Lenox Lizwi Hlanga
A couple of weeks ago, I received two phone calls from people I value very much. Highlanders’ board member, my uncle Luke “LMK” Mkandla and Davies Ndumiso Sibanda — a business partner and also former board member, had sad news to share. Jonathan Sayi Moyo was no more.
There are people who would not know this affable icon of football in Bulawayo. It’s not surprising because of the humility with which he and many from his generation carried themselves. He was an unassuming man despite the lofty station he held in the community. Yet he was unrelenting in his resolve to achieve what he did and with great sacrifice too.
Jonathan Sayi Moyo was my late father’s — Jonathan Temba Mhlanga’s namesake and it does not end there. They were the best of friends. Growing up in the neighbourhood of Gwabalanda, we knew of usekaBrenda.
Brenda Moyo is one of this country’s broadcasting icons who used to captivate millions with her sultry voice and a dexterity for languages that many would only envy. And one could tell by the way she connected with people of all walks of life, that she was raised by parents with ubuntu, respectful and humble in their manner.
Caroline, now late, was my friend and fellow teacher at Nketa Secondary School. She was like the sister I never had — gently whipping me into line whenever I went astray. More importantly, Sis Caro was my sounding board. She is the one who encouraged me to join her sister in broadcasting when teaching became a dead-end street. People mistakenly thought we were an item. Well, that closeness came from our fathers who seemed to be joined at the hip.
We would share and laugh to no end at their quirky antics mischievously calling them by their nicknames, behind their backs of course. I guess it was our way of showing admiration to the two men who towered so mightily in society, but were so ordinary it baffled many.
To my father, who was affectionately known as J Temba, he was plain “Joe” and the feeling was mutual. When my father passed away in 2016, he was patron of Highlanders, i-team yezwelonke, Sayi Moyo was a member of the board. Besides that, my father and Moyo had so many other things in common.
Politics was one of them, however, not on the frontline but quietly underground, giving the liberation movements much needed logistical support. Perhaps their strategic involvement could explain why they never scrambled for leadership positions.
For instance, they were instrumental in welcoming our liberation war heroes from Zambia. They feted the generals at the iconic Mthala Club in Gwabalanda’s J Temba Supermarket, with Sayi as chairman. The symbolism of such acts has not been lost on many who still talk about those heady days.
We watched in awe as they entertained the likes of Dumiso Dabengwa, Lookout Masuku, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, the ANC’s Joe Modise, Chris Hani, Jacob Zuma and Thabo Mbeki as if it was second nature. The occasional appearance of Umdala Wethu, the late Vice President, Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo was always the icing on the cake! The two Jonathans were also pillars of the football juggernaut called Highlanders.
I know for a fact that with the passion they shared about their team, they would rather starve than see its demise. And here I am not talking about defeats on the pitch. They were custodians of the traditional rites that those familiar with iBosso have come to embrace.
The sacrifice that the two Jonathans along with colleagues in successive executive committees, and later on the boards, made cannot be quantified. It was a weighty responsibility passed on to them by generations before them. These included the Royals abakoKhumalo, the Hlabanganas, Mtimkhulus, Moyos, Ngwenyas, Mabhenas and many more who have passed on.
There were the bad times and the good ones. When Highlanders won, people celebrated as they still do now. When the chips were down, I would endure the pain of listening to people who erroneously claimed that “abadala yibo ababulal’i-Team.” My father would just say, “Ungabalaleli labo, kabazi nix!”
They bore the criticism with dignity. It was part of taking responsibility. Yet, quietly, continued carrying out traditional rites, as it was demanded of them for posterity. This is not black magic or izinto zomuthi. Many still do not know what Amahlolanyama are, what they stand for and why it remains a community team to this day.
Highlanders is not a football team nje! It’s an ever-burgeoning cultural movement, representing who we are, and what we hold dear as a people. There are many who will never understand like our icons used to say. The team’s rich history, mystique and unity of purpose are the envy of many. It’s so significant that indeed ukufakwayo, yikufakwesizwe.
These men who have departed from this earth knew how fundamental their role was. It was worth the sacrifice, at times the ridicule, but never to falter.
They endured not to placate their egos, but to preserve an inheritance that has survived the test of time. They were the very lifeblood of a team that has become a symbol of pride for many in the country.
That is the legacy the likes of the now departed Jonathan Sayi Moyo and Jonathan Temba Mhlanga leave for our generation.
On another sad note, we lost another illustrious son, Professor Phinias Mogorosi Makhurane, the National University of Science and Technology’s founding Vice Chancellor. I wrote this to his daughter, Tiisetso: “Your father inspired us all. I remember my father asking me to introduce myself to the Prof when I first got to UZ. Having known each other from way back, your father told me things about mine I would never had known.
“He said it was easy to get lost in things that diverted one from why I was at varsity. He also said I should not hold back and have fun while at it. Well, I eventually won a book prize but made sure I was fully immersed in the campus social life, writing for Focus magazine, playing campus soccer and being part of student politics. I lived by his tenets and for that, I am forever grateful. MHDSRIP.”