BETWEEN the 1970s and 1990s, Andy Hendry, Costa Manzini, the late Gift Chaita and Zibusiso Ndlovu were among the most visible photojournalists at Bulawayo stadia.
Barring Doctor Feel Good who would travel all the way from Harare for big matches and international games, Bulawayo’s Ashokumar Kara, better known as KC was a prominent and permanent feature at Barbourfields Stadium. He was like the official Highlanders FC photographer.
KC would accompany the club around the country and beyond the borders, endearing himself with administrators, fans and players alike as he captured so many of their happy moments.
Now confined to a wheelchair because of a health condition, KC speaks fondly about his club Highlanders and the great stars of the past.
“I still support Highlanders. I was happy recently when the team beat Dynamos. I was not at the stadium but I heard the news and I slept on a high that night.
“I am disappointed though that the team has not won the championship for over 10 years. I heard that club legend Madinda Ndlovu is now coach. He knows the club culture and during his days he carried the club on his shoulders, I am confident that the club will once again roar,” said KC at his Bulawayo, North End home.
The man boasts of watching several generations of Highlanders FC players.
“I have been lucky to have watched great players from the 1970s to this day. I have not been to stadia for close to a decade but friends tell me football is no longer the same, it has lost its exciting end,” he said.
There are two types of photojournalists; those at work to shoot photos without a passion for the game and those who are football fans who appreciate the game from the heart and will be able to pick up stars from chuff.
Some years ago there were calls to involve photojournalists in selecting outstanding players of the year. This was because it was felt that some were just as competent in their assessment of quality footballers just at par with writers.
For KC the man behind the Soccer Star of the Year calendar for the short-lived South Zone Soccer League of 1977 to 1979, he believes the great days of big stars are gone.
“We watched brilliant football, there was value for money and fans got their money’s worth at stadia, there are no dribblers like Boy Ndlovu, Madinda Ndlovu, Mike Abrahams, Stanley Ndunduma and Majuta Mpofu. Majuta was the best,” said Kara.
Asked who his best 11 players through his lenses of the past 50 years, he did not hesitate in naming two goalkeepers as having been the best ever.
“Bruce Grobbelaar, I watched him at Callies (Salisbury), Highlanders, Rhodesia National Team, briefly at Zimbabwe Saints then at Liverpool. He put us on the map. He rose to being up there with the best of the world. Given the chance more players from this country could have been world class.
“This boy from Dynamos, Short Cat (Japhet Mparutsa) was very good too. He deserved to play abroad,” he said.
At right back he said it had to be Mercedes “Rambo” Sibanda.
“Even from the other end of the field from a photojournalist’s point of view I concurred with sports writers that Rambo was a gem. He was great,” said Kara.
His choice for left back is none other than former Metal Box, Dynamos and Zimbabwe left back Oliver Kateya.
“What a player he was. He was entertaining and effective with his dazzling speed down the left flank,” said Kara.
For the Centre back partnership, Kara chose Douglas “British” Mloyi and former Rio Tinto strongman Graham “Ironman” Boyle. Both had roles in the Warriors but because of competition in an the era of Ephert Lungu, Sunday Chidzambwa, Ernest Mutano, Sherperd Murape, Daniel Chikanda, Misheck Chidzambwa, Stephen Chuma, Gibson Homela and Amos Rendo shone, they were restricted to just a handful of caps.
Willard Khumalo is Kara’s automatic choice for anchorman. He watched Khumalo from the Highlanders juniors in the famed Under-18 team dubbed Liverpool which had an array of talent which included Rambo, Oliver Ncube, Summer Ncube, Godfrey Paradza, Lloyd Munhanga, Sydney Zimunya and Lovejoy Mugadza.
He said it was a close call with another Zimbabwe football legend Mpumelelo Dzowa, a member of the 1986 cup conquering side. Dzowa who showed so much potential with both Bosso and the Young Warriors saw better days in the capital with Darryn T and Caps United.
City, Hwange and Zimbabwe footballing legend as a player and coach Barry Daka is Kara’s preferred candidate for the right wing. Daka was a magnificent attacking right link with the best chip pass in the league.
For the old Number Eight (attacking right link) he said the race would be between Stanford Mutizwa and Joel Shambo.
“Those Caps United boys were something else. They were able to win games for the country and their club on their own. They were gifted and mesmerised opponents and drew people to stadia despite one not being a fan of their club. For football it was sad to see Stix leave Shambo to join Black Rhinos,” said Kara.
His choice for the centre striker role is the late Glen Strikers, Caps United and Zimbabwe international Shaky Tauro.
“I have no doubt that many would vote for him as having been the best striker this country has had. He scored goals for fun and was a nightmare for defenders,” said Kara.
Peter Ndlovu is the only one from most recent times to make it into the list of outstanding players good enough for his Best 11.
“I watched Peter Ndlovu from Under-14 until he made his debut in the Warriors and Coventry City. He deserved all he got on the field as he had both the talent and pace to leave defenders in their wake.” He said.
Dribbling wizard Majuta Mpofu made it into KC’s Best 11.
“I have never seen a player do such tricks that left defenders looking stupid like Majuta. The ball would stick to his feet like a magnet to a metallic surface. He went about his business with so much elegance like an orchestra conductor,” he said.
He spoke highly of Homela as both a coach and player but the highest praises were for the man credited with turning Bosso into a formidable force — Silas Ndlovu.
“That man had the golden touch. He was a winner as a coach and chairman for Highlanders 1973-75 and 1990 to 1992. He had this midas touch that even when he started the South Zone Soccer League at the end of 1976, it was an instant hit attracting quality teams from the Southern part of Zimbabwe.
“He brought South African clubs here and exported talent to South Africa. We had a great time working together and coming up with a calendar for the league whose photos I shot,” said Kara.
Because of his health challenges, Kara is now a retired photojournalist living in near solitude with his sister in North End.
He says he misses the football atmosphere and friends he made at Highlanders like Ndumiso Gumede and Luke Mnkandla, both of whom he travelled to many matches with as part of the club delegation.