Mighty warriors_ gruelling journey _ the chronicle

ON Sunday, October 18, 2015, the Zimbabwe Mighty Warriors took to the field at Rufaro Stadium to take on Mighty Cameroon who just needed a draw to qualify for the Olympics Games in Brazil having won 2-1 in the first leg in Cameroon.

Mighty Warriors, through Rudo Neshamba’s goal, turned the tables against Cameroon and defended the goal gallantly until the final whistle. It was probably the longest 90 minutes in the history of their playing career.

Head coach Shadreck Mlauzi

who was appointed following the sacking of long standing coach Rosemary Mugadza and her lieutenants, has made history. Advised by veteran coach, former Highlanders mentor Barry Daka and assisted by another Bulawayo soul Sithethelewe “Kwinji 15” Sibanda, the Sikhulile High School teacher will surely go down in history as the first coach to take a Zimbabwean football team to the world’s greatest sporting event.

However as the nation celebrated the historic achievement by the girls, few if not all, took time to relive the gruelling journey that these gallant girls went through in their quest to put Zimbabwe on the world map. During the qualifying stages, the girls were treated like outcasts, people who were a bother to the real cause, men’s football. Their case was always the last to be heard. Their cries were the last to be attended to. Their needs were the last to be met.

I remember vividly writing an article on the girls’ misery while in camp at the Zifa Village following their game against Botswana. The girls were given a diet of sadza and poorly cooked ibhobola and boiled matemba. They could simply have gone back to their homes but Zifa did not give them bus fare.

My colleague, Melody Gwenyambira from our sister paper H-Metro, who has passionately reported women football in the country, this week penned a brutally truthful account of the pain, anguish and humiliation that these gallant girls went through. Now that victory has been achieved, everyone suddenly wants to be associated with these girls while those that put the first stone in the building are suddenly forgotten.

This is her story:

Mighty Warriors’ gruelling journey

. . . as Zifa claims all their glory

AS the bus drew closer to the border, most of the girls were fast asleep.

The team manager Charity Munemo woke them up to prepare them to cross the border.

The officials at the border post had been notified that the men and women’s senior soccer teams would arrive at the border late and a request for officials to wait for them had been approved.

It did not take an hour for both the Warriors and Mighty Warriors teams to be cleared at the border.

Then, the Warriors were under gaffer Norman Mapeza and the Mighty Warriors under Rosemary Mugadza.

The Mighty Warriors were scheduled to play an international match at Levy Mwanawasa Stadium on August 20, 2012, in Ndola, Zambia and the Warriors were playing the Chipolopolo boys who were fresh from a successful African Cup of Nations under Coach Herve Renard.

The Mighty Warriors admired the bus that their fellow counterparts were travelling on.

It was big and luxurious.

The Mighty Warriors were on a normal coach which was not all that luxurious and only three seats were empty on that bus while the Warriors had plenty of space to relax on some of the empty seats.

I was travelling on the Mighty Warriors’ bus.

We crossed the border and reached Lusaka in the early hours of August 19.

The journey to Ndola had just begun and I remember the last meal the players had been given had been on August 18 before 8pm when the bus was just leaving Harare.

It was a piece of chicken, bread roll, a fruit and water.

On our way to Ndola the Mighty Warriors were given oranges and had to do with some of the food they had bought with their own money before they left Harare.

The water in the coolers was now warm, they had no choice but to take it and when they reached Ndola at midday, they were tired, hungry and restless.

It was a very uncomfortable journey!

However, I did not hear any player complaining. All they did was ask for recess time and they would laugh, talk, sing and sleep on the journey.

In Ndola they had two training sessions before the match.

They did what they had to do despite the conditions they had travelled under.

They won 5-0 against Shepolopolo in the international friendly which saw them going up the Fifa rankings as the match was a Fifa sanctioned friendly.

On the way back, the team made a stopover in Lusaka for some lunch which was served at a decent hotel.

That was their last meal until they got to Zimbabwe at midnight.

However the drama was just starting.

On the way to Harare, recess breaks became frequent.

Some of the players had diarrhoea and they needed the breaks to relieve themselves.

This is one of the many bad experiences that the Mighty Warriors experienced in their long road trips in the name of national duty.

