Alvin “Aluvah” Zhakata
RIVALRY between Dynamos and Highlanders is well documented and unparalleled in Zimbabwean football but for the first time in history both sets of fans might join forces in supporting one football club at Barbourfields today. Instead of hurling stones at each other, the sworn enemies are likely to sing in one voice in support of visiting Orlando Pirates against local Premiership champions FC Platinum in their CAF Champions League Group B opener.
Barbourfields has two outstanding stands – the Mpilo Stand behind the Eastern goalpost and the Soweto Stand behind the western goalpost. The Soweto stand is exclusively for Highlanders fans while the Mpilo one is predominantly occupied by Dynamos fans.
The two Zimbabwean giants used to dominate local football, sharing the trophy 23 times between them since 1980, with Dynamos winning it 16 times and Highlanders seven times but their hegemony has since been broken over the years with FC Platinum becoming the latest team to dominate domestic Premiership, winning back-to-back titles in the last two seasons.
Pure Platinum Play also became the first team from outside Harare or Bulawayo to win the league title since Independence.
For Dynamos fans in particular, their devotion to the Orlando Pirates cause develop from the jealousy of protecting their team’s bragging rights as the only Zimbabwean team that went all the way to the final of the CAF Champions League.
But for Highlanders fans, it goes beyond protecting the team’s dominance.
In a country where football clubs are run like tuckshops, club replica kits unavailability has resulted in fans getting foreign clubs shirts that share the same colours or design with the team they support. Most Bosso fans go to the stadium wearing Orlando Pirates, Juventus and Newcastle United replica jerseys. This results in a sense of belonging, and it becomes awkward for a fan to go to the stadium in a Pirates shirt to support Pirates’ opposition.
I was invited to attend the Soweto derby at the FNB Soccer City stadium by my friend Nxa Malinga, a staunch Bosso fan who is based in Johannesburg. As I was putting on a Hadebe 20 Kaizer Chiefs shirt, Malinga was putting on a stripped Highlanders shirt, supporting the Buccaneers, as Pirates are affectionately known. This is testimony to the natural dovetail of the two clubs.
Should the Bosso fans rally behind Pirates, it’s not because they hate FC Platinum, it’s because they just love “Amabhakaniya”.
The support of Highlanders fans is also easily transferable to Pirates as most Bosso faithful believe that there is a historical link between the two clubs. It is believed that when Orlando Pirates was formed around the year 1937, elders from Pirates, Mbabane FC (Swaziland) and Lions FC (Zimbabwe) had met a year before and exchanged notes on how to use their respective clubs in keeping alive their ethnic identity and fighting colonialists.
It is at this meeting that these clubs adopted Black and White as their traditional colours.
Mbabane FC became Mbabane Highlanders and Red Lions FC was renamed Matabeleland Highlanders, and later, simply Highlanders. It is unclear why Pirates did not adopt the name Orlando Highlanders.
All the three teams assumed “Siyinqaba” as their slogan and battle cry, as well as the crossed hand salutation as a pre-match ritual.
But no one has the exact details of why Pirates didn’t become Orlando Highlanders, with time and the absence of abadala labo the details get sketchy. However all the three teams also adopted the slogan Siyinqaba. Highlanders badge bears crossed spear and a knobkerrie while Pirates’ has crossed skeletal bones.
It is such a history that makes most Bosso fans embrace Orlando Pirates as their own.
While Highlanders share such a history with the South African giants, the same cannot be said for their fans’ relationship with those of FC Platinum. Highlanders supporters have always treated their peers at FC Platinum with suspision.
In 2015, both sets of fans engaged in running battles after Knox Mtizwa’s legitimate goal was ruled off-side right on the stroke of full-time. In 2016, unruly FC Platinum bouncers attempted to block the Highlanders team bus’ entry into Mandava and sprinkled some liquid before the Bosso fans intervened and forced open the entrance for their team bus.
Bosso fans latter retaliated by hitting FC Platinum coach Norman Mapeza and he had to be treated by the ambulance crew that was in attendance.
Such incidences are still fresh in the minds of some Bosso fans and as such they would want FC Platinum to lose at every turn. Calls by Highlanders officials to rally behind FC Platinum were met with adversity on social media platforms with several fans saying Bosso fans do not owe any allegiance to FC Platinum.
I agree with them.
Fans must support clubs of their choice and supporting a foreign club playing against a local team is not a first.
Dynamos fans thronged Rufaro one sunny afternoon in August 2010 and sang for 90 minutes, cheering Sudanese Club Al Hilal where Edward Sadomba was playing. Although Duduza did not play that day, the DeMbare fans felt they owed their support to Sadomba than the Zimbabwean cause.
To the delight of DeMbare fans, CAPS United were trailing 2-0 in 15 minutes. The match ended 1-3 in favour of Al Hilal, torching wild celebrations from the Blue half of the city.
Likewise, Bosso fans are likely to rally behind Pirates today because it is now home to their former player Kuda Mahachi who has rediscovered his top form, scoring two goals in two consecutive matches.
But FC Platinum have a history of charming opposition fans. Last year at Rufaro the vociferous Vietnam stand ended up cheering the Zvishavane-based side after a stellar display of sleek passing and possesional football against Dynamos. And after 90 minutes, the DeMbare fans called the FC Platinum players and gave them a standing ovation.
I have no doubt in the quality team assembled by Norman Mapeza and I hope they will display beautiful football that will charm even the opposition fans in the terraces today.
FC have a good band of fans of their own, led by their chairman Andrew Nyahwema and the vocal Douglas Zengeni. If they get the necesary resources and buses to ferry fans from Zvishavane, they can make enough noise to inspire their team to victory today.
FC Platinum must enter Barbourfields expecting prepared for a hostile atmosphere.
Cephas Chimedza once posted on Facebook that in 2003, while playing for the Warriors against Botswana, they faced a hostile reception as the fans supported Botswana.
But instead of mourning CAF’s decision to move their home match from Mandava, they must sit down and count their blessings. Just like CAPS United in 2010, FC Platinum will definitely smile all the way to the bank while the players stand a rare chance of marketing themselves to the fashionable South African ABSA Premier Soccer League.
It’s promising to be a special day in the terraces and it’s all up to the “neutral” fans to choose whichever team to support.
I close by referring to the Bible’s Joshua chapter 24:15 where the prophet said it’s up to the Israelites to choose which god to worship, if they find it unpleasing to serve the Lord.
“If you Dynamos and Highlanders fans find it undesirable to support FC Platinum on Saturday, then choose for yourselves to support Orlando Pirates, but as for me and my family, we will support FC Platinum”.
Alvin “Aluvah” Zhakata is an avid football follower.