In 1982, Zimbabwe league champions Dynamos played Lupopo FC of Zaire now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. The first leg was in the city of Lubumbashi. One fan decided to be part of the proceedings and embarked on an epic journey which culminated in him arriving at the stadium a few minutes before kick-off time.
What made the adventure so heroic was the fact that this was a pioneer journey . Never before had a fan embarked on such a journey and the sheer determination of Darlington Sidindi was not lost on erstwhile Herald Editor Allan Hlatshwayo who captured it in print.
” HitchHiker makes it to the match in Zaire !” was the headline.
It had the nation talking. How had Darlington managed to pull off such a feat at a time when most fans were just content to watch local football and never ventured outside our borders? The few who did if they were lucky travelled with the teams and were beneficiaries of the goodwill of team officials. But even that was rare. The Darlington adventure therefore deserves to be celebrated and I made an effort to track down the Dynamos die hard fan. This is his story verbatim.
“As we approach the 40th anniversary of my trip to Zaire, just like Charles Marlow in Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, my trip into the country we now know as The Democratic Republic of Congo was a journey into the unknown. I knew little about the country and I did not know what awaited me.
I was working in the Audit Department at AIr Zimbabwe and the trip came about on the weekend when audits deadlines were due. I worked up to 4:30 on Friday . By 5:30 I was at Mbare long distance bus terminus and thirty minutes later I boarded a bus bound for Karoi. I had to sleep at Karoi Police station because i did not have accommodation. The following morning I proceeded and by 8 am I had already cleared customs formalities at Chirundu Border post. The race against time had begun since the match was slated for 3 pm the following day.
I proceeded to Ndola and with a letter of introduction in hand , I met up with a medical doctor at Ndola Hospital who put me up for the night. His name was David Lumumba and his fascination with my journey was evident in the way he received me. He did not believe that i could make it on time but he wished me the best!
By dawn i hit the road and come mid-day i arrived in Chililabombwe which is the last town before entering the then Zaire. I had an encounter with the ‘Kawararas’, Zambian tricksters but my friend David Lumumba had prewarned me about them. These are some of the dangers of hitch-hiking but i manage to sweet talk myself into safety . I had to rush because time was not on my side. By 1 pm i was at Kusumbasela border post and it did not take me time to clear the immigration formalities. I had done my homework and had vaccination certificates for small pox and yellow fever.
My next challenge was how to get to Lubumbashi , a distance of 100 km in two hours. I had found it easy to pass through Zambia because I could communicate in English. In Zaire , it was a different ball game, the language barrier was immense since Lingala and French are the languages commonly used. I had a passable understanding of French so I explained to my driver the urgency of my situation. He was a football fan too and he put his foot on the pedal. Against all odds, I managed to arrive in Lubumbashi just before kick off.
At the stadium, i showed my passport and i heard the security guard shout ‘delegatee !’ in what I assumed to be French. Two policemen were assigned to escort me and stand by me in the stands. The two looked unfriendly but I cared less. The irony of it all was that the Dynamos officials were seated a few metres from me but I dared not greet them for fear of blowing my cover. After all , I had been given VIP treatment at the gates and I decided to keep it like that.
The match proved to be an epic battle befitting of my epic journey. How can i sum up the match ? There were twenty two players on the pitch but one player emerged as the hero. His name is Japhet Mparutsa, the Dynamos goalkeeper. Japhet made the goal line his wall. When a man has his back against the wall he can choose to lie down and be trampled upon or he can choose to fight. On this day Mparutsa chose to fight. The Lupopo strike force threw everything at him, every arsenal at their disposal and he repelled them. Grass mowers, high crosses, The Short Cat as he was aptly nicknamed dealt with them without conceding a yard!
At the Final whistle, twenty one players remained standing. The result was a stalemate, an exciting nil all. Japhet Mparutsa slumped against the goalpost, tired from his splendid performance. The Zaire fans showed their appreciation by throwing paper money and coins at the young young keeper. His display on this day will be hard to match. He wrote his name into football immortality with that performance. You had to see it to believe it!
After the match i gave my two escorts the slip and managed to join up with the team at the hotel. I befriended July Sharara who introduced me to the team. They were excited to hear about my adventure. I became part of the delegation and travelled with the team from Lubumbashi to Ndola. The team flew to Lusaka but i had to get a train from Ndola to Lusaka. In Lusaka , i again linked up with the team and flew back to Harare.
The trip was a culmination of my love for Dynamos, a love which was planted in me by my two friends Boniface Makani and Allan Masomere at Chibi Mission Secondary school in the 1970’s. That love has stayed with me since then and although I have not watched a lot of matches recently, the love is still deep. I just hope that the giant will awaken again because indeed Dynamos are a big brand. They are the soul of Zimbabwe football.
Recently a number of fans have embarked on epic journeys across the continent to watch football matches. I heard about Aluvha’s journey to watch the Zimbabwe Warriors in Egypt. I applaud that effort but allow me to beat my own drum and say, I am the pioneer. I am ever so proud of this historical achievement.
I say long live to Zimbabwe football, may the adventure continue. As a committed fan, I want to see Zimbabwe football develop and I hope the powers that be can put in place measures to make that happen. The potential is there, let us unlock it !”
Wow, what an adventure, this was, the stuff of legends. Unfortunately Dynamos could not clear the Lupopo hurdle in the return leg. They drew 1-1 in Harare and went out of the competition on away goals. Lupopo went on to reach the semi-finals where they lost to Asante Kotoko of Ghana. This clearly shows how strong Lupopo was and for Dynamos to lose to them so narrowly reflects also on their strength.