The Sunday Mail
Tinashe Kusema, Langton Nyakwenda and Don Makanyanga
AUGUST is the month Zimbabweans salute their heroes.
Coincidentally, it is the month sporting hero Peter Ndlovu made history in the English Premier Soccer League 30 years ago by breaking into the elite league.
It was a feat that was even celebrated by Chelsea legend Didier Drogba two years ago.
In a retweet posted in September 2020, the former Ivory Coast captain Drogba paid tribute to Ndlovu, who earned the moniker “Flying Elephant” because of his blistering pace, for being the first African player to feature in the English Premiership.
Drogba, who holds the record of the most EPL goals scored by a non-English player (164), retweeted a post by an African football publication “Reveal Footy”, which acknowledged Ndlovu’s accomplishment with the word “Pioneer”.
Ndlovu joined English side Coventry City in 1991 and on August 19, 1992, the Makokoba-raised player made his debut.
In March 1995, Ndlovu also became the first away player to score a hat-trick at Anfield in 30 years when Coventry City stunned Liverpool 3-2.
He then capped a glittering career by captaining Zimbabwe to their first-ever appearance at the African Cup of Nations finals in 2004.
He was Zimbabwe’s leading scorer in Tunisia with three goals, including a brace against Cameroon in a riveting game that ended in a 3-5 loss for the Warriors.
As one of his major milestones, Ndlovu scored Zimbabwe’s first-ever goal at the AFCON with a fine header in the 2-1 defeat to Egypt in their maiden match at the continental showpiece.
Sunday “Mhofu” Chidzambwa, who is to football what Dave Houghton is to cricket, was Zimbabwe’s coach at that momentous AFCON tournament.
There is no doubt Chidzambwa is the doyen of local football, having reached milestones both as a player and coach.
He was the first Warriors captain at Independence and became the first coach to lead a local club to the CAF Champions League finals with Dynamos in 1998.
Mhofu, as he is affectionately known, wrote another piece of history six years later, in 2004, when he guided the Warriors to their maiden AFCON.
Although Zimbabwe exited at the group stage, they registered a famous 2-1 victory over Algeria, their first triumph at the biennial continental football showpiece.
Chidzambwa, who turned 70 in May, was back at AFCON in 2019 as the Warriors made their fourth appearance.
He also holds the record as the coach with most COSAFA Cup wins in the region, with four titles won in 2003, 2009, 2017 and 2018.
His DeMbare side, which was captained by Memory Mucherahowa, are the only team from Zimbabwe to reach the Champions League final.
Dynamos lost 4-2 on aggregate to Ivorian giants ASEC Mimosas having drawn 0-0 in Harare.
Mucherahowa missed the return leg after he was head-butted by an opponent during warm-up.
Makwinji Soma-Phiri went on to become the first and only Zimbabwean to score in a Champions League final, netting Dynamos’ opener in the 60th minute before Ghanaian George Owusu got DeMbare’s second in the 81st minute.
Proud “Kilimanjaro’’ Chinembiri
Dynamos were founded in Mbare, the same high-density suburb that gave Zimbabwe its finest heavyweight boxer.
Proud “Kilimanjaro” Chinembiri might have died young, but he had already put Zimbabwe on the map thanks to his dominance on the continent in the 1980s.
Regarded as the best heavyweight boxer from Zimbabwe, Chinembiri held the African Boxing Union (ABU) title for five consecutive years between September 1982 and August 1987.
He claimed the ABU title against Adama Mensah of Ghana in front of an estimated 40 000 people at Rufaro Stadium on September 4, 1982.
That remains the biggest-ever crowd to watch a locally staged boxing match.
At one time, Kilimanjaro was among the top 10 World Boxing Council heavyweight pugilists.
Had it not been for some medical issues, Kilimanjaro would have fought against Lennox Lewis in the United Kingdom, a fight that his former manager Philip Chiyangwa said would have gotten him closer to a match against then-reigning world champion Mike Tyson.
So good was Kilimanjaro that he became a regular guest of late former Ivorian president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, who was charmed by the Mbare-born boxer’s talent.
“I must say boxing took good care of my younger brother,” says Punish, Kilimanjaro’s brother.
“He refurbished our family house in Mbare, he bought his own house in Bulawayo and had three BMW vehicles.”
At the time of his death in 1994 at the age of 36, Kilimanjaro had a record 32 wins (28 by way of knockout) and six defeats.
Zimbabwean boxing history would not be complete without the late Langton “Schoolboy” Tinago.
He earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records after defying the odds to become the only three-time Commonwealth champion.
Tinago’s first title came at Independence in 1980 when he won the lightweight belt after beating Hogan Jimoh of Nigeria in Lagos.
Three years later, Tinago claimed the super-featherweight title with a unanimous points victory over Nigerian Safia Oke Badan at the City Sports Centre in Harare.
He completed his hat-trick in 1986, winning the lightweight title again after beating Australia’s Graeme Brooke in Manchester.
Tinago died on July 17, 2018 and was accorded provincial hero status.
He was buried at the Gweru Provincial Heroes’ Acre.
Arifonso “Mosquito’’ Zvenyika is the only other Zimbabwean boxer to win a Commonwealth title.
He won the Commonwealth Flyweight title in January 1998 after winning by a TKO against Paul Weir in Glasgow, Scotland.
The Mbare-bred Zvenyika then defended his title against Keith Knox six months later before relinquishing the belt to Damaen Kelly in December 1998.
