Renowned educationist collapses, dies

12 Mar, 2023 - 00:03 0 Views
Renowned educationist collapses, dies The late Cuthbert Chiromo flanked by the late Benjamin Nkonjera and Peter Ndlovu

The Sunday News

Bruce Ndlovu, Sports Reporter

IT is perhaps easy to take it for granted that throughout the period when Bulawayo’s Mzilikazi High School attained unprecedented success on the football field, Cuthbert Chiromo was just the school’s head.

Usually when a school excels in any sport, it may at times be due to the work of a sports master or perhaps an eager teacher who never managed to fulfil his own lofty ambitions on the field.

This is perhaps because the typical Zimbabwean headmaster is primarily concerned with the academic side of things and this is understandable, as it is their heads on the chopping block when pass rates do not meet the required threshold. It is maybe no great mystery that football and other sports, are viewed as, at best, a pastime and, at worst, a distraction that takes student’s eyes off the ball.

Cuthbert Chiromo

More often than not, in the battle between books and the ball in Zimbabwean schools, paper usually triumphs over leather. This is perhaps one thing that separated Chiromo from a large majority of educationalists in Zimbabwe. For Chiromo, sport, football in particular, was a discipline that needed to be equally cherished and nurtured.

Zimbabwe is very often lauded for its high level of literacy and education among its population and this reputation is well earned.
But maybe in the scramble to find the next doctor, engineer or lawyer, there is little attention to the next Peter Ndlovu kicking a worn-out leather ball in the field next to the classroom.

This is what set Chiromo apart. To him, football was not just a burden that had to be survived during the second term of every school year. There were gems to be polished here, just as they were in the classrooms.
“I also said in a school you don’t only concentrate on the academics,” he once told Sunday News Sport in an interview.

“There is a mistake where every parent would say ‘I want my child to pass O-level, A-level and my child is going to be a doctor, my child is going to be an engineer’ but when you look at the child as a head for example, not every child is going to be a doctor, there are some people who are going to succeed using the talent they were given by God and that might be sporting activity,’’ he said.

Mzilikazi High School

During his time at Mzilikazi, between 1989 and 2002, Chiromo’s sport friendly policies led the school to four Copa Coca-Cola triumphs, solidifying its reputation as the country’s “school of excellence”.
Ever the humble man, he never took full credit for that success, saying, “the credit there, I must be honest, doesn’t belong just to one person. It was team effort”.

However, it is impossible to ignore the implications of his work on the larger football community in Bulawayo and the country at large. It is perhaps not a coincidence that Highlanders Football Club, that glorious institution that shared close ties with Mzilikazi, saw the last of its quartet of championships just around the same time that Chiromo left Mzilikazi.

The spine of that all-conquering Bosso side was made of players that had been a part of Chiromo’s scintillating sides.
Legend has it that when a young Johannes Ngodzo used to turn out for Chiromo’s boys, the suburbs of Makokoba and Mzilikazi would empty as everyone with free time would make their way to the school grounds to catch a glimpse of the genius that eventually led Mzilikazi to the Copa Coca-Cola title in 1999.

Peter Ndlovu

It was not long before Ngodzo had more than just Mzilikazi on the edge of their seats, playing an integral part of multi-championship Bosso winning sides and the national team that finally qualified the country for its first-ever Africa Cup of Nations in 2004.
Before the likes of Ngodzo and Esrom Nyandoro, Chiromo had already gifted the country many legendary footballers such as Makheyi Nyathi, Peter Ndlovu, Adam Ndlovu and Benjamin Nkonjera, among others.

When the history of the “Dream Team” is usually told, few usually mention the bespectacled headmaster who used to ferry the trio of Ndlovu brothers and Nkonjera schoolboys to matches in his 1987 Toyota Cressida Sedan. Not all heroes were capes, the adage goes, but Chiromo’s heroics, unearthing young talent and giving it an environment to flourish, at one time allowed a country to dream.

A key to this was that this unassuming man understood that when dealing with young talent, one did not need to be a mentor, but a parent as well. It is a lesson that many educators seem to forget as they build “walls” between themselves and their students.
“When we had a tournament at Mzilikazi, my kids over the weekend, say Friday, they camped at my house in Parklands. My car a Toyota Cressida, is still there where Peter and Benjamin would be in the boot moving them to my house.

In the morning we ferry them to the field, give them that importance. Imagine they are together there, they are talking soccer, they are watching soccer, when they go there, they stop playing for themselves, they play to please you. My wife was their mother, she cooked for them,’’ Chiromo once said.

As the world of football mourns, Chiromo’s death might be the clearest signal that the times are indeed changing. Bosso’s last championship was won in 2006, and Mzilikazi, although it is still a reliable conveyor belt of fine talent, is not as imperious as it once was. Maybe the clearest indication that the landscape has changed is that perhaps it is now rare even in Mzilikazi to find young lads kicking about a plastic ball.

Once-upon-a-time, this was a rite of passage for every young boy growing up in the township.
“There was me of course to drive and try get things moving, I had my vision. I love soccer, that is the first thing, you cannot give what you don’t have. Fortunately, I got to Mzilikazi High School where the suburb surrounding the school is full of soccer players,’’ Chiromo said in one of the interviews he gave to the media. As the world of football bids farewell to a man who undeniably loved the game, it should perhaps be asked if Mzilikazi and Bulawayo at large, still loves the beautiful game as it once did. Chiromo suffered a sudden death from stroke on Friday in Bulawayo.

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