The Sunday News
Yesteryear greats with Lovemore Dube
ON 6 July 2021, Sairota Banda, a legendary volleyball figure in Matabeleland and Zimbabwe took his last drive on Bulawayo’s roads.
It was to Luveve Cemetery where he was laid to rest after succumbing to a short illness four days earlier. News of his death reached most of his former teammates and products on the day of burial. He was such a big figure in the sport that he deserved Lady Stanley Cemetery status where the city’s most illustrious daughters and sons are buried. Sadly, family and friends were not aware of the ways to get him laid in a vicinity with big sports names like Adam Ndlovu, Barry Daka and Chipo Soko, among several of the city’s most outstanding sports personalities of yesteryear.
His contribution to sport goes beyond his volleyball legend status, he worked in the old Bulawayo City Council sports department. He was responsible for the grooming of dozens of youngsters at city youth centres in the 1980s and early 1990s. Sairota Banda was a great player.
He was among the pioneering stars from the western suburbs in volleyball, a sport that had not gained much traction among the majority blacks. It was not easy getting immediate recognition because of the rotten political past, but in the first four years of a new Zimbabwe, his stock had risen significantly so much that he was a household name among those that followed the sport.
He formed Sparrows Thabani and made it a household name with two generations of stars. The first group had playwright Sihlangu Dlodlo as setter, Themba Ndlovu as power hitter and Jeffias Gumbo undoubtedly one of the most intelligent attackers, volleyball has had as his teammates.
This team fought tooth and nail with powerhouses from the low-density suburbs among them Blue Ribbon Raiders.
His second group as volleyball gained even more popularity and was improving even technically comprised of the “Hit Machine” Sydney Dube (setter), Clifford Makunike (fast attacker) and his younger brother Patrick on the second tempo sets. Their repertoire was so polished that some opponents would watch their majestic manoeuvres with awe in a match.
Other members of that side were Vusa Mpofu, Elijah Makatya, Silas Nyabadza, Pious Moyo, Chris Mposi and Timothy Mukozho.
For a while they were the best with Sairota Banda providing the first touch from the rear with his arms or that four-finger volley to the setter.
Occasionally a pin-point attacking volley across the net would earn a point after he would have caught the defence in tatters.
When his turn came to play in the front court, he would not disappoint with diagonal spikes and a good block. His ammunition also had the left hand coming in to attack, though weaker and a two-fingered fork to evade blocks.
He was at his best 1983-88 when the Sparrows soared.
With younger players coming onto the fray in 1988-93, he still remained a formidable force with solid and committed displays as Sparrows fought for honours against Unit Fairbridge.
Through his sacrifices with other guys like the late Silas Nyabadza, they went to schools in both rural and urban Matabeleland coaching both players and teachers the sport.
They took it to the masses and the results were positive. More schools came on board and there were leagues and superb tournaments which grew the sport.
The expansion saw schoolgirls Rebecca Dube, Priscilla Dube and Sheilla Karungaire making it into the national team in 1989-90.
In the men’s game Patrick Ncube, Jeffrey Mlauzi, Jairos Nyirenda, Clifford Makunike and Sydney Dube became regulars in the national team.
Fairbridge, for long the torchbearers of Bulawayo volleyball in the late 1980s and early 1990s won the Zone Six Club Championships in 1993. All this was because of Banda’s influence as a player and coach.
He was ever smart, with his imposing physique, good reception, spikes and fancy volley key attractions to where ever Sparrows Thabani.
Always when out of Bulawayo former players met and wanted to do some catch up, the first names that came to their lips were Banda, Nyirenda and Shaun Orange.
Procrastination is always the thief of time. There has always been talk about something being done for legends. In December last year, the Resident Minister for Bulawayo Metropolitan Judith Ncube came up with an awards night to honour the city’s legends.
Sairota Banda’s name and that of Orange came up in volleyball.
They would have been in a list of other outstanding legends who include John Walker Chipukula, John Love, Mathias Kanda, Glen Taute, Denis Streak and Matthew Marume.
My other side while growing up was playing volleyball. I was inspired by Sairota Banda.
He was my role model and I wanted to model my play around his as he was an all-rounder like I was.
When Bhekimpilo Mahlangu asked me to set because I had a clean volley and swift movements to play Searchmore Chidziva, Martin Kemes, Shepherd Munthali and Sikhumbuzo Siwetshe, my wish was they hit it as hard as Sairota Banda.
When we formed Highlanders Volleyball Club at Tshaka Youth Centre, there were fractures between us and Sparrows Thabani. The tension rose from the fact that Raerburn Ndebele, Augustine Ngulube and Francis Moyo had quit Sparrows.
In the process they had taken with them a whole generation of boys from Sobukhazi Secondary School who were naturally expected to proceed to Sparrows.
We trained side by side and naturally our ball would land on their court. If Banda was there because of his imposing physique no one dared to get into their court to retrieve it.
Yet years later when he joined all conquering Bulawayo Raiders, I discovered that he was a soft guy despite being firm on fact.
A great team player, though older than us he took instructions and allowed himself to be sent on errands by the boys.
We made him chairman of the club and under his watch we won the Zimbabwe Open title and a dozen other titles.
Sairota Banda was among the receivers and outside hitters in a crop of Fortune Sithole-Ndlovu, Mailos Ncube, Hudson Kaluwa, Vulindlela Moyo, Bartson Banda, Itsanang Abu Basuthu, Musindo Ngwarati, Cutler Mpala and Treasure Vundla with Herbert Mutisi, Edson Gift Sibanda and Garikayi Sibanda setting the block and attack tempo for one of the most polished Matabeleland sides ever.
He had an impressive medal collection with both clubs and province.
He loved his volleyball and wellness and was a regular at the Tshaka Youth Centre Gym.
Sport has lost a great ambassador and legend.
At his death he was 59.