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Revisiting the ditching of divisive football club names

Story by Mthokozisi Dube

FOOTBALL can either build or break the nation as it is the most followed sport.

As the nation celebrates twenty five years after the demise of nationalist, Dr Joshua Nkomo, ZBC News tracks how Father Zimbabwe facilitated the dumping of tribal names like Matebeleland Highlanders and Mashonaland United football clubs.

A pan Africanist in his own right, the late Vice President, Dr Joshua Nkomo was a nationalist who valued unity among people.

He endured pain during the time local football clubs had divisive names such as Matabeleland Highlanders and Mashonaland United and true to his belief on uniting Zimbabweans, he played a key role to the change of the names to Highlanders and Zimbabwe Saints.

“Historically, Rhodesians were oppressed and after independence our nationalists inherited a broken state and their focus was on uniting the nation. In the 80s, Dr Nkomo led an initiative which saw us changing our name from Mashonaland United to Zimbabwe Saints, while Highlanders transformed from being referred to as Matabeleland Highlanders. That meant that football remained a competitive sport not a tool to pursue tribalism. Nationalists would use football by virtue of its power to mobilise and call for unity,” said Zimbabwe Saints FC representative, Vincent Pamire.

“I played for Matabeleland Highlanders and I can confirm that Dr Nkomo was a unifier who championed the unity cause among sports personalities. He was a politician who could not attend our matches but would offer that support behind the scenes,” noted Highlanders FC former board member, Colonel (Rtd) Thomas Ngwenya.

Father Zimbabwe also offered sound advice to Highlanders and is remembered for facilitating the appointment of Bosso’s most susuccessful chief executive officer, the late Ndumiso Gumede.

“We are talking of a bigger figure politically and even in sport. We learnt a lot from the man. He would constantly reach out to the leaders of the club to advise us on the direction and path to pursue. We still do what he taught us to do at Highlanders,” said Highlanders board chairperson, Luke Mkandla.

The late nationalist died on the 1st of July in 1999, and 25 five years down the line, his influence is still felt in all spheres of life including sport.

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