Sikhumbuzo Moyo, Senior Sports Reporter
LEGENDARY former Highlanders’ player, manager and chairman Ernest “Maphepha” Sibanda succumbed to diabetes at Mater Dei Hospital in Bulawayo yesterday morning.
He was 63.
Sibanda had been admitted to the hospital for over a week.
His sister, Beauty, confirmed to Chronicle Sport that her brother had been battling diabetes, which he eventually succumbed to at around 11AM yesterday.
“He also had cancer, but he had been living and managing it well. Diabetes is the disease which eventually took his life. As a family, we are still trying to accept this and struggling to really take it in,” said Beauty.
Victorious as a manager and chairman, who sealed his legendary status by also managing the Warriors, Sibanda boasts of five league championships, four as a manager and one as chairman, apart from silverware won during his playing days at Caps United and Bosso.
A darling of the crowd during his playing days, Sibanda was a larger than life character, whose influence and charisma helped brand Highlanders in the late 1990s. His infectious deeds saw the tide change with Bosso building a strong national fan base that saw the largest football crowds watching them wherever they played.
With a trophy drought that had seen the club collect its last piece of silverware in 1994, the BP League Cup, his arrival as manager during Roger Muhlwa’s term as chairman saw Highlanders rising to untouchables, steam-rolling over every team. A good run in the Second Division with Contex between 1977-78 saw his stock rise.
Several big clubs were attracted to his skill and charm and in no time Bosso moved in and signed him in 1979 ahead of their campaign in the unified national league, the National Professional Soccer League. He was lucky to impress and get a job at Contex, one of the leading clothing manufacturers in Bulawayo at that time because of his brilliance.
Highlanders signed him in 1979 and he played with other club greats like Tymon Mabaleka, Majuta Mpofu, Lawrence Phiri and Josiah Nxumalo.
Sibanda was part of the Highlanders team that won the Chibuku Trophy, beating Rio Tinto 4-0. They also won the inaugural Heroes Cup 3-2 against Dynamos, but were drubbed 1-8 on aggregate in the Rothmans Shield by a marauding Caps United, who he would join the following year.
In 1981 Sibanda got a job in Harare and joined Caps United.
It was a side teeming with great talent in the likes of Shaky Tauro, Joel Shambo, Stix Mtizwa and Stanley Ndunduma.
He described the stint as great.
“It was a joy to play in Africa and we had a good administrator in Julius Chifokoyo. It was a great stay and I learnt a lot there,” Sibanda recently told our sister paper Sunday News.
In 1986 Sibanda was transferred to Bulawayo and work commitments meant he could not continue playing as much as he could in a competitive era with Titus Majola, Tito Paketh, Mpumelelo Dzowa, Ronnie Jowa, David Phiri, Nqobizitha Maenzanise and Thoko Sithole.
Sibanda bounced back as an administrator, injecting life into the Bulawayo Province Junior Soccer League. His arrival saw sponsorship come and several players came through the ranks and went on to be part of various national teams.
With Bosso in need of success and a man with an appeal to both the football world and community, Maphepha became their big catch.
Things started happening, crowds improved and new stars were born.
He was also influential in breathing life into the Bulawayo Social Soccer League in the 1990s as he led Mpopoma’s Mthala from the front.
The social side had a number of big names that included Douglas Mloyi and Joshua Mhizha, among others.
It was at that time that he also led the establishment of Mthala juniors, which produced an array of stars that went on to play in the PSL like Bekithemba Ndlovu, Golding Dube, Malvern Ntini, Dopi Tawi, Mike Zvivira, Abedi Nyoni and Mephias Webb, among others.
Sibanda is survived by seven children, five girls and two boys.
Mourners are gathered at house number E259 Njube.