The Sunday News
SIMON (Lunga) Hlatshwayo was a hit in Bulawayo’s football lower division leagues and curses missing out on the big stage.
He says being nicknamed George Shaya was a deserved accolade as he was a menace too and added pace to what fans and opposition defenders saw in the Dynamos and Zimbabwe legend.
Many of his peers allude to the fact that he was a brilliant talent that never got to the big stage to flourish on. For him it was not the war that brought about independence to this country nor a long term injury.
Hlatshwayo, a gem playing either as a winger or traditional Number 10, instead chose employment with a construction company. The marriage would drag for 20 years taking him to several towns in Zimbabwe and neighbouring Botswana.
“After my dad passed on in 1977, I had to assume family responsibilities. That limited my progress in football but I hung around the lower leagues and got the satisfaction I deserved.
“In hindsight I look back with a grin and say most of my peers I played with at school and junior football made it big in the game. Some of them I was better than but others are legends today when people talk about their exploits on the pitch,” said Hlatshwayo.
Johannes Tshuma, a former Bulawayo Wanderers (Eagles), Highlanders, Hwange and Warriors goalkeeper describes Hlatshwayo as having been an exciting player on the left wing.
“He was a great player. I enjoyed watching him in the senior team while we were with the reserve side at Bulawayo Wanderers. His career deserved more than the little many saw of him in the top flight league,” said Tshuma of the man who tormented defenders at will in the South Zone Soccer League and the Division One and Two Leagues.
He was born at West Acre area near Cyrene Mission on 4 November 1961. He attended his primary school first five years at Cyrene and proceeded to St Columbu’s for Grade Six and Seven.
He would later proceed to Mzilikazi Primary School.
Hlatshwayo says he got the football bug at an early age.
“The school priest and coaches at Cyrene would get me to accompany the school team for the secondary school team games. It is from one of the trips when I was about eight or so that I met Onias Musana who would rise to being one of the best footballers in the land. He was at Thekwane Mission.
“So during the holidays I played with some good players in Mzilikazi suburb where we lived at ‘A’ Square near Hlalo Shops,” said the man whose peers called Shaya because of his industry and brilliant dribbling skills on the field.
He was surrounded by guys like Nhamo Shambira, Tanny Banda, Vuyisile Nyathi, Lucky Dube, Freddy Fresh Moyo and Joshua Bobo.
“Once in Bulawayo I played with great players at primary school, in the township and at Mzilikazi High School I had Peter Kaviza, Knox Mambo, Tapiwa Mudyambanje who was part of the first Olympic team of 1980 that went to Moscow and Israel Goto. Msitheli and St Bernard which had Highlanders’ Doughtie Sithole were good teams of our secondary school days,” he added.
Hlatshwayo at 14 joined John Mafoti’s East Talk of Town side from Makokoba. He rubbed shoulders with Tanny Banda, Lucky Dube and Vuyisile Nyathi. Mafoti was a respected gaffer who had coached Eastland in the elite league in Rhodesia.
Peer pressure saw him leave the Makokoba side for Olympics in 1977.
Basketball legend Jackson Budia Nkau impressed with the lad’s skills, insisted that he joins Barry Daka’s project at Tshaka Youth Centre five-a-side court. There he would go on to meet his friend Nyathi and Boyce Malunga.
But tragedy would strike his family with the death of his father that year leaving him to finish the season playing Division Three football for Clay Products. He had moved there to stay with a relative.
“It was great times for me playing with the likes of Titus Majola and Ernest Sibanda who shone in that league playing for Contex. I remember
producing a scintillating display to guide my team from two goals down to winning 3-2 against Matopo High Rangers,” he said.
His big break would come in 1978. He had moved to City Pirates coached by the legendary Northern Rhodesia shotstopper John Chipukula Walker who were in the South Zone league.
He would not stay long there.
“Tanny Banda had left Bulawayo Rockets and joined Bulawayo Wanderers. He invited me and told me he felt I had what it took to make the grade there.
We were in the South Zone Soccer League where we played great sides like Highlanders, Old Miltonians and Black Horrors.
“We played against great players like Majuta Mpofu, Lawrence Phiri and Tymon Mabaleka of Highlanders, Onias Musana of Black Horrors, Alfred Ngedhla Phiri of Black Chiefs, Muriyengwe and Mactavish Dube of Gwanda Ramblers. It was quite competitive and exciting. There was great competition among the teams,” said Hlatshwayo who concedes that Mabaleka was his favourite player and concedes that for his teammates and coaches to call him Shaya, after George Mastermind was an honour that should have propelled him to go far.
Hlatshwayo said at Bulawayo Wanderers he had a chance to meet and mingle with great players who included his old friend Lucky Dube, Noel Nyoni, Felix Ntuthu, Victor Moonsammy, Peter Moonsammy, John Nyumbu and Peter Mpofu. He says he had a great time in 1978-1980 playing with great players all over the Southern Region against teams like Black Chiefs, Horrors, Gwanda Ramblers, KB Rockets, Gweru United, Highlanders, Zimbabwe Saints, Old Miltonians, Meikles and Bulawayo Rockets.
After so much promise, Hlatshwayo got a job with a construction company owned by a Greek family as a site foreman and was even offered accommodation in the Eastern suburbs in 1980. This meant travelling to White City or Matshobana for training sessions with Bulawayo Wanderers becoming a challenge.
Addicted to playing football, he trained with Old Miltonians.
“I joined the side soon after Mark Watson had joined Highlanders. I relished teaming up with him in attack and having guys like Boyce Malunga and Tito Paketh in our midfield. But that was never to be. We had in the team coached by Jimmy Gregory players like brothers Neil and Allan Boonzaier, Greg Fayzil and one Martin, very good players. I’m not surprised that the brothers went on to play for Highlanders,” he said.
He stuck to the club until 1985 when they moved to Municipals and changed the name to that.
Hlatshwayo was always among the top performers in each of the seasons scoring consistently and supplying great assists.
“As strikers we had two things to do — create for others or to score for the team. I left Municipals to join a consistent performer in Division Two, Surgimed who had the likes of John Mupariri, Abedinico Dube and Judas Kachingwe.
“Division Two with teams like Rex and East Rovers was very exciting in those days. There was a lot of competition with competitive players like Oscar Ncube who went on to play for Highlanders, Bloemfontein Celtics, Alberton Callies and Highlanders,” said Hlatshwayo.
He was forced out of the game when his company started constructing Ntabazinduna Training Centre just outside Bulawayo.
“Back then football did not pay. I chose family and money ahead of the game. I always got offers from big teams but I never allowed fame to take first position over fending for the family. Football was insecure for me and others who sacrificed their careers to do other jobs. Today players are earning big and are role models in society.”
Hlatshwayo took time to explain why former Zimbabwe Saints star, Andrew Kadengu was called Mai Maria.
“We trained on Ground 3 or 5 at Barbourfields Stadium. Saints trained next to us. Andrew had good hair and would put on a doek so we and the fans started calling him Mai Maria,” said Hlatswayo.
He points out Mabaleka as having been his best footballer and speaks volumes of Alfred Phiri, Gibson Homela, William Sibanda, Majuta Mpofu, Noel Nyoni, Josiah Nxumalo, David Muchineripi, July Sharara, Kuda Muchemeyi, Rodrick Muganhiri and Shaw Handriade.
Now a Highlanders and Manchester United supporter, Hlatshwayo argues that standards of the game do not compare with those of the past despite improvement in training methods, healthcare, remuneration and technology.