The Sunday News
DUMISANI Vundla was simply a setter in a class of his own in volleyball.
When the sport was crying out for new heroes following the departure of greats like Nicholas Mavunde, Sidingumuzi Phakathi and Togara Machokoto, new stars came along to captivate audiences in Bulawayo and Zimbabwe and Vundla was among the leaders of the cast.
He was best among classy setters like Sparrows Thabani’s Sydney Dube, Highlanders’ Thembinkosi Ngulube and Qinisa Vundla and Scorpion’s Oliver Ruzive.
But Vundla just could not initiate attacks with superb handling of the ball, but he was rare in that he made his team look like it had fielded six attackers. His presence on the net meant that the opposition was on full alert as his jump sets often deceived his opponents’ timing and when least expected he would turn in mid air and spike with tenacity, leaving even the opposition in awe of his amazing talent.
It is deserved that national coaches could not continue to ignore him as he earned his full national colours at a Zone Six Volleyball Championship hosted by Botswana in November of 1994. This was seven years after he had broken into club national volleyball as an attacker for Unit Fairbridge who had poached him from Magwegwe Secondary School.
While Zimbabwe was no match for new Zone Six members, Angola and South Africa, Vundla says a lot of valuable lessons were drawn from that tournament.
“That is where we learnt that top volleyball was not about fancy centre fast attacks but the more effective outside high ball,” said Vundla in the city on Wednesday afternoon.
But going into that tournament Vundla was already a veteran of three Zone Six Club Championships with a gold medal won 3-2 against a fiery Wild Cats of Harare in 1993.
Vundla continued with his rich vein of form into 1995 and was part of the Zimbabwe team for the All-Africa Games which the nation found too steep a mountain to climb as North African Arab countries dominated the proceedings.
Dumbuja as fans and volleyball players called him won several Player of the Tournament and Setter of Championships events in a decade-long career.
“I am happy with my pickings from the sport. I won several individual awards and many tournaments with my club. We were unstoppable as Unit Fairbridge playing some very high tempo and exciting volleyball with blocking our biggest defence tool as we used height to good effect in both attack and defence,” said Vundla who works as a coach operator for Greyhound.
He was lucky to be introduced to the sport by an S Dube at Inkanyezi Primary School while in Garde 5. When he moved to Magwegwe Secondary School, it took him one year to be promoted to the first team.
“I found a good team and foundation at Magwegwe where in my second year I was in the first team with good players like Mbekezeli Mthunzi and Bongani Nyathi. By my third year at Magwegwe in 1986, I was already a regular with the Unit Fairbridge Reserves as an attacking player. I played in the schools league, tournaments and Second League of the Matabeleland Volleyball Association.
“I was able to improve as a player as senior star at the club Jeffrey Mlauzi assigned us to work with other schools as coaches, so we had more time to improve by experimenting some moves and touched we saw at club matches,” said Vundla.
He admired the attacking prowess of Richard Bismark who starred for Blue Ribbon Raiders between 1985 and 1988.
“He inspired me with his spikes and business-like seriousness on the court. I moulded my play around his not knowing some day I would switch to setting and be a playmaker,” he said.
With Mlauzi, Mnkandla and Machokoto calling time on their careers or moving out of town due to work commitments, Unit Fairbridge needed a new setter in 1990.
Coach Kevin Tshuma and senior players asked Vundla to give it a try ahead of a tournament in Harare.
“I took up the challenge reluctantly. But after the tournament which we won, everyone was convinced I was the deal and I never looked back until I retired in 2001. Volleyball took me to places and I met many friends through it so much that I have many precious memories,” he added.
He regards the 1993 Zone Six Club Championships semi-final as his most memorable match. Fairbridge were up against Botswana Defence Forces and as he went for the block, the ball broke one of his fingers, strapped in bandages and under a heavy dosage of painkillers, Vundla played that match which they won 3-1 to book a date with Wild Cats who featured Chico Mayhew, Kevin Neil, Sajid Ibrahim and the Alwanger Brothers Kevin and Rodney.
The destruction machine that Vundla was set for had Nsikelelo Mlauzi, Patrick Ncube, Sere Chirenje, Themba Moyo, Sairota Banda and Herbert Mutisi.
It is the majority of the guys who would also team up with for the Matabeleland Provincial team for national championships. They were winners at inter-provincials too.
Vundla said his most feared attackers on both front and rear caught were the sure-handed duo of Bulawayo Raiders kingpin Edson Gift Sibanda and Autobody Construction’s Ford Mutate.
Of the setters of his generation who made his game difficult as they were unpredictable, he speaks highly of Sparrows Thabani’s Dube and Autobody’s Collin Ngulube.
“They were equally good setters. It was hard to predict who among their attackers they would give the ball to, they were good handlers of the ball and intelligent on the court and knew the opposition well,” said Vundla.
The volleyball legend speaks highly of the following players: Edson Sibanda, Clive Sibanda, Clifford Makunike, Patrick Ncube, Sere Chirenje, Mutate, Peter Chitashu, Morgan Phiri and Themba Moyo.
“They were great attackers and made your job on the court easy. I was lucky to work with coaches like Jeffrey Mlauzi, Jairos Nyirenda and Martin Dururu who pushed me to the limit while at club level Kevin Tshuma and Didymus Mapuranga were good at giving us moral support,” said Vundla.
Vundla regrets a moment he lost his cool in the Bulawayo 100 Years tournament in 1997 where he ended up kicking a volleyball to the terraces in anger.
“It was part of growing up. I regret what I did on the day which earned me a ban from the sport. We were leading 2-1 and Highlanders’ Albert Munemo incited Black Rhinos players to say they could not continue with the game because of poor lighting. The game was stopped and with the ball by me, I kicked it so high and far away in anger,” said Vundla whose setting inspired generations of volleyball players.
With Sparrows’ Dube they rate among the best ever to emerge from Matabeleland and both were good enough to represent their country in the 1990s when standards of the game picked up.
He believes yesteryear greats should be allowed to play a role and inspire the next generation of players.
Vundla says Unit Fairbridge, Bulawayo Raiders, Blue Ribbon, Sparrows and Highlanders rate among the best volleyball clubs to come out of the region while nationally he was smitten by the fluency and power of Black Rhinos, Cats, Dandy, BAC David Whitehead and James Sibenge and Simba Mhuru’s Chapungu.
Vundla is married and lives in Bulawayo with work taking him to Johannesburg on a weekly basis. Outside volleyball he is an ardent Highlanders and Orlando Pirates supporter.