Zifa who are on record saying that the national team is their responsibility, failed to cater well for these girls.

In the past four years that the Mighty Warriors have played Zambia, they have always travelled by bus.

The last journey, to the neigbouring country was a sorrowful one.

The Mighty Warriors had their first Olympic Games qualifiers with Zambia at Nkoloma Stadium.

As they prepared for the match, they were camped at Zifa Village.

Zifa did not provide them with food.

It was well wishers who came on board with the food, the likes of LM Auctioneers boss, Lewis Muzhara who donated food for the girls.

As they trained, they brought water in empty concentrate drink bottles which they would refill from time to time.

This only stopped when they got water from a local company.

They still did not have ice, it was always warm water during the training sessions.

One of the most important minerals needed by the sportswomen is the famous sports drink Energade.

Zifa could not afford to buy a single bottle for the players during their training sessions.

The drink is meant to replenish lost nutrients during physical workouts.

This year when they had to travel to Zambia for the first round of the Olympic qualifiers, they went by road. The journey was gruelling and energy sapping as it stretched from 8pm to 12 midday the following day.

Zimbabwe Women Football board member in charge of competitions Cecelia Gambe went door to door begging for finances for the national team to make that journey.

She had to reduce herself to the level of a beggar because the responsible authority said it was broke and that was the end of the story.

Not only that, she took the entire team with her. Pictures of the Mighty Warriors kneeling in front of Prophet Magaya went viral on social media.

On the way back from Zambia, the bus that they had been generously given by LED ran out of fuel as the deal was, get free bus, ZIFA buys fuel.

Gambe had to use her own money to refuel the bus, the same way she had to pay all the tollgate fees.

To date, her money has not been reimbursed.

ZIFA are on record saying that national teams are their responsibility and not the affiliates’.

One would wonder if reducing them to a bunch of beggars is one of the responsibilities of the beleaguered association.

When the Mighty Warriors were supposed to travel to Ghana for the second round, the same old story of begging continued.

However, it was the ZWF boss Miriam Sibanda who sourced some funds for the return leg.

She, along with two other board members Ben Mamoche and Edwin Magosvongwe, were suspended for doing this.

They were even accused of misappropriating funds.

Sibanda even has this “crime” on her charge sheet as count five which reads.

“In that during the month of April 2015, the Respondent, Miriam Sibanda, unlawfully and without reasonable cause received the sum of $20 000 from Rebecca Mine on behalf of the National Women Team and failed to give an account for the donation.”

The players confirmed receiving the allowances.

Sibanda and her colleagues are still waiting to attend a hearing for assisting the players.

Former Boss Mavis Gumbo had laid a good foundation for the national teams and had even wished Sibanda all the best as she took on the baton.

A baton she never carried any further when she even ended up sounding like a broken record as she requested for the funds from FIFA for women football that Zifa received.

Zifa CEO Jonathan Mashingaidze only rushed to the Ministry a day before the Mighty Warriors were supposed to travel to Ivory Coast, begging for money.

The result, he failed to get a cent.

The Mighty Warriors have always been last priority and are an afterthought that “Ooooh by the way we have those girls.”

The players, some who no longer play for the national team, are owed camping allowances for both the (local and international camps) and when they are called into camp, they still report for duty.

They are the same girls who are dumped after a match.

They are not given bus fare; no one from Zifa addresses them about their finances.

They have had to do some dangerous things in the name of playing for the Mighty Warriors.

At one time, they had to walk in the night to get transport from Mt Hampden to the City Centre.

While Cote D’Ivore withdrew from the Olympic qualifier match which was scheduled for Rufaro, the circus at Zifa continued.

The Mighty Warriors who were camped at Zifa Village were told “you are through to the next round and you can go home,”

With no bus fare, the players and technical team left the Village to go to their respective homes on Saturday.

This was not the first time it had happened.

It is actually the third time the players have left or been stranded after a camping session.

When they played against Zambia they were not given a dime for bus fare. Getting allowances was wishful thinking.

In June the players staged a protest against Zifa demanding their allowances.

They sat in the pitch at Rufaro Stadium and refused to train.

