The Sunday Mail
So attractive were Black Rhinos that they could lure a top-flight league Soccer Star of the Year, even when they were still in Division One.
The country was rocking towards its first five years of Independence in the swinging mid-80s and there was something special about this Rhinos outfit, which pushed Japhet “Shortcat’’ Mparutsa — who had just won the 1982 Soccer Star of the Year award — to dump the glamour of both Dynamos and the Super League and settle for a lower league side.
Founded in 1982 by the then-Zimbabwe National Army Commander, the late General Solomon Mujuru, Rhinos won the First Division title in 1983 and were promoted into the Super League the following year.
In that year, coach Shepherd Murape’s men wrote a fairytale that remains unmatched in domestic football today as they clinched an unprecedented league and cup double in their debut season of the then-BAT Super League.
Thirty-six years later, and despite the Super League giving way to the era of the Premiership, Black Rhinos remain the only Zimbabwean team to win the top-flight championship on debut.
After their formation, “Chauya Chipembere” went on a massive recruitment drive that saw them lure star players mainly from giants CAPS United and Dynamos in preparation for the 1983 Division One League.
Hamid “Muzukuru” Dhana, Simon “AK47” Mugabe, David Mukahanana, Eddie Matsika, Lovemore Chikunha and Mparutsa left DeMbare — who had won the 1981 and 1982 Super League titles — to join Rhinos.
Stanford “Stix” Mtizwa, Stanley “Sinyo” Ndunduma and William Chikauro were lured from CAPS, while Gift “Shaft” Makoni deserted Karl United (now Arcadia United) to join the likes of Leslie Kamuyoyo, Givemore Madzeka, Fanuel Nyamukapa, Jimmy Mbewe and Ernest Mutano at Rhinos.
Maronga “The Bomber” Nyangela is one of the star players who later on joined Rhinos from Black Aces after the army side’s promotion into the Super League.
That massive raid of star players by Rhinos even drew suspicion on their motives, even catching the attention of Parliamentarians.
Simba Makoni, who was then the Minister of Sport, was forced to respond to some questions pertaining to Rhinos, who were accused of luring civilian players by offering them top positions in the army.
“I don’t think Black Rhinos is a soldiers’ team,” was Makoni’s response, as quoted in The Herald edition of July 7, 1984.
Undeterred by questions around them, Rhinos ruled the domestic football jungle with impunity and by the end of the season were crowned league champions.
Their triumph also ended Dynamos’ four-year dominance, which stretched back to 1980.
In ensuring they bagged the crown ahead of Karl United, Rhinos beat Bata Power 3-1 at Sakubva on December 2, 1984, with Jerry “Dzungu” Chidawa, Mugabe and Nyangela finding the target.
Murape, who was assisted by the late Ashton “Papa” Nyazika, also guided Rhinos to the Natbrew ZIFA Cup after walloping Gweru United 4-1 at Rufaro on October 28, 1984.
Although many teams have won a league and cup double, Nyangela believes the short space within which they achieved success after their formation makes the Black Rhinos of 1984 a special outfit.
“I guess that Rhinos team has got to be one of the best-assembled teams of all time in the history of Zimbabwean football,” Nyangela said.
Now 58, Nyangela is a committee member in the current Rhinos executive and the former gun-slinger remains proud to have been part of that “special team”.
Goalkeeper Lazarus Pararayi, Langton Mutimba, Collins Dube, Blessing Timbenawo and Potipha Munhenga were also part that class of 1984.
To underline their qualities, Rhinos went on to reach the quarter-finals of the 1985 Africa Cup of Champions Clubs, where they lost 2-3 on aggregate against US Goree of Senegal.
“That was a special generation of players. A group of players who wanted to prove something on the field of play,” recalled Nyangela.
While the general belief is that most of the players who flocked to Rhinos were attracted by money, legendary former Warriors number one, Mparutsa, says his decision to dump DeMbare was not influenced by the dollar.
“Everyone wanted and still wants to play for Dynamos because of the club’s popularity, but still I left them to join a newly formed team.
“There was a problem at DeMbare — professionalism lacked somehow. Imagine, back then, you would finish work around 4pm, arrive at Rufaro for training after 5pm and then maybe train for less than 30 minutes because it would be dark.
