Beautiful game rears ugly face in Zimbabwe


Highlanders Football Club fans invade Barbourfields Stadium, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

from NDABENI MLOTSHWA in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe Bureau
BULAWAYO, (CAJ News) –  FOR a country just readmitted to international football, and under sanctions for lack of proper stadia, the anarchy this past weekend is an indictment of the unruly state of affairs in Zimbabwe’s football.

A match in the second city of Bulawayo by local side, Highlanders, and Dynamos, from the capital Harare, is for decades the most terrifying event in the country.

It is a fearsome episode that is far ahead of the enmity between the deadly rivalry between the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the main opposition of the day.

Carried away and complicit, the media stoked the flames by dubbing it “The Battle of Zimbabwe.”

This is inadvisable in a country where battle is synonymous with the loss of thousands of lives in the quest for self-rule, attained from Britain in 1980.

Rarely do matches played in Bulawayo between “Bosso” (Highlanders) and “DeMbare” (Dynamos) reach a conclusion.

They are almost always called off because of crowd trouble.

Supporters always assume a free reign, each proclaiming a dominance of the other .

When Barbourfields Stadium (BF) is abuzz, it is the most hostile, tribalistic stadium in the world and authorities are failing to reign in it and bring people into one.

So, Stakes have been high lately as both sides have gone a combined 26 years (17 years for Highlanders and nine for Dynamos) without the league title as new moneybags sides benefitting from Zimbabwe’s mineral wealth call the shots.

Highlanders and Dynamos are stuck in the past. They come across as museum clubs.

Still, the skirmishes at the Barbourfields Stadium on Sunday were unprecedented.

That is because the match was abandoned at the 35th minute as fans invaded the pitch when Dynamos raced to a 2-0 lead.

A hot afternoon capped a hostile atmosphere at the 40 000-seater stadium, fondly known as BF, where fans expressed disquiet at the officiating.

No prizes for guessing which set of supporters felt hard-done by as cops fired teargas.

Bad omen lurked at this venue synonymous with upheaval and coincidentally a stone’s throw from the country’s second biggest hospital, Mpilo (Life).

There was something awkward about the match in that Dynamos was the home side at the venue of their biggest rivals, Highlanders, whose grip on the leadership of the 18-team log has loosened in recent weeks characterised by poor form.

Dynamos are using BF as home because venues in Harare, including the National Sports and Rufaro Stadiums, are closed for renovation after the Confederation of African Football (CAF) deemed them improper to host matches.

A match between Dynamos and Highlanders in Bulawayo is always a powder keg in this country polarised along tribal lines.

And, with this encounter coming on the back of disputed general elections in Zimbabwe, the ugly face of the beautiful game was bound to rear its ugly head.

A match between Dynamos and Highlanders is more than merely a football contest.

Tragically, it always assumes tribal undertones and can be a matter of life and death.

In the Southern African country divided along tribal lines, Dynamos is seen as a team most supported by the majority Shona and Highlanders by the Ndebele, a minority group that bore the brunt of the political conflict suffered by Zimbabwe in the early 1980s, shortly after independence.

Dynamos are the most successful side, with 22 league titles to Highlanders’ seven but there are accusations the former are beneficiaries of dubious match officiating.

The abandonment of the match on Sunday was a culmination of fans breaching the fence at the notorious Soweto section of BF and gaining access to the pitch.

Players and match officials scurried for cover, leaving the pitch a war zone between missile-throwing fans and retreating anti-riot police.

There were skirmishes also outside this stadium that is in the environs in Makokoba, a somewhat creepy township that is the oldest in Bulawayo.

Crowds seemingly overwhelmed the police.

The Premier Soccer League (PSL) had not commented on the upheaval but indications are the match will be awarded to Dynamos. Another fine and further sanctions look likely to be slapped on Highlanders, whose fans critics say are sore losers.

Depending on the results on the pitch, Bosso fans are the most vibrant set of supporters in the country, but when the chips are down, their home ground is a no-go zone.

Meanwhile, Ngezi Platinum has made the most of Highlanders’ low form to leap to the top, with 42 points from 22 games.

Having led the race for a majority of the season, the slackening Highlanders are now second, a point and a game less.

Manica Diamonds are third on 39 points.

Dynamos are on 36 points, at fourth, equal on points with Chicken Inn.

Football is an emotive issue in Zimbabwe. In 2000, some 13 fans died at the Nationals Sports Stadium as neighbouring South Africa beat the hosts in a World Cup qualifier.

The Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) recently lifted a ban it had imposed on the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) after government interference.

– CAJ News


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