Then came Charles Manyuchi, a boxer who rose from humble beginnings to become the World Boxing Council Silver welterweight champion on May 6, 2016, after stunning local favourite Dmitry Mikhaylenko in Russia.
Manyuchi held the belt until March 2017 when he was knocked out by Uzbek Qudratillo Abduqaxorov.
But that was after the Chivhu-based boxer had grabbed national headlines and even got a US$50 000 present from the late former President Robert Mugabe.
Houghton: Cricket’s Chidzambwa
While Chidzambwa has been the mainstay of local football, Houghton, who is the current Chevrons’ coach, has a lot of milestones in cricket.
He swapped the handcuffs for the bat and went on to become Zimbabwe’s first Test captain on October 18, 1992, scoring a century on his debut.
He scored 121 runs against India at Harare Sports Club, which according to him is a rare distinction.
Houghton had made his debut in limited overs in 1983, albeit on a poor note as he was dismissed for a duck.
He also played at the 1987 World Cup, scoring 142 runs off 137 deliveries against New Zealand, a feat which was, however, not enough to clinch victory over the Kiwis.
“I left school and became a policeman, as I always wanted to be a policeman from the time I was probably 11 or 12-years-old,” said Houghton. “That career did not last long, and, fortunately, I always had pretty good ball skills and played a lot of squash, tennis, hockey and cricket.
“Cricket has been fantastic to me and I have enjoyed every minute of it …The honour of being captain of my country in my debut in Test Cricket was amazing, and to score a hundred in the game was equally amazing.
“These are things I will cherish until the day I die.”
The Black Diamond
For rugby, Richard “The Black Diamond” Tsimba blazed the trail.
The older of the rugby-playing Tsimba brothers, Richard, was the first black player to represent his country.
He had five international caps for Zimbabwe, scoring three tries and 12 points in aggregate.
All his caps came at the Rugby World Cup, during which he played two games at the 1987 event and scored two tries in the 21-20 loss to Romania.
At the 1991 Rugby World Cup, he was used in all three of Zimbabwe’s games, scoring a try in the 52-8 loss to Japan on October 14, 1991 in Belfast, Ireland.
Despite passing away in 2 000 at the age of 32, Tsimba’s impact and legacy lives on in local and international rugby.
Zimbabwe have ironically not been to the World Cup since 1991.
Among those who were lucky enough to have either watched him play or featured alongside Tsimba is current Sables coach Brendan Dawson, who went to the 1991 edition with him.
“I played a couple of games with him, and he was an amazing player who came in and changed the face of Zimbabwe rugby,” said Dawson.
“He changed a lot of perceptions of people around the world about rugby in Zimbabwe, and in the position that he played.
“He was a mastermind, a genius, had good feet and could step and accelerate like no one people had seen at the time.
“He had the pace and he could tackle, he was a complete player and a top-class rugby player at that.”
Tsimba’s talents were on show during the 1987 World Cup, where “The Black Diamond’’ weaved past five Romanian players on his way to scoring one of his two tries in that narrow 20-21 loss.
The try has become a permanent fixture of World Rugby’s celebration of the history of the tournament.
Both the Tsimba brothers, Richard and Kennedy, were inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in 2012.
The country has also had its fair share of success stories on the global stage, with Olympic gold medals being provided by hockey’s famous “Golden Girls’’ in Moscow, Russia, in 1980.
Kirsty: “the Halley’s Comet”
Kirsty Coventry, Africa’s most decorated Olympian with seven medals and now Minister of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation, flew the Zimbabwe flag high at the African Games (All-Africa Games) and the Olympics.
She also won medals at the Commonwealth Games and the World Swimming Championships.
She also has over 13 local swimming records that stand to this very day, and these range from the 100m, 200m and 400-metre freestyle to her favoured backstroke, where she holds the 50m, 100m and 200m women’s record times.
Former Zimbabwe Aquatic Union president Mary Kloppers believes Coventry is like a Halley’s Comet, a rare talent that comes once in a generation.
“She is truly one of a kind and put Zimbabwe on the map with her exploits in the water,” said Kloppers, who was union president during Coventry’s time.
“We still have swimmers trying to emulate her achievements to this very day, and that is testament to the example she set,” she said.
Kloppers reckons that what set Coventry apart from other swimmers was her sheer force of will.
“We are constantly trying to improve on coach development, hoping we can get more swimmers that reach the heights that Kirsty did.
“It’s a matter of finding a balance between the right talent and the right coaching …
“What set Kirsty apart from other swimmers was that she really wanted to excel.
“She didn’t do it for her parents or for recognition, but did it for herself as she would push herself to get better every time she got into the pool.”
Determination was also the hallmark of the hockey Golden Girls’ Olympics fairy-tale.
Assembled less than a month before the Olympics began to help fill the gaps which the American-led Olympic boycott created, Zimbabwe’s victory came courtesy of three wins and two draws during the round-robin tournament.
The surviving members remain very close and often meet or keep in touch to trade stories from that tournament.
“We used to have a Heroes Day Hockey tournament around this time and celebrate all this hockey,” said Pat Buckle.
“I have lost touch with the local game and doubt if those tournaments are still running.
“As far as the team (Golden Girls) goes, we are very close and stay in touch regularly either on WhatsApp or Hot Chat,” she said.
For Buckle, the 1980 Olympics still hold a special place in her heart.
“It was a different time back then, but I still think about those days often.
“Women’s hockey was making its debut at the Games that year, and I remember it well because I scored the first goal of the tournament.
“I also finished joint top-goal scorer for that tournament,” she said.