“But, when Rhinos came, they had a new system. You were recruited as a soldier but your job was to play football.
“We would train from 8am to 12pm, break for lunch and resume from 2pm to 4pm. Everything was there at Rhinos, we would go for gym, the training methods were advanced and I can tell you that it was at Rhinos where I perfected my drop-kicks.
“So I wouldn’t say it was all about money. I could have stayed at Dynamos where I was playing in African club competitions, but the professionalism at Rhinos lured me,” said Mparutsa from his base in the United Kingdom.
“At Rhinos we had both talented players and hard workers; it was a perfect combination. You should have seen Simon Mugabe train, that was serious business my brother. Pure dedication.”
Mparutsa later left Rhinos in 1988 to join Darryn T, a year after the soldiers had clinched their second and only other league title.
The closest they came was in 1991 and 2002 when they finished runners-up to Dynamos and Highlanders, respectively.
Mtizwa, whose transfer generated a lot of bickering between his former side CAPS and Rhinos, vividly remembers some of the newspaper headlines of 1984.
The nine-time Soccer Star of the Year finalist also remembers very well the protracted battle that followed his move from Makepekepe to Chauya Chipembere.
“I was there at the formation of Black Rhinos in 1982. But, my transfer was not finalised until 1984.
“CAPS didn’t want to lose me, Ndunduma and Chikauro at once. Makepekepe wanted an arrangement where Rhinos would only take Ndunduma and Chikauro. Or at worst, just myself alone,” says Mtizwa.
CAPS were fined $10 000 by ZIFA after fielding Mtizwa in a Chibuku Trophy semi-final they lost 2-6 to Dynamos in April 1984.
ZIFA ruled that Mtizwa belonged to Rhinos, who were supposed to pay a transfer fee of $2 000.
“Employment was a major pull factor back then. Rhinos offered us permanent jobs in the army, so for us it was a wise decision to join Chauya Chipembere,” Mtizwa said.
There was also the “Papa” Nyazika pull factor.
Nyazika, who won the 1979 league title with a CAPS United side that had Mtizwa and Ndunduma as the main actors, was now assistant coach at Rhinos.
“We respected Papa a lot; he was a very shrewd coach. So when Rhinos expressed interest, it was not a difficult decision for me to make because Nyazika was also there.
The larger-than-life Nyazika had also previously worked with Mtizwa at Glen Strikers before the midfielder joined CAPS.
Nyazika died on June 30 2001 after largely successful stints with CAPS, Blackpool, Lancashire Steel, Motor Action and Masvingo United.
“Our coaches, Murape and Nyazika, were so proud of our squad. Murape even likened our team to the great Brazilian national team,” said Mtizwa, who is now the chief scout at Rhinos.
“We won the league and cup double twice in 1984 and 1987. That was a huge achievement.
“We always think of those glory days and the aim is to make Rhinos a household name again.
“There was a time when Rhinos had a strong junior policy, a policy that helped unearth talented players like Ian Gorowa and Nesbert Saruchera. We want to get back there; that is the idea and that is what we want to implement,” Mtizwa said.
However, Mparutsa reckons it could take Rhinos ages to rediscover their touch.
“There has been a huge gap, so it won’t be easy. The club should have prepared for life after these star players, but someone slept on duty.
“There was a time when brilliant youngsters like Alois Bunjira and Edzai Kasinauyo were within the Rhinos junior ranks, but sadly, they were never given a chance and they left.
“Lazarus Pararayi was a brilliant keeper. He could have even played for Dynamos but at Rhinos he was not given game-time because they thought with myself in the team they were covered,” said Mparutsa, who hung up his gloves in 1994 after a short stint with Bloemfontein Celtic of South Africa.
They might have won their last league title 33 years ago but the swagger with which they performed the Houdini act of 1984 leaves them in a class of their own.
Only two teams — FC Platinum and ZPC Kariba — have come close to emulating that Rhinos feat.
FC Platinum almost did it but failed after losing on goal difference to Kalisto Pasuwa’s Dynamos in 2011.
ZPC Kariba also came close but they lost the championship to DeMbare on the last day of the 2014 race.