Covid-19 be not proud! For a gentleman who has given so much to the game on either side of the Limpopo River to bid farewell to his fans without a swansong season is unacceptable to say the least.
At 38 next month, Mwanjale had hoped to have a final act before hanging his nifty boots after a good 20 years of topflight action in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Tanzania.
Like any other boy growing up in Matabeleland North, the influence of South African football was just inevitable. Witnessing the likes of Esrom Nyandoro, pictured below, join the great trek to Mzansi four years after his topflight debut, he had always cast one eye in the PSL while carving a niche for himself in his native Zimbabwe.
It’s as though Mwanjale, whose name has often been erroneously spelt as Mwanjali throughout his career, was set up to end up playing football. Growing up in the coal-mining town of Hwange, some 100 kilometres southeast of the Mighty Victoria Falls, young Mwanjale lived right next to the Colliery Stadium.
The only topflight team in the town that sits at an elevation of 770 metres (2,530 ft) above sea level was Hwange Football Club and they used Colliery Stadium for their training sessions.
“I was born close to the football field and I would watch all the training sessions of Hwange,” Mwanjale tells FARPost from his Harare base.
That on its own meant he just had to fall in love with the game. “I had always wanted to play football since a tender age,” he says.
And so, once he was ‘ripe’ to train with the big boys he often watched, young Mwanjale was thrown into the fray. But there was a dilemma. He could easily play any position with equal composure. He was a natural. Immensely gifted and extremely versatile.
A former schoolmate at St Ignatius Primary, Victor Mwanyumeka, recalls how the man was always destined for great things in football.
“He played as a striker for St Ignatius in 1995 when in Grade Four. In Grade Six and Seven, he played central defence. When we got to Form One, he didn’t play for Under 15, he played for Under 17 as a defender and the Under 20 as a midfielder.
“At that point, he had started playing in the local League called Wankie Football Association for a team called Rufaro Rovers,” Mwanyumeka tells FARPost. So, on May 28, 2000, exactly a month after his 16th birthday, he made his topflight debut with Hwange at Colliery, becoming the youngest player to play for the club.
Coincidentally, it was against Caps United — the team where he has ended his illustrious career. The Mwanjale many have grown to know as a steady defender, either in the middle or on the right, was introduced to elite football as a right winger in the second half of that game.
He would later move to Caps United in the capital Harare. “Sundowns saw me while playing for the national team in the 2009 Cosafa tournament in Zimbabwe and Caps was also playing in the Caf Confederation Cup versus Moroka Swallows.
“So we played home and away. I guess they had scouts there. It must have been Trott Moloto who scouted us,” he recalls. Moving to Sundowns on July 1, 2010 alongside his Caps United teammates Lionel Mtizwa and Nyasha Mushekwi made the transition so easy.
“Esrom Nyandoro was like a brother and is still a brother. He showed us the ropes of life at Downs be it on the field of play or off the field.”
And then Surprise Moriri, pictured above, was his roommate during camp. The former Bafana Bafana midfielder was his Pedi teacher.
“He made life easier for me, be it on the football pitch or outside. He also taught me Pedi. I would tell him to use Pedi when talking to me, where I didn’t understand I’d ask him to use English. Coach Jazzy Queen (Harold Legodi) also played a big part as well in helping us with team tactics and communicating.”
After three seasons at the Brazilians, whom he captained, he moved to Mpumalanga Black Aces for a season and believes the men who coached him at his two South African clubs made it all splendid.
“My times at Sundowns and Mpumalanga Black Aces were great and to be coached by both Pitso (Mosimane) and Clive Barker was incredible. I regard them as the best coaches South Africa has ever produced,” he says.
Perhaps his admiration for the two stems from their achievements in the game. Durban-born Barker is remembered as the man who took over as coach of Bafana in 1994 after the team was reinstated after a ban due to apartheid.
He guided the team to their only Africa Cup of Nations title in 1996, with a 2–0 victory in the final against Tunisia. Under his guidance, South Africa qualified for their first ever World Cup in 1998 in France. However, he quit in 1997 leaving Frenchman Philippe Troussier to take the team to France ’98.
On the other hand, Mosimane is the most decorated South African coach having won the domestic league five times and the Caf Champions League twice with Sundowns and Al Ahly.
As Mwanjale is headed into coaching, he intends to take a leaf from Mosimane’s book as well as that of Barker.
“Clive Barker was such a calm madala. He would not shout at players no matter what the circumstances. He would give you the freedom to do anything that you want as long as it will benefit the team,” he recalls.
Mwanjale aspires to coach at the highest level and is ready to cut his teeth to bark instructions from the touchline. His biggest playing memory comes from his senior national team debut in 2005 against Rwanda.
“I was voted man of the match, later on I became the national team captain after Benjani Mwaruwari. Lifting the 2009 Cosafa Cup in Zimbabwe was also a proud moment. The trophy was presented by the late President RG Mugabe,” adds Mwanjale.
After a good two decades of traveling across the three countries he played in, as well as the African continent, he admits he will miss traveling, camp and interactions with teammates.
But then again, with his wealth of experience, he may soon be back traveling and camping, this time as a budding coach!
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By Mthokozisi Dube