Njere Shumba: unsung athletics hero

26 Nov, 2023 - 00:11 0 Views
Njere Shumba: unsung athletics hero Njere Shumba (right) with two mines athletics greats William Chuwa (left) and Elliot Mujaji

The Sunday News

ARTWELL Mandaza the Zimbabwe sprints king inspired a great number of athletes to take up short distances in athletics as a career.

Former Ziscosteel and Zimbabwe 1982 Commonwealth 4x400m relay team member, Njere Shumba is among those who counted on Mandaza as their childhood hero.

He branded the sprints in a career than sub three decades beginning in the 1960s up to the 1980s when he hung his spikes. It was after a glowing career that took him to a number of countries and saw him break many national records. Some like the 200m he set in 1977 still stands in the Chamber of Mines. Many believe had he run on a tartan track, with a wing gauge and an electronic timer he would probably have been a real world beater.

Yet debate stands over his sub 10 seconds 100m of 1970 could have been down to racism. He became the first man of earth to run a 9 seconds 100m which could not be taken for a world record as organisers alleged that it had been wind assisted.

Those that saw and competed with Mandaza say he was a “bullet” on the track dominating from 100m to the 400m on a good competition day and also anchoring the final legs of both the 4×100 and 4x400m relays.

Born in the mining town of Kwekwe, Shumba did not have the array of choices today’s children have when it comes to sporting or recreation passions.

He tried his hand at football and was one time a goalkeeper but athletics appeared to be his forte as at primary school he shone like a beacon before other children. Born on 15 August 1963, Shumba attended Chiedza Primary School. 

His family lived in Mbizo and while in Grade 6 in 1975, he won the 400m event in the intermediates age-group. That was the beginning of the athletics journey that would take him to as far as Australia to represent his country in the Commonwealth Games. In 1976 Shumba was back at the same athletics championships running in the seniors’ category and was fielded in the 100 and 200m events finishing third in both.

“I did not do very well, I finished third in both,” said the soft-spoken Midlands Athletics Association vice-chairman.

He proceeded to Manunure High School where he continued running the three sprints and relays.

“For my secondary school I went to Manunure and my events were 100, 200 and 400m. I also took part in all the relays. I also played as a goalkeeper back then,” said Shumba.

At the age of 17 in 1980, Shumba joined the famous Ziscosteel Athletics Club which was home to many great athletes of that time.

Still a schoolboy, Shumba ran a race of his life in the 400m coming first in the Under-20 category.

A star who would two years later be part of a youthful national 4x400m relay team was born.

He would from that day take part in all the three traditional sprints but he eventually chose the 400m where top athletes of that time included Glen Taute, Glen de Souza, Artwell Mandaza, Christopher Madzokere and Charles Gumbura.

“It was an honour being chosen at 19 to represent the country in the Brisbane Commonwealth Games,” he said.

Four athletes were chosen for the 400m and 4x400m. They did not make it to the final of the 400m race but worked hard in the relay to be part of the finalists where inexperience saw them not finish among the top three medal claiming positions.

The relay team consisted of Shumba, Taute, de Souza and Mark Fanucci who also ran for Zisco.

“We all managed to get to the second round and the relay reached the final and finished seventh. I represented Zimbabwe in the Clark Cup in 1983, a competition for athletes from Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe with my teammates being Mandaza, Taute, de Souza and Fanucci. I returned to represent the country again in the same event in 1984 when Hwange were the hosts,” said Shumba.

A calf strain in the 400m in Cairo, Egypt shattered his dream of a great finish.

He was back hunting on the international scene in 1987. Elijah Nkala had come through Mzingwane and been poached by Wankie Athletics Club and was part of their 4x400m team.

“We took part in the Southern Africa Region Championships’ 4x400m relay and finished first with Nkala in the team,” said Shumba.

Injuries and work forced Shumba to take up administration duties and coaching in 1990. He did a number of International Amateur Athletics Federation courses and held several positions in the Midlands board.

He has been behind the development of several top athletes from the Midlands who include Pride Lusinga and Enlitha Ncube who were part of the Zimbabwe World Junior Championships team in 2014. Maryjoy Mudyiravanji and Enlitha also took part in the Youth Olympics,

Among some of his athletes who blossomed in the seniors’ category are Abdul Simbi, Francis Zimwara, Lewis Masunda, Kudakwashe Shoko and Wirimai Zhuwawo.

He has worked with the Midlands athletics since the inception of the Youth Games in 2003.

In the absence of the Chamber of Mines athletics, Shumba says a lot of talent is being lost.

“The absence of mines athletics has affected the development of the sport. In the past 99 percent of the junior athletes were absorbed by the mines, the rest would join armed services.

“We have events which are no longer being competed for, such as the pole vault, hammer and hurdles. During the Chamber of Mines, all track and field events were on the menu except the hammer,” said Shumba.

Shumba remains one of the best athletes ever and lived between two exciting periods for 400m sprinters.

Before him was Adon Treva, Boniface and Dera Magodo, Cliff and Clifton Mutize, Charles Mafika, Vuyani Fulunga Moyo and another hot group comprising Phillip Mukomana, Elliot Mujaji, Julius Masvanhise, Gabriel Chikomo, Jeffrey Wilson, Themba Ncube, Nelton Ndebele, Tawanda Chiwira, Ken Harden, Arnold Payne, Savieri Ngidhi (4x400m) and Chrispen Mutakanyi (4x400m).

Shumba is not happy with the state of athletics facilities at the mines and on Tuesday was at Maglas Stadium in Zvishavane and is disappointed with the little activity on it.

He is among many forgotten sporting heroes all clamouring for the return of active athletics clubs in the mines.

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