The Sunday News
Often when you write about a man who made his fame on a football pitch, you are expected to ramble on about matters — football, football etiquette, and their prowess on the field of play.
I don’t quite know if I could do that. For it is not really on account of his football exploits that the late Rahman Gumbo so charmed me and left such inspired footprints on mine and the hearts of many out there. It is not why I miss him. No.
It is more of The Man, the gregarious socialite, the colossal human being beneath, behind, and beyond the footballer. The way after 90 minutes and a shower, this man carried himself among us, ordinary people ekasi, in them shebeens and clubs, eWoza, eMawosweni, in the burial societies, eMancaweni, and sundry social hangouts. I remember Rhà!
Often, when Rahman’s name was raised as would be the case, in heated comparison to some of Zimbabwe’s most shining super-stars of the day or yesteryear, I would be reminded of an observation he was given to make in our many binging banters.
“The ultimate charm and quality of a woman Zii, is not so much in their stunning looks as it is in their grooming, their feminine deportment, and their basic sense of humility. That ability, in a stunning beauty mntakamama, to glide through life, in the mid of under linings, with so much grace, elegance and poise, with absolute nonchalance and almost complete unawareness of just how beautiful she is . . . ! Isn’t that the ultimate turn-on Bro?” ( bursting into his infectious signature laughter, and flashing that sxhenxhe of his!) I remember Rahman.
He leaves the legacy of an audacious superstar-cum-flamboyant gentleman, who refused to play the showy superstar card, but always made you forget the true football genius he was whenever you bumped into him in a bar, playing snooker, puffing away his cigarette (back then), blaring loud decibels of Spandau Ballet, Bon Jovi, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath or some such hard rock music, being a normal man among other man.
Though he clearly had a unique palate for the finest things of life, this soul brother, Rahman was super cool any other day with (cow insides) ezangaphakathi, umthala, iNgwebu le flavour ravor, Don Gumbo, Don Carlos, Gregory and the good old time religion . . . Matshikos and Dan Tshanda le nkukhu makhaya (road runner chicken).
And so indeed, that was the social genius of Rahman Gumbo. A happy meeting point between the highest quality excellence in his trade and the deepest grounded humility in society. A particularly rare combination of virtues you would see, perhaps in Adamski (Adam Ndlovu, MHSRIP), perhaps in Richard Choruma (MHSRIP), but a rare attribute to most of our celebrities, as indeed it is so to most humans.
Without a doubt, Rahman Gumbo was endowed with amazing abundant talent as a footballer as well as a coach, mentor, and manager of the footballers, not only here, in the City of Kings but across the country, and on the national stage, at the regional stage and internationally, indeed King Rush was to become our pride and flagship too. I remember Rhá!
Rahman’s career CV shines and his football pedigree stands proud for all who care for sporting excellence to behold, see, and acknowledge, even given this, our well-known, perennially toxic, polarised, vindictive, jealous and thankless kind of social ecosystem. Here was your “Can’t-put-a-good-man-down” kinda dude. I do remember Rahman.
Outside of the usual culprits, historically, the most painful thorn in the flesh of Highlanders FC over the years was known to be Kennedy Sibanda’s stubborn Bulawayo Wanderers/ Eagles Football Club.
Of that “Mazhiya mafia” was always that terrible core quartet of riveting stalwarts who seemed only born to embarrass Highlanders and sworn to ever bring streams of tears to Soweto, eMagumeni every time Bosso met their erstwhile enemy, the Eagles.
It was Elvis “Chuchu” Chiweshe. It was Felix Ntuthu. It was the mercurial Boy Ndlovu. And yes, you guessed right, it was Yours Truly, the legendary Rahman Gumbo. I remember Rhá!
Who among us would forget those dangerous forays of the gangly King Rush in just about all those explosive encounters at White City as well as Barbourfields when his trade mark rasping long-range drives would rip the nets, settling in the top corner, to leave “Captain Oxo” (Peter Nkomo) clutching at empty air, much to the groaned chagrin of thousands of Highlanders fans?
Graceful and elegant on the ball, he popped where you didn’t think he would. He used his rather gangly physique and that deceptively languid mobility to great effect, cherishing the high-octane game intensity, yet gifted with the amazing ability to tone down the tempo and dictate play when there was a need.
