Juju in football: A journalist’s experience

It can be ridiculously weird, downright outrageous and at times comical yet it is very much part of the battle for honours. In Zimbabwean soccer, charms or juju are as important as the training ground drills. And this could be an understatement.

By Enock Muchinjo

Covering football for years, it appears many a coach would rather spend more time searching high and low for that sangoma (witch doctor) of renown than seeking the winning formula at the training ground. Bottles of urine, concoctions and raw pork. They are all an integral part of the game in Zimbabwe.

Memory Mucherahowa, the former Dynamos captain, spectacularly let the cat out of the bag in his candidly-written autobiography Soul of Seven Million Dreams. Mucherahohwa opens up on the use of juju at the country’s biggest football club with so much candidness that many were left spellbound. Not this journalist though.

From years of covering football in Zimbabwe — including but not limited to Dynamos — there were few surprises, if any. Soul of Seven Million Dreams is a damning exposure by Mucherahowa, who dares to delve into the dark world of match-fixing, conflicts, backbiting amongst other vices of the game in Zimbabwe. But one of the issues that stand out in this book is juju. For example, Mucherahowa speaks on how he used to lead the Dynamos juju rituals before games.

He opens up on how iconic coach Sunday Chidzambwa held juju dear to his life. More revealingly to those not on the inside of Zimbabwean football, he speaks on how this wicked act is, in every way, part and parcel of a club that has won a record 22 Zimbabwean league titles — and reached the final of the African Champions League once.

I can relate. A 2011 incident comes into mind. That is the year Dynamos won the first of its four successive league titles. The country’s most successful club was in the mining town of Zvishavane for a match billed as the title decider with host FC Platinum. Of course, FC Platinum eventually lost the championship on goal difference.

It turned out to be more than a battle of football tactics. Incidentally, Zvishavane, like many of the country’s small mining towns, is well-known as a haven for witchcraft and juju. So here are two clubs in a tightly contested race for the title also engaged in a fierce juju battle royale right there in broad daylight, in full glare of fans—some of them shocked to the core and others unmoved.

The toss has been done so Dynamos now knew the goal they were to attack first. A member of the Dynamos technical bench jumps onto the field to spray some strange concoction across that goal line. But of course this attracts a hostile reaction from the Platinum security team, brawny and mean-looking guys who looked like they had not heard a joke in months.

The juju-spraying chap is duly held by the belt, drawing a reaction from Dynamos’ own bouncers and thus a total warfare on the pitch ensues. Spraying some unknown concoctions is the most common ritual before matches across the country, both in the top-flight division and lower tiers.

Urine, that execrable liquid, is a favourite of football coaches. Believe it or not, it is viewed as a potent charm to neutralise or weaken the strength of the other team’s juju. And its use is so widespread one would think clubs keep a bucketful of it in stock.

So on some occasions I have also witnessed a mineral water-sized container filled with urine, God knows whose, being applied on the goal-line to weaken the opposition’s black magic. So open is the use of juju that football officials openly talk about it. The tales are even more intriguing.

A former Dynamos official I have formed a strong personal bond with over the years tells me of an incident in 2008 when Dynamos had reached the semi-finals of the African Champions League. This is a man who confesses to a strong Christian background and even at one time vowed to fight the juju scourge. In the end, he caved in.

Dynamos were to face Cotonsport of Cameroon. One of the team’s coaches, believed to be a dyed-in-the-wool juju man, came to this official with a shocking request. In the African Champions League, the semi-final is played over two legs, home and away. So as it was, the coach demanded US$4 000 in cash to pay a sangoma (traditional healer) he had consulted for assurances of victory in both legs.

The payment was US$2 000 for each leg and the sangoma wanted his money in cash — and in advance. The official initially turned down the coach. The coach would have none of it. After relentless nagging, and even veiled threats (those familiar with Dynamos would know all about it), the official finally gave in to the demands—but on one condition.
“So here’s the deal, boss,” he said to the coach. “I will pay the US$2 000, but only after each leg and after we have won.” Dynamos narrowly lost the first leg 1-0 in Harare before being hammered 4-0 in the second in Yaounde. So bitter was the coach that the two are no longer on talking terms.

Over the years I also got to know a former soccer player who spent his entire career in the lower divisions of Zimbabwean football. He is a decent chap who now runs his own successful transport company but once played for a team in Division One, the second-tier league in the country. He talks about this head coach, a well-known former Dynamos player, who is now a member of the current technical bench.

Now, this man is a “medicine man” of football in Zimbabwe and tales about his juju practice are famous. So as coach of this second-tier club then, he would take home the team kit, normally a role reserved for the team manager. The former player says on match day the coach would bring the kit to the ground, wet and heavy with a foul smell of some concoction. To be considered for a first team place, players had to wear the kit.

And sometimes before the match, players would have to polish their boots with chunks of raw pork brought by the coach. Shiny boots and all, they would take to the field smelling of uncooked meat. When that happened, the team rarely lost, he says. But on occasions the team owner, a well-known businessman who is now late, would instruct the coach to curse his own team and ensure it lost if he did not have money to pay winning bonuses that particular weekend.

Practice and play hard they may, but kana mudhara akasunga team (if the coach’s hoodoo is on)”, according to the former player, the opposing team just would not score.

“Point-blank opportunities were missed at an alarming rate,” he says. Stranger than fiction! And it does not only happen at Dynamos. But when a successful captain for the country’s biggest team bares it all in this manner, it makes headlines. For the rest of those on the inside of Zimbabwe’s dark side of football, this is all normal— a part of the game. — www.zimferrets.com

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