FOR ALL THE ROMANCE AT ASCOT, PAUL MUNDANDI’S ABSENCE AT THE PARTY WAS SIMPLY UNBEARABLE
The only big disappointment was that when it finally happened, with more than half-a-century of history melting away in the heat of a platinum furnace, someone very, very important wasn’t there to see all this drama unfold at Ascot exactly a week to this day.
For that person to capture images from the touchlines he roamed with both aggression and conviction, looking for a perfect spot to get an angle the right photographs he wanted, on an historic afternoon for domestic football and his adopted home province of the Midlands.
For him to try and squeeze an interview, after the game, with the victorious invading platinum brigade — a chat with the triumphant author of that amazing tale or one or more of his successful troops who had come to Ascot, fought this iconic battle and won it with something to spare in their tank.
Or for him to take a fine collection of those delirious FC Platinum fans in dreamland, who had painted Gweru into a sea of green-and-white colours, in what appeared to be a replay of the last day of last season when another invading army with a similar identity came there, conquered and were crowned champions.
And for him to capture some vintage images of that amazing group of DeMbare fans, which refused to cut off the music even when it became clear the mission had been doomed — like that band on the Titanic which kept playing while the Titanic was sinking below them — kept singing in those Ascot stands in a celebration of a season, which didn’t promise much at the beginning, but almost delivered gold at the end.
Even amid the madness which saw the football writers being quarantined from conducting post-match interviews by some overzealous PSL officials seemingly plucked from hell who treated them like a bunch of unwanted guests at this party, you would bet your last dollar he would have somehow found a way to smuggle an opportunity to steal an interview or two with the partying visitors.
After all, those who were partying on that Ascot field that memorable Saturday afternoon — like someone from New York’s Bronx or from Compton in California relating to the explosion of hip-hop music in the ‘70s — were the “Boys From The Hood.”
Like reporters from The Source magazine asking for an interview with the Notorious B.I.G in New York in the mid ‘90s or the deejays from Radio Los Santos asking for a chat with members of Niggerz Wit Attitudes, he was always guaranteed he would be granted his wishes by the FC Platinum crew.
But even an N.W.A reunion of Dr Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren and DJ Yella today — just like that FC Platinum victory party at Ascot on Saturday — will have a distinct ring of a big missing link without Eazy E who passed away on March 25, 1995.
Pity, no one at Ascot that Saturday, amid the wild FC Platinum celebrations, remembered to play Simon Chimbetu’s smash-hit song, “Pane Asipo” for those who were partying to take a moment to reflect on the absence of this fellow who was missing from the big occasion, especially those words, “mavaudza amai vake here, kuti mwana wavo akashaika, akafira musango kure, igamba rehondo.”
For all the romance of last Saturday’s events at Ascot, the powerful chapter of history written on that day, the refusal by FC Platinum to be choked by the punishing weight of expectations and a past that was hostile to their cause, the onus of all this to be achieved by a coach whom some believe is domestic football’s version of the “Special One”, the absence of Paul Mundandi at that party could be felt on all sides of the pitch.
Fate, cruel fate, somehow had to ensure that Paul Mundandi — the voice of Zvishavane — had to die exactly two weeks before his adopted hometown club, FC Platinum, finally exorcised the ghost which had haunted clubs from outside Harare and Bulawayo when it came to fighting for the ultimate prize of being champions of domestic football.
That his death was as sudden as they come, taken to hospital the previous day and then being pronounced dead the following day, having shown little or no signs of illness before, really hurt, it came like a bolt from the blue, shocked everyone who received the news because Paul never looked like someone who was about to die.
His boundless energy had taken him all over the country, as he usually did, in the preceding weeks — Gibbo in the Lowveld to cover Triangle, Nyamhunga on the northern tip of the country to cover ZPC Kariba, Dulivadzimo on the southern tip of the country to cover Tsholotsho, the Colliery on the western tip of the country to cover Hwange and Sakubva on the eastern part of the country to cover the Division One teams.