I remember Rahman. Long, long before he donned that Highlanders jersey, the dude was the fear and envy of every Bosso fan.
His unassuming charisma and strength of character emerged early in his career.
Everyone wonders, just what goes wrong with our footballers and managing fame. As has been the sad tradition, when some of his famous teammates fell victim to their own fame and got sucked into the dark and foggy underworld of crime eNumber One (Minyela), when others were ruthlessly harvested by orgy and terrible pandemics along the way, he kept-his-eyes-on-the-ball, maintained his discipline and astute focus.
And yet in his own words, “It was never because we were smarter than others jeki . . . It’s just God showing us how stupid we were, and how much he still loves us!”
He was a carefully chiselled leader very early on. I remember Rahman.
Always you could tell from his distinguishing demeanour, his class, his exquisite taste and sense of dress. Always, the debonair gentleman. Where teammates were easily drawn by their fame to boisterous and boastful arrogance, he was always circumspect, measured, and polished without losing any of his great sense of jestful humour. I remember Rahman.
At a time in history when Bosso was a closely guarded enclave of Willard Khumalo, Mercedes Rambo Sibanda, Madinda Ndlovu’s Mzilikazi-Makokoba fiefdom, Rahman was to budge in from the cold and break that Mziliziopoly.
No doubt that feat would have taken immense personal courage, stamina, huge personality besides exceptional talent. Rahman walked straight into the team, fitting like he belonged forever! I remember Rahman.
Really, as they say, the rest is history. The exploits, achievements, accolades, and trophy cabinets of Rahman Gumbo are seamless and limitless. Basazobhala onobhala (journalists will write).
I don’t forget what one player who went through the hands of both Shacky (Madinda) and Rha said when asked to compare his time between the two great coaches.
“I learnt technique and grew my game under Coach Ndlovu like nowhere else. With Coach Rha, all of us simply wanted to die on the pitch for the gaffer. We tore off our 11 hearts and left them on the turf for him!” I remember Rahman.
I remember Rahman Gumbo. Where so many of his ilk somehow seemed to divide opinion in our polarised pretence of a football nation, Rahman’s humility and charming aura infected all. He grew to command sincere respect among ordinarily bitter enemies and disagreeing forces across the sport.
From Highlanders to the world, this legend and gentleman of grand quality brought us immeasurable pride and collective joy. He remains one of Bosso’s most favourite sons and an epitome of selfless great service.
His epic conquests in the national team under Reinhard Fabisch with Rambo, Willard, (Ephraim) Chawanda and (Francis) Shonayi would require another whole day to tell. I remember Rahman.
Four countries and six championship titles later, I remember Rahman. His indelible footprint, writ large in our hearts, flickers great memories for many in the lands of Malawi, Botswana, South Africa, and the Sadc region. He was no Peter Ndlovu, but I remember well that the talisman fabric of the trailblazing Warriors was threaded around Rahman Gumbo.
Suffice for now to say his chain of accolades is absolutely astounding for one so well loved yet so poorly celebrated. His trailblazing football boots allowed us a window into his human soul. And there, we were all to encounter this amazing human being, this larger than life iconic man.
It is why today, many of us feel a loss beyond a football legend, but one of a rare breed of passion, finesse, humility, joy, excellence, love, and class all rolled up in a simple, gifted man.
It is in the loss of such a humble great man that you feel more and more lonely in a busy world of pretentious commoners. I remember Rahman. Am I suggesting he was an angel or paragon of virtue?
Not by the longest shot. Rahman was a saint, only if a saint, like me, is a sinner who keeps trying.
Perfect in his imperfections!
In the final round of this, his illustrious Life Tournament, my great brother Rahman Gumbo just fell to an injury-time foul tackle. We have watched this Warrior take on so many life pandemics and conquer.
But God’s Time is God’s time. My deepest condolences to Sancho, Norman, Sheila, and the kids. Most sincere condolences ku Sis Virgie (wife) and the family. Silani silahlekelwe sonke.
Yet as Coach Amin Soma put it, Heroes never die, they sleep. “URahman ulele!” We embrace the will of God and celebrate one of the best-played Life Tournaments some of us have had the honour to watch.
Gumbo was laid to rest in Bulawayo last Saturday. Go well Brotherman. Ngisabhala, Ngiyamkhumbula uRhá.