Ricky Zililo and Lovemore Zigara, Sports Reporters
FORMER Ziscosteel and Warriors defender Paul Gundani has died. He was 49.
Gundani died of suspected malaria at Topomasi Private Hospital in Kwekwe yesterday.
He was the secretary-general of the Footballers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Fuz).
According to his wife Hazvinei Daphne Gundani, the former Warriors’ left-back complained of a headache on Monday evening and started vomiting after taking anti-malaria tablets.
“His condition improved on Tuesday and he seemed stable. When I left for work, he was feeling much better, but when I returned in the evening, he appeared weak and vomited again after taking his tablets,” said Hazvinei.
“He then went to sleep and woke up around 2AM and seemed to be in pain. When I asked him, he didn’t give me a satisfactory answer but I could tell that he wasn’t feeling well.
“His condition worsened around 4AM and we took him to hospital around 6AM where the doctor examined him and took blood samples for testing.
“He suspected that it could be cerebral malaria or meningitis. He passed away at around 12:30PM as we were waiting for the results,” the tearful widow recounting her husband’s last moments alive.
She described him as a loving and caring husband and father, who was always there for his family.
“I met Paul at the peak of his career in 1984 when he was playing alongside my brother, Ephraim Dzimbiri. Then he was already playing for the national Under-23 team, although he was still 19 years old.
“He was my best friend; he was hero and was always there for his family. To me, he’s irreplaceable. He was also a devoted Christian as he was a second councillor in the bishopric of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,” she said.
A distraught Fuz president Desmond Maringwa said he was still struggling to come to terms with the untimely death of the steely former Ziscosteel defender.
He said Fuz would issue a statement in due course.
“I’m in shock at the moment. At least he should have said goodbye, but to go just like that when I was on my way to see him after his wife had informed me that he had been hospitalised is just heartrending,” said Maringwa, who arrived in Kwekwe 30 minutes after Gundani had been pronounced dead.
Born on March 15, 1966, in Torwood, Redcliff, just outside Kwekwe, Gundani started playing football at the age of six before being lured to the Ziscosteel FC juniors by veteran coach Paul Moyo, father to former Zifa board member for competitions Benedict Moyo.
Gundani rose through the ranks until he won a place in the Ziscosteel first XI.
He made his Ziscosteel debut as a 17-year-old Drake Secondary schoolboy coming off the bench against Rio Tinto in Kadoma.
By then, Rio Tinto had exceptional players like Ephert Lungu, Byron “Piri Piri” Manuel, Joseph Zulu and Raphael Phiri.
Gundani broke into the Ziscosteel team filling the void that had been left by former Soccer Star of the Year finalist James Takavada, who had lost interest in soccer.
He was part of the Ziscosteel first XI, with the likes of Dzimbiri (late), Adel Chibaya, Adrein Phiri, Ali Sayidi, Isaac Lunga and Jonathan Boriwondo.
He found the likes of Benedict Moyo, who later became his coach, and Ephraim Malomo about to retire.
Gundani also played for the Zimbabwe Under-20 team coached by Barry Daka alongside the late Willard Khumalo, Mercedes Sibanda (late), Mpumelelo Dzowa, Boy Ndlovu, Allan Jalasi, Moses Chunga and Netsai Moyo.
He was one of the few players from his generation that played for the national Under-20, Under-23 and the senior national team.
Gundani was a Soccer Star of the Year finalist in 1988.
In 1990, he left the country for England where he played for Second Division side Stockport County.
He was one of the few great Midlands’ talent to resist the lure of big city clubs from Bulawayo and Harare, as he returned from Europe to join Lancashire Steel in December 1993 while they were in Division One and won promotion with them in 1995.
Despite playing for Lancashire Steel, Gundani managed to attract the attention of the then national team coach Reinhard Fabisch and became a member of the trailblazing Dream Team.
The Dream Team was made up of Sibanda, Khumalo, captain Ephraim “The Rock of Gibraltar” Chawanda, the late Francis Shonayi, Norman Mapeza, John Phiri, the late Adam Ndlovu and the late midfield dynamo Benjamin Nkonjera.
Legendary winger Madinda Ndlovu, Agent Sawu, Henry McKop, Wilfred “Silver Fox” Mugeyi, Vitalis “Digital” Takawira and Peter Ndlovu all played with Gundani during the Dream Team era.
The all-rounder played for Lancashire Steel up to 1997 when he hung up his boots.
He then worked for Lancashire Steel as a welfare officer until he retired in 2006.
He then ventured into coaching and had a brief stint in Botswana where he coached Zico United in the 2008/9 season.
At the height of the country’s economic challenges where players’ rights were being violated, Gundani spearheaded the formation of Fuz, which has been instrumental in safeguarding the rights of footballers.
He is survived by his wife Hazvinei and six children, Shannon, Brandon, Gannon, Sharon, Canon and Shane.
Mourners are gathered at number 3 Taunton Road, Fitchlea in Kwekwe.