The Sunday Mail
Tadious Manyepo recently in RWANDA
DIANA MARERWA is a primary school teacher living in Keza, on the outskirts of Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali.
She has been in this picturesque city dotted with mountains, hills, steep slopes and valleys for the past 25 years.
Here and there, especially during the festive season, she travels back home to Zimbabwe to visit her relatives in Chihota, Mashonaland East Province.
Besides spending most of her free time with her family, she hardly meets compatriots who are stationed around this beautiful country.
However, she never misses the opportunity to talk to them, thanks to modern technology, which has enabled them to have WhatsApp groups formed from Facebook Pages linked to Zimbabweans living in Rwanda.
Until recently, she had not met any of the people in the otherwise very active 1 200-member WhatsApp group named “Zimbabweans in Rwanda”.
It is this group, among others, that mobilised Zimbabweans to descend on Butare, about 126 kilometres south-west of Kigali, where the Warriors played their opening two matches of the 2026 World Cup qualifiers.
The road trip from Kigali to Butare took about three hours, as the road passes through many hills, and vehicles travel at a maximum speed of 60 kilometres per hour.
The trip costs RF2 500 (around US$2).
Fortunately, many Zimbabweans were ready to endure the six-hour round trips to back the Warriors.
Zimbabwe played Rwanda at Huye Stadium on November 15, before they engaged Nigeria at the same venue four days later.
Both matches ended in draws, with Baltemar Brito’s charges playing a goalless tie against Rwanda, before battling to a 1-1 stalemate against Nigeria.
The Warriors had to host Nigeria in Rwanda as Zimbabwe does not have a stadium that meets CAF standards.
While the squad missed the vociferous atmosphere which they usually enjoy at home games, they were never short of support, as Marerwa and hordes of Zimbabweans based in Rwanda attended both games.
“I am a teacher based in Kigali. Once we heard that Zimbabwe would play two games here, we started mobilising each other so that we would attend the games,” she said.
“I am very happy that I managed to attend both games. Our players were also very happy to see us rallying behind them.
“It motivated them a lot, and we hope to see more of this, not just football, but other sports, here, for they are guaranteed support,” she said.
For Kidson Chiworera who works in Mwanza, the Warriors enabled him to physically meet with his virtual compatriots.
“Of course, we came here for both games to show our support for the national team, but this was also an opportunity for us to meet physically with Zimbabweans who are based in this country,” said Chiworera.
“We talk to each other on social media and the phone, but this was an opportunity for us to meet in person.
“That’s why you saw us hugging and jumping before these games.
“We were actually celebrating being together, physically, for the first time.
“We are one big community and we love each other. That is why it was never difficult for us to come together and say, guys, let’s go and rally behind our Warriors.”
The Zimbabweans appeared to outnumber the Rwandans in the first game.
They also sang famous songs such as “Yave nyama yekugocha”.
Even in the second game against Nigeria, Zimbabweans came in their numbers, and even some Rwandans joined their corner. It was a spectacle.
And the Warriors loved it.
“We never felt away from home. These guys have been amazing,” said Warriors striker Tino Kadewere.
“When we heard that we would play both our games in Rwanda, we thought we would miss everything, like the atmosphere associated with playing at the National Sports Stadium.
“But we were wrong. These guys made us feel at home. We salute them.”
Even ZIFA must have reaped some really good rewards selling Umbro replicas, as Huye Stadium was a sea of golden Warriors’ colours.