ADIOS MAWIISikhumbuzo Moyo in Bulawayo
ZIMBABWE Coaches Union president Moses Chunga believes his former Warriors teammate and Highlanders great Willard Mashinkila-Khumalo died a very bitter man as he felt football had turned its back on him during his time of need. Mashinkila-Khumalo, who died last Sunday, was laid to rest at Lady Stanley Cemetery in Bulawayo yesterday.

Chunga in his tribute to Mawii earlier at McDonald Hall revealed that his former Warriors’ teammate had told him of his bitterness of how the game he played for with a passion had turned its back on him during his time of illness. Mashinkila-Khumalo had a long battle with diabetes.

“Willard said some of the people and institutions he thought were close to him were treating him like someone with leprosy, someone whom they could not be seen close to,” said Chunga. “The last time I met him here in Bulawayo during the Copa Coca-Cola schools’ football tournament, he told me something that hurt me so much. He said his heart was bleeding because the people that he lived with were now deserting him.

“He said they were now treating him as if he had leprosy and did not want to be anywhere near him,” said Chunga, who is known for not mincing his words. Chunga said Khumalo had asked him to take care of his son, Dumo, a brilliant footballer, who is part of the Mzilikazi High School Under-17 team. Chunga later reaffirmed his comments to Chronicle Sport at Lady Stanely Cemetery.

“Willard spoke of what he called inhuman treatment from even Highlanders and the game itself. He said people were no longer appreciative of his yesteryear works and personally I really feel they broke his heart big time. Willard did not deserve to suffer like this, everyone had turned his back on him,” said Chunga. “I even feel companies like Delta Beverages should have invited him during their schools’ tournament just to uplift his spirits, but they did not do so and now he is no more.”

Khumalo’s last employer was his childhood team Highlanders where he was the first team’s welfare manager until the expiry of his contract in December 2014. It is believed that Khumalo’s medical bills hovered around about $700 per month. Chunga also blasted Bulawayo-based coaches for pursuing personal and selfish interests instead of uniting for the good of the game.

“It’s sad to note that coaches from this region are not really united and that does not do us any good at all as we become susceptible to abuse by administrators. What they need to realise is that we are an endangered species and if we continue this infighting instead of helping each other, there might not be anyone left to tell our story in the next couple of years because we will all be dead,” Chunga said.

Willard’s younger brother, Brian, also spoke of the family’s pain. “Maybe if Willard had played or coached football in another era, he could have died a rich man. My brother found it hard to ask for handouts even when those he had served with distinction had turned their backs on him during his time of need,” said Brian.

Omega Sibanda, who was Khumalo’s manager before being voted ZIFA vice-president, said it was sad that people were celebrating Khumalo’s life when he was dead yet they abandoned him during his lifetime. “These are some of the players who used to fill up stadiums during their playing days, but where is their pension now,” said Sibanda.

Although Khumalo did not die a pauper, a number of celebrated footballers have died literally as beggars without any source of income. Players have also been challenged to invest meaningfully during their playing days so they can lean on their investment when they call time on their career. Meanwhile, ZIFA president Cuthbert Dube was conspicuous by his absence at Khumalo’s burial yesterday. Dube instead chose to go on his whirlwind national “meet the affiliates programme”.

Dube sent his chief executive officer Jonathan Mashingaidze to represent him. “Where are our so-called football leaders as we bury a legend?” asked the suspended Omega Sibanda, with the mourners nodding in agreement. Khumalo’s funeral procession brought Bulawayo to standstill with current and former Bosso players joining the rest of the national football family in sending the former midfield king to his final resting place.