WILLARD KHUMALOCollin Matiza Sports Editor
WILLARD Mashinkila-Khumalo — one of the finest midfielders to emerge from this country in the post-Independence era — has died.

He was 49.

The legendary former Warriors and Highlanders midfielder passed on in the early hours of yesterday at United Bulawayo Hospital, where he has been hospitalised since Wednesday, after a long battle with diabetes, according to family spokesman Ernest “Maphepha” Sibanda.

The former Warriors midfielder, a star during the time of the late German coach Reinhard Fabisch’s “Dream Team” era in the early 1990s, was also a former Bosso coach and team manager.

He also had coaching stints at the now-defunct Premiership sides Lancashire Steel and Mwana Africa during his illustrious soccer career.

And the nation yesterday woke up to the sad news of Mashinkila-Khumalo’s untimely death with condolence messages pouring in from home and outside our borders with his former team-mates at Bosso and Warriors as well as local soccer commentators describing him as a rare breed of footballers who graced the local football stadiums.

ZIFA chief executive Jonathan Mashingaidze, the Sports Commission and The Herald Senior Sports Editor, Robson Sharuko, led the way in paying tribute to the former Warriors “midfield general”.

“He had a larger than life character. Having risen through the ranks in football. At 18 he was already playing for Highlanders’ first team and that goes to show what kind of player he was.

“He rose to be included into the national Under-20 side and he was one player who had rare qualities on and off the pitch. When he was included into the senior team, the ‘Dream Team’, which we regard as the best national team ever, he didn’t disappoint. It was great to have him also work in the Warriors technical team in 2006, this goes to show the character we are talking about.

“We have lost a leader par excellence. As ZIFA we will make sure that he gets a befitting send-off,” Mashingaidze said yesterday.

The Sports Commission also paid tribute to the late Khumalo in a statement released yesterday.

“It is with sadness that we have received the news of the passing on of one of our illustrious sons of football Willard Mashinkila-Khumalo. Willard belongs to the rare breed of footballers that this country had ever produced.

“Willard cut his teeth in football at a tender age with Highlanders Football Club and rose through the ranks to the senior (national) team.

“During his hey days Willard was a marvel to watch, especially his exceptionally gifted dribbling skills would always pose challenges for the opponents. Above all, Willard served his club Highlanders and the nation well. At no point would Willard he be busy for national duty, he was ever ready to serve the nation, such was the character of Willard.

“Willard served the nation with distinct tenacity and undoubted commitment.

“On behalf of the SRC board, management and staff I would like to offer our deepest condolence to Willard’s family and the entire football family for the sad loss. May they find comfort in the Lord for he is the only comforter. We shall forever cherish Willard’s contribution to our football,”said the Sports Commission corporate communications officer Tirivashe Nheweyembwa.

The Herald Senior Sports Editor Sharuko said Mashinkila-Khumalo’s death has robbed football of one of its most talented players and Zimbabwe of a genuine hero whose exploits on the football pitch while playing for both Highlanders and the senior national team will never be forgotten.

“Willard Khumalo was one of those rare breeds of footballers whose appeal, thanks to his genius, spilled over the barriers that divide clubs, whose artistry was so pronounced it was impossible not to love him and whose infectious smile touched millions of hearts.

“More importantly, he was a good man and Nduna’s place among Zimbabwean football’s all-time greats is guaranteed. Gone too soon my brother but, then, we are just mere mortals,” Sharuko said yesterday.

Mpumelelo “Era Muna” Dzowa, who played with Mashinkila-Khumalo at Highlanders in the mid-1980s before he (Dzowa) joined CAPS United, also offered his condolences on the death of the Bosso legend yesterday.

“Childhood friend, teamate and Legend. — Lala ngoxolo kaMashinkila,” Dzowa posted on his Facebook wall yesterday.

Paul Gundani, who rubbed shoulders with Mashinkila-Khumalo when they featured for Fabisch’s “Dream Team” in the early 1990s, said nothing will take the late midfielders’s place in the history of Zimbabwean football.

“It is with sadness that I received the news of the passing on of Willard Khumalo, a colleague, brother and legend, from the Highlanders FC secretary. It is painful to accept that he is gone, but the good moments he brought to us both on and off the field of play will always console us. My condolences to the Highlanders FC family, the Mashinkila-Khumalo family and all football players and fans on the loss.

“Go well Great Warrior, we will always have you in our prayers,” Gundani said.

Former Zimbabwe Saints and Highlanders goalkeeper Pernell McKop and his brother Henry “Bully” McKop described Mashinkila-Khumalo’s death as a tragedy to his family, the Bosso supporters and the local soccer fans in general.

“Sad news emanating out of Zimbabwe about the death of WILLARD MASHINKILA-KHUMALO, uMawii, Nduna, my friend my brother. From Founders High vs Northlea High, to teammates for the first ever Matabeleland Under-18 Coca- Cola team, the Highlanders reserve team called Liverpool, to the Young Warriors (Zimbabwe Under-20’s), Eagles vs Highlanders, Zimbabwe Saints vs Highlanders and then teammates at Highlanders. NDUNA, rest well, you have served your Club, Your Province and Country with distinction. MHDSRIP,” Pernell McKop, who is now based in South Africa, wrote on his Facebook wall yesterday.

“EISH . . . ANOTHER SAD DAY IN ZIM FOOTBALL . . . RIP MY BROTHER . . . WILLARD MAWIII , NDUNA MASHINKILA KHUMALO . . . GO WELL BROTHER,” Henry McKop also wrote on his Facebook wall yesterday.

Former Dynamos captain Memory Mucherahowa, who also played with Mashinkila-Khumalo during the “Dream Team” era in the early 1990s, said the former Highlanders midfield kingpin was his hero.

“Izvi zvandipedza (simba). Well Mwari vanoita kuda kwavo Willard Khumalo is gone. RIP bruv pandaive mudiki ndaitodawo kutamba sewe. We learnt a lot from you, played with you in the same team and also against you. Your name will forever live with us, nevachatevera. If there was a heroes acre for footballers that is where you belong. Hamba kahle qhawe lesizwe,” Mucherahowa said from his base in the UK.

Thomas Sweswe, a former Warriors defender added: “Rest in Peace coach, father, brother Willard Mashinkila-Khumalo. We know that you are now in a better place. Coach with the Angels in Heaven. You played a major role in my career coach to be where I am now. Thank very much. Lala Ngoxolo. Zororai Murugare true legend of Zimbabwean football. Ndunaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.”