The Sunday News
MORE than two decades after Zimbabwe’s worst soccer disaster Muzondiwa Mugadza has revealed how he still struggles with the sad memories of the day.
The legendary former Warriors goalkeeper was in goal on the fateful day when 13 football fans died in a stampede following the abandonment of Zimbabwe’s World Cup qualifier against South Africa at the National Sports Stadium in Harare on 9 July 2001.
A contemplative sigh followed by a puff of the cheeks at the mention of the date, in an online interview, reflects the weight of the sorrow still encumbering Mugadza’s heart as memories of the sad day are revoked almost 23 years later.
“I feel bad up to this day. It’s something that is in my head,” said Mugadza expressing his disappointment particularly at the reaction of the country’s football authorities who did not offer sufficient emotional support to the families of the victims. Although financial compensation was paid to the families, Mugadza stressed that the money alone could not have atoned for the families’ loss in any form.
“Money doesn’t bring back those loved ones. I don’t think I’d celebrate money meant for someone who has passed on.”
Trouble erupted at the stadium after South Africa took a 2-0 lead with eight minutes of the World Cup African Zone Group E qualifier remaining. Zimbabwe fans responded to Delron Buckley’s goal by throwing missiles onto the pitch leading to the match’s abandonment and the police firing tear gas into the stands.
While lamenting how the team did not receive any support in the wake of the traumatising incident he stressed how it would have been vitally important for the football authorities to take the lead in supporting the families of the deceased.
“Someone should have gathered us as a team so we visit the families of the deceased before or after they were put to rest. That never happened. I feel bad up to this day myself.”
Mugadza said he struggled to comprehend the seemingly indifference of the football leadership at the time, which presented a bad image for the team.
“I leave home to go and watch football and I don’t come back. Then I’m lying cold somewhere and the family has lost a father, mother, brother or sister and the same people that I have come to watch have not bothered to even come and console me. It was a bad look for us at the time.”
Circumstances permitting, Mugadza said he would have individually loved to play a part financially.
“I don’t know if I could have managed but it would have been good to at least show up and show support to the families. As much as those people came to support us, we were meant to go back and support them as well.”
Mugadza, who has been based in the UK for the past two decades, was speaking in a wide ranging interview on an online podcast Let’s Talk, Ngatitaure, Asikhulume, recently uploaded onto YouTube.
The former Zimbabwe Saints and AmaZulu goalminder probably becomes the first member of the squad to have come out publicly to partly concede responsibility for the calamitous events of the day. Asked to what extent the team felt that with a better performance, things would have turned differently, Mugadza said while he would take the blame for the second goal it should not be forgotten that the team did play badly on the day.
The country’s football authorities have been heavily criticised in the past for their reaction to the disaster in supporting the families and in honouring their memory in the subsequent years.
Comparisons have been drawn with the Zambian football authorities who have been consistent in honouring the 30 victims, who perished in the Gabon air crash on the night of 27 April 1993.
In South Africa 43 fans died in the Ellis Park disaster on 11 April, 2001 during a Soweto derby between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, making it the worst sporting accident in the country’s history.
In England the 1996 Hillsbrough disaster on 15 April 1989 stands out as that country’s worst sporting disaster.
All these and others are commemorated yearly with various ceremonies yet the National Sports Stadium disaster has on several occasions passed without notice.
In the Hillsborough disaster, 94 Liverpool fans were crushed to death during an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham
Forest. Another person died in hospital days later and another victim died in 1993.
The 97th victim died 32 years later suffering severe and irreversible brain damage on the day.
South Yorkshire Police chief superintendent David Duckenfield who was the match commander on the day was actually charged and tried for criminal offences alongside other individuals including the Sheffield Wednesday’s club secretary
Graham Mackrell, who was found guilty of a health and safety charge.
Mugadza lamented how not only no one came up to accept responsibility for the unfortunate events of 9 July 2001 but that no one was held to account as happened in the Hillsborough disaster.
“The police who fired teargas were obviously given instructions by someone above,” said Mugadza adding his disappointment at the disturbing fact that lessons have not been learnt from the disaster.
Two decades later the handling of violent disturbances still gives no regard to issues of safety as seen in last season’s clashes at Barbourfields Stadium during a league match between Highlanders and Dynamos. Police fired water jets into the stands oblivious to the risk of serious harm to the fans.
In the same YouTube interview, while lamenting how the team could have been offered more individual support to cope with the trauma of the day Mugadza highlights the negativity in the football culture of leaving players to their own devices when faced with difficult moments. He reveals his heart-rending gesture in supporting former Warriors goalkeeper Elvis
Chipezeze after his errors cost Zimbabwe dearly at the 2019 Nations Cup finals in Egypt.
Chipezeze was at fault in three of the four goals conceded by Zimbabwe in the 4-0 loss to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Despite not having known the goalminder personally, Mugadza reveals how he called the former Baroka FC shot-stopper to console him in a profoundly supportive gesture that was never accorded to him in similar moments of personal anguish.
Mugadza also reveals why he never played for Highlanders and how a potentially life changing move to English football was scuppered by AmaZulu.
His enduring love for Zimbabwe Saints is apparent from the passion with which he underlines his sadness at the current state of affairs at the second oldest club in the country.
Mugadza only played for Zimbabwe Saints and AmaZulu but does not hold back his feelings in professing how Chauya Chikwata would forever remain his spiritual home. Formed in 1931, Zimbabwe Saints is the second oldest club after Highlanders who date back five years earlier in 1926.
The legendary goalkeeper also reflects on one of his biggest international matches — the 1996 Olympic qualifier against the star-studded Nigerian team featuring the likes of Nwankwo Kanu and Jay Jay Okocha. Mugadza has always thrived on a strong character and mental toughness which he relied on to weather the pressure that came with being thrust into such a big game at the last minute and the subsequent hostility from his own fans.
Mugadza had replaced Dynamos goalkeeper Gift “Umbro” Muzadzi following changes to the line-up prompted by allegations of an age-cheating scandal which The Herald had broken on the eve of the match.
The crowd, made up of predominantly Dynamos supporters, booed Mugadza when he took to the field. But he responded with a man of the match performance, pulling off a string of fine saves in restricting the vastly talented Nigerians to a single goal.