But, like the Emirates passenger planes that always fly back to Dubai no matter where they would have gone, Zvishavane was the centre of his life and had become his home since he arrived there from Mhangura, as part of the immigrant community that had left behind the dying copper mine in Mashonaland West, to try and find greener pastures which the platinum fields of this Midlands mining town now represented.
John Phiri, Victor Phiri, Gerald Phiri are some of the football community who left Mhangura, as part of that human wave which left Mashonaland West for the Midlands, driven by the quest for a better life, the desire for better conditions of service and lured by their former boss Obed Dube who had moved from the dying Mhangura copper mine to Zvishavane.
And Paul was part of that group, long before FC Platinum became a force on the domestic football scene, at a time when Shabanie Mine were emerging as a powerful football force in the country, at around the time the likes of Thomas “Chauruka” Makwasha, him of that pony-tail, and Asani Juma, him of that awesome scoring ration, were propelling this team into writing some success stories, including a famous 1-0 win over Dynamos in the BP League Cup final in Harare in 2001.
SADLY, WHEN IT HAPPENED, PAUL WAS NOT THERE
Paul Mundandi was my age, even though I had been his long-serving boss and we had a lot in common — we were born in 1970, the landmark year when the world, for the first time, had the privilege of watching World Cup images being broadcast on television in colour.
We largely grew up in mining settlements, with Paul spending a lot of his time in Mhangura and Zvishavane while, of course, the first 20 years of my life were spent rooted in my hometown of Chakari where the dominant industry there was the Dalny gold mine.
He replaced me as the reporter who covered Mhangura’s league matches at the copper mine back in the days when this mining community had a powerful football team, when horses would be sent to graze in the stadium as part of some queer rituals meant to strengthen the home side.
While I was a touring reporter, back in the ‘90s, the one who was always sent to Mhangura every other weekend on assignment to cover their home matches, Paul became a resident correspondent, the one who lived within that proud community during the days when its copperfields provided a living for its people.
Paul began his journalism journey covering a team whose community believed fate had cursed it — just like the people of Cam and Motor Kadoma who supported Rio Tinto or the people of Hwange in the western coalfields who supported the local football club — never to be champions of domestic football.
In Mhangura, of course, they talked about the good old days of the ‘70s when their powerful team had the Chieza brothers providing its spine, but even though they could win a number of knockout tournaments, in the top-flight league, the giant leap towards transformation to be champions, somehow, was always a step too far, a hurdle too high.
Yes, they could celebrate having the best player in the country in Tendai Chieza, who was crowned Soccer Star of the Year in the very year Paul was born, but — for all the accolades they received on the individual front and success in the knockout tournaments — Mhangura never won the domestic championship.
By the time Paul left for Zvishavane, just before the turn of the millennium, the football club at Mhangura, just like the mine itself, had collapsed under the weight of challenges with the community not having been afforded the chance to celebrate winning the league championship.
And, not even the change in base could bring a change of fortunes for Paul and when FC Platinum self-destructed in the penultimate match of the 2011 championship race, at home of all places when an own goal by Daniel Veremu spoiled the party, Paul had every right to feel that, maybe, just maybe, this was never meant to be.
But, six years later, the long wait came to an end on Saturday when FC Platinum, a club that Paul has covered more than any other local football writer since this team landed in the domestic Premiership, finally got it right by winning the league championship at Ascot.
Sadly, when it finally happened, with more than half-a-century of pain and disappointment being washed away by a 90-minute show of both resilience, when they were put under pressure, and efficiency, when they converted the two early chances they got, it’s sad that Paul wasn’t there to witness the golden moment when history was made.
It was like the late journalist Lovemore Musharavati missing from a party where his beloved Rio Tinto, a club he covered with both authority and passion more than any other football writer in this country, were being crowned champions of this country.
And like the late Jabes Lefani missing from a party where his beloved Kadoma “Yematomati” United were celebrating their promotion into the domestic Premiership, it was clear, very clear, someone very, very important was not there at Ascot on Saturday.
I feel the pain, as I write this piece, because — just like Paul all these years — I have waited a lifetime to write a piece, just one, celebrating the arrival of my favourite hometown football club Falcon Gold, the one I have always supported with all my heart, in the domestic Premiership, something that fate has not given me a chance to do.
