suburb that hogs the limelight for widespread poverty, rampant drug abuse and limited opportunities.

“But it’s still a big fight to where we want to go,” he adds.

Once a unifying force in pre-independent Zimbabwe, football still fires up the country’s oldest suburb.

But the 42-year-old is overly concerned with the health hazard posed to teams as they strut out their stuff next to uncollected refuse.

“Obviously these are not the best conditions. But what can we do? Like many things in this neighbourhood, it used to bother us but now we just ignore,” he says.

CROWD PULLER: A huge crowd allows gathers at Chemhanza Stadium every weekend to witness action taking place in the the Matapi Social Soccer Zone Tournament. Pic: Annie Mpalume

Akende is not the only one seemingly unfazed by the lack of service delivery by Harare City Council which has left Mbare and other high density suburbs dilapidated.

For him, nothing matters more than celebrating the rivalry of football, which in this part of the country cannot be separated with music.

Being the home of dancehall stars, it’s no surprise that DJ Levels, along with DJ Fantan and DJ Cables add a carnival feel to the league fixtures.

The dancehall DJs introduce the crowd to new hits from Chill Spot Records, a popular Zimdancehall and reggae music production house and record label.

To top it off, Zimdancehall stars Seh Calaz, Soul Jah Love, Cello Culture, Hwindi President and DJ Rhibhe all compete in the league.

STAR ATTRACTION: Zimdancehall singers like Seh Calaz always show up at Matapi Social Soccer Zone Tournament matches. Pic: Instagram

They are not the only stars though, a number of Premiership players all trace their roots back to “Chemhanza Stadium” and sometimes even feature in the matches, something Akende is proud of.

“You know, Ngezi Platinum right back Keith Kekana came from here.  Edwin Madananga (Harare City midfielder) and Devon Chafa (CAPS United midfielder) among many Premier League players come here, it inspires the youths,” he says.

“This is where the guys grew up, your Moses Chungas and Henry Charis (Dynamos legends), this is their home.”

Akende hopes that football could be a way out of poverty for a lot of the players still playing here.

But before they dare to dream of playing on the astro-turf of Rufaro Stadium, a walking distance from this pitch, it will be the dust that ascends to the air from the friction of the fledgling footballers on bare ground that will be constant reminder that they are not there yet.

A vendor who says he has been coming to the games and recording brisk business humorously remarks to this writer not to take everything at face value.

“Mdhara imoney game iyi,” he says. “Maboss anenge akabheja mari hombe (People bet big money on these games).”

But the league’s president Akende insists “it’s all clean football”.

“There is no money in this. We only have medals and a trophy. What brings us together is football, we don’t condone any betting. Even referees, we are tight on them.

“The only money that circulates are the three dollars each team pays to the referee and the linesman for their services. That’s it. It’s only football and if we are to concentrate on money our football will die.”

The league’s executive is still, however, concerned with errant spectators.

“Last year we had altercations that occurred during a Boca Juniors and David House match where players wanted to overpower the referee because they disputed his decision,” Akende says.

“The MSSZ board has not tolerated such behaviour. The referee’s decision is final and no player is allowed to stand against the ref or humiliate him in whatever way.

“Slowly we are changing the mindset of people and they are beginning to play clean football.”

Akende believes with assistance from the corporate world, the league can blossom to become a talent conveyer belt of repute.

For now, one of Harare’s oldest ghettos has more than the splashed colourful artwork on their aging flats to brighten their days.

Many of the residents might be living on less than a dollar a day, some cramped as much as 10 in a room, but the league shines a ray of hope on the long neglected flats and offers optimism that it will provide the platform to stardom.

Like his father before him who founded Dynamos in 1963, a side that would go on to be considered more than just a football club but a political force that stood as a symbol of black pride and resistance to white minority rule in pre-independent Zimbabwe, Akende has seen the dream and believed it.

He says of the league: “It’s going to be a gift to future generations I tell you!”

Comments (1)

vakomana ava vane chipo, vatsvagireiwo help.

Mr Dweet - 25 August 2016

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