When the trip was cancelled, the players were stranded again at Zifa Village.

This was not the only thing they protested against.

“We had no tissue paper and no toiletries to use. We had to use our own money to buy tissue paper to use in camp. The food was disgusting. It was half cooked. Beans dzisina kuibva dzisina soup. Kutiita varanda chaivo,” a player revealed.

How can a national team go into camp without the basic needs like tissue paper?

“Ask the team manager. She is the best person to tell you about the welfare of the players,” Zifa spokesperson Xolisani Gwesela had said.

Furthermore the players were not given sanitary pads.

“We had to share what we had amongst ourselves. The only reason that kept us in that camp is that we love football but besides that we did not see a reason to be in camp. We are treated like animals. Zifa does not care about us. They lie to the nation, they lie to everyone.”

They have had to feed on muboora and matemba.

The food which was badly cooked also had no oil, it was not a dietary rule but Zifa did not provide for them.

More players also revealed how they were taken for a ride on the Friday morning they were to travel to Cote d’Ivoire when the bus came to pick them up with the driver saying he wanted to take them to the airport.

“We thought it was true but we had also said we wanted our allowances so we will not board the bus. It was only later that we were tipped that there were no tickets. Zifa wanted to lie to the nation that the players aborted the trip to Ivory Coast. We then said to each other girls we are going but the bus didn’t come to pick up,” some players added.

However, the players were given their passports at around five pm and told that some people from Zifa were coming to address them.

At 8pm the local players grouped themselves and walked in the dark from Zifa Village to the main road where they got public transport to go into town.

“Takapanana mari dzebhazi. No one addressed us as usual. We left without our allowances and bonuses. The whole of Zifa should just be fired. They are heartless. We played well and progressed to the third round and now we failed to travel. They knew before hand about the journey. They had all the dates but they waited until the last hour to start running around for tickets like headless chickens.”

“We are sick and tired of the attitude yevanhu vekuZifa. Ngavaende, from Mashingaidze wacho naDube. They don’t care about women football at all,” players said.

All this time the girls were under the leadership of Rosemary Mugadza.

Mugadza led the girls through TWO victorious rounds of the Olympic Games qualifiers.

She is the same coach that led the players into lifting the Cosafa Cup.

She was then dumped in the last round of the Olympic qualifiers as Zifa announced that they were restructuring.

In came Shadreck Mlauzi.

Without taking anything from Mlauzi, who is actually a good coach, Zifa showed that they are definitely not a good employer by firing Mugadza, Ndega Matsika and Mebelo Njekwa who had gone through the foundations of these qualifiers with the girls.

As for Mugadza, a coach who groomed their players, she never had a signed contract, is owed allowances but not once did she complain. She never left camp to go to her house as a way of demonstrating against the ill treatment.

She soldiered on, soldiered on only to be fired.

Hers is a case of being used and dumped.

However on Sunday she came in her personal capacity to sit in the terraces and watch the girls walk to the Olympic Games, a dream she started, a dream she failed to finish because of some cruel elements.

The Mighty Warriors have been through the toughest times, have been ill treated and today they have brought glory to the nation.

Yesterday they were hosted by the Minister of Sports, Makhosini Hlongwane.

The Minister turned things around for the girls in this final round as he made sure that they were well catered for.

However the joke of the day was the many faces that never appeared during the struggle, who popped up only to eat the spoils of the cake.

Now, many are claiming this glory, the glory that an army of women and a few men fought for.

Mashingaidze was stretching out his hand for the congratulations and praises for this Olympic Dream that he almost shattered as Gambe and Elizabeth Langa sat in the background as spectators.

The two women who had doors shut in their faces when they were begging for funds for the girls, were just looking.

Madame Miriam Sibanda, her other two board members who were suspended for the Olympic dream, Lewis Muzhara (the all weather partner of the Mighty Warriors who at times has bought football boots, forked out his money to give the girls transport money and bought food for the girls), Mugadza, Matsika, Njekwa, the coaches of the various clubs where these girls come from, were nowhere in sight!

Success has many fathers and failure is an orphan, the glory is now being claimed by those that can never spell it!

Feedback: smoyo@chronicle. co. zw

Twitter: @skhumoyo2000

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