To write about a past in which our star goalkeeper had a queer name his parents called him Chakumanda (the one from the graves), when our star midfielder was called Mutambarika, when our best defender was called Aidan Sweet, when our rightback was called Kamukanda, when one of our best forwards was called Bhibho, when our left winger was called Aaron Fly and the leftback was Tetete Nguo, Luke Zhatanga, Didymus Damiano.
A COMMUNITY WHERE EVEN CHARLES MABIKA PLAYED SECOND FIDDLE
Charles “CNN” Mabika is the doyen of football journalism in this nation, by a country mile, but down in Zvishavane, Paul Saul Mundandi is (or was) the King.
The emperor of his little constituency, the first name that just about comes on anyone’s lips when they talk about this profession, a big part of the soul of FC Platinum, the one who told their story — the trials and tribulations — better than anyone else, the authoritative voice that told their story better than any other around this country.
The one they looked up to, when it came to telling their story, telling the story of their community, telling the story of fate, cruel as it always is, had to somehow rule that Mundandi, whose pen and camera did more in bringing the sights and sounds of football in Zvishavane, had to die exactly two weeks before one of the clubs from his adopted hometown celebrated its coming of age by being crowned champions of Zimbabwe.
The one who walked with FC Platinum from the very beginning of their dance with the domestic Premiership, from their past when they came onto the scene with the arrogance of calling themselves Kugona Kunenge Kudada to its present when they realigned themselves to the sober nickname of Pure Platinum Play.
The one who provided the voice of reason to criticise them when they were losing their way, not because he hated them, but because he wanted them to do things in the right direction so that their potential could be realised, the one whose pen helped shape their journey which culminated in that landmark triumph at Ascot on Saturday when, finally, they came of age.
There were moments when his relationship with them was not good, when some of the club leaders felt he was hostile to their cause, but that is what great journalism is all about and that is what separates this noble profession from public relations.
Sadly, Paul was missing at Ascot on Saturday as the champagne bottles were being opened to celebrate this landmark achievement by this team, something he had always dreamt of writing about — from his days in Mhangura to his adventure in Zvishavane — and something that fate, cruel fate, denied him an opportunity to do.
Paul Saul Mundandi, the one whose parents chose two religious rhyming names for him, would certainly have loved this grand occasion when, finally, after all that frustration in which he had never used the phrase “defending champions” to accompany any of the reports he did for Mhangura, Shabanie Mine and FC Platinum, he could now have the freedom to do that whenever he was going to write about Pure Platinum Play.
It’s sad that on the day that FC Platinum were celebrating their coming of age at Ascot on Saturday, Paul Mundandi’s body was lying 300km away, in the depths of Mother Earth, at Zororo Memorial Park near Chitungwiza where he was buried just weeks after domestic football went there to bury Friday Phiri.
There will never be anyone like Paul Mundandi for the people of Zvishavane because no one ever dedicated himself to working for them, in terms of telling their football story, the way this guy did and it’s sad that on the day they celebrated their finest hour, he wasn’t around to see the moment.
The guy who had told their story to the world, more than any other journalist, the guy who had narrated their challenges, the guy who had penned articles that provided a ray of hope for this community during the moments when days were dark — like that afternoon when everything collapsed before them at Mandava in 2011 — the guy whose pen had helped shape them and played in a big role in the process that culminated in the celebrations that rocked Ascot last Saturday, was sadly not there.
He wasn’t around to describe the events, the tears that flowed among some of the fans, players and coaching staff, to record the unity which this city showed in pursuit of this dream with Shabanie Mine being the first to congratulate the new champions, to celebrate with them because, beyond his job as a journalist, he was one of them, too.
Maybe, just maybe, these lyrics from this classic by Mike + The Mechanics, The Living Years, released in 1988, captures how I am feeling right now:
I wasn’t there that morning
When my friend Paul passed away
I didn’t get to tell him
All the things I had to say
I think I caught his spirit
Later this same year
I’m sure I heard his echo
In my baby’s new born tears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years
Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye.
To God Be The Glory
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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