Bulawayo’s undying love for the Buccaneers

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The last time Bulawayo’s home of ceremonial football, Barbourfields Stadium, was packed to the rafters, with some fans turned away, was when Orlando Pirates visited Zimbabwe’s second largest city on January 12, 2019.
It came as no surprise when the City of Bulawayo announced that the Caf Champions League tie broke the venue’s 30-year attendance record, all thanks to the visiting side.

Barbourfields Stadium, located a stone’s throw away from where former Mamelodi Sundowns midfielder Esrom Nyandoro grew up, is owned by the Bulawayo City Council [BCC].

According to their official figures, 23 164 fans paid to watch the blockbuster encounter which marked the beginning of a maiden Caf Champions’ League group stage journey for Pure Platinum Play.

For all its hype, the match ended in a disappointing non-scoring stalemate. “The attendance at Barbourfields Stadium soared to 23, 164 which is a figure last recorded in the late 90s,” said BCC spokesperson Nesisa Mpofu.

Pirates were away to Norman Mapeza’s FC Platinum, who are based in Zvishavane, some 184km from the City of Kings [Bulawayo].

The Zvishavane miners were deprived of the use of their home ground Mandava Stadium after it failed to meet expected minimum requirements for it to be homologated by the tournament owners, Caf.

One wonders whether the hosts knew the visiting Buccaneers would draw a bumper crowd and get a bigger chunk of the support from the fans that thronged Emagumeni, as the facility is affectionately known.

By his own admission, Bucs’ skipper Happy Jele was overwhelmed, feeling at home 886km away from home.

“The support was awesome, and we loved it… All I can say is, it is very good that some of the fans know about Orlando Pirates in Africa and we will just keep going,” Jele said at the time.

Of course, the numbers would have been different had the game been taken to the capital, Harare, where Dynamos are the dominant side.

Perhaps FC Platinum thought Zimbabweans would exercise patriotism and throw their weight behind them. However, history will tell you that Highlanders fans have an affinity with the Soweto giants.

“The support of Highlanders fans is also easily transferable to Pirates. The general feeling is that there is a historical link between the two clubs,” explains Tavengwa Zidya, a staunch Highlanders fan and businessman based in Bulawayo.

“It is believed that when Orlando Pirates was formed around the year 1937, elders from Pirates, Mbabane FC (Swaziland) and Lions FC (Zimbabwe) met a year before and exchanged notes on how to use their respective clubs in keeping alive their ethnic identity and fighting colonialists.

“It is at this meeting that these clubs adopted Black and White as their traditional colours. Mbabane FC became Mbabane Highlanders and Red Lions FC was renamed Matabeleland Highlanders, and later, simply Highlanders.

“It is unclear why Pirates did not adopt the name Orlando Highlanders,” Zidya tells FARPost.

Interestingly, Zidya, pictured above, owner of a leading sportswear company in Bulawayo, alludes to the fact that all three teams assumed “Siyinqaba” [We are the fortress] as their slogan and battle cry, as well as the crossed hand salutation as a pre-match ritual.

Highlanders’ badge bears a crossed spear and a knobkerrie while Pirates have crossed skeletal bones.

Without a doubt, the two clubs from either side of the Limpopo River have so much in common.

For starters, the part of the stadium where strictly Highlanders fans sit is called Soweto. The stand is obviously named after the iconic Johannesburg township whose name is an English syllabic abbreviation for South Western Townships.

“In the Soweto stand, only die hard Bosso supporters sit. It’s taboo for an opposition fan to sit there,” explains social commentator, Buhle Ncube, pictured below, who is also a loyal fan of her hometown team.

 

In fact, a rival fan, especially one supporting arch-nemesis Dynamos, going to Soweto with their blue and white colours is as good as suicide.

For decades, both clubs have become synonymous with the black and white strip. In fact, Zidya reveals it is common for fans to come to the stadium on an ordinary day donning the Bucs jersey.

“When Highlanders were not as big on club regalia, fans would come wearing Orlando Pirates’ black and white colours and just blend in,” he tells FARPost.

Brandon Dumo, who is based in Johannesburg, believes some Highlanders fans follow the Bucs because of the similar colours.

“Usually some just follow Orlando Pirates because of the colours, it’s the black and white that attracts them,” says Dumo, pictured below, who is a fan of both teams.

When the Sea Robbers were mourning the death of their super-fan Mgijimi [Mandla Sindane], Highlanders chief executive officer Nhlanhla Dube sent a condolence message.

“Mgijimi was renowned for his colourful, passionate and energetic presence at just about every Orlando Pirates match. To us, the death of Mgijimi is not only a blow to the Sindane family and Orlando Pirates FC, but to football in general, for the simple fact that football is the biggest beneficiary of such passion,” said Dube.

“It is sad that the passing on a staunch fan and significant member of the club comes at a time when Dr Khoza and his Orlando Pirates family are mourning Dr Khoza’s wife, Martina Elsie Khoza who passed away a few days ago.”

Ncube also says most Highlanders fans, who are economic refugees in South Africa, gravitate towards Pirates.

“In recent years, due to the economic downturn in Zimbabwe, thousands of people from Matabeleland have found themselves crossing Limpopo in search for greener pastures in South Africa.

“When they get there, Pirates is the closest club to their beloved Highlanders primarily because of the colours as well as similarity of the emblem,” she tells FARPost from her Bulawayo base.

“So, it was a mini-Bosso affair when Pirates invaded Bulawayo. It made all sense as they sat at the Soweto stand, watching the Soweto giants.”

Nice as all that sounds, the Bulawayo giants, famed for producing talents like the ‘Flying Elephant’ Peter Ndlovu, have an insurmountable task to educate their fans on proper salutation.

Since time immemorial, the crossed hand salutation practised as a pre-match ritual by Highlanders looked exactly like Pirates’.

“We noticed people have been doing the salutation wrongly… Our salutation is a representation of our club logo, which is a shield, knobkerrie, and a spear.

“In this case, the person doing the salutation becomes the shield with the one hand clenched fist becoming the knobkerrie, while the other hand with an open palm becoming the spear. That gives you the Highlanders’ logo,” said the club’s spokesperson Ronald Moyo.

In an effort to correct the anomaly, they shot videos of players demonstrating the proper salutation. Moyo, however, admits it will take time for the entire Highlanders family to get accustomed to the correct salutation.

With the coming in of a new technical sponsor, On The Ball, the club hopes the fact that fans can now purchase replicas to wear on match day will boost their identity.

“It’s our dream that one day we will have Barbourfields Stadium full to the brim, with fans dressed in Bosso replicas.

“We do not want a situation where people are at the stadium dressed in all different colours or any other black and white replica of other teams because of lack of Bosso merchandise.”

Nonetheless, Pirates are assured of a constant love from the City of Kings because history has no blank pages.

RELATED STORY: Peter Ndlovu and the unforgettable wagon of dreams

By Mthokozisi Dube

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