BY FORTUNE MBELE
FORMER Highlanders’ manager and chairman Ernest “Maphepha” Sibanda was yesterday laid to rest at Lady Stanley Cemetery with the Bulawayo giants’ leadership sidelined at the main service held earlier at the Bulawayo Amphitheatre.
It is popular belief amongst the former Warriors’ manager Sibanda’s friends and sympathisers that Highlanders had ostracized the former chairman, who at one time was barred from contesting the club chairmanship in 2018, accused of defrauding the club of funds arising from the sale of Obadiah Tarumbwa to Cercle Brugge of Belgium.
Sibanda’s return as manager was also blocked at one time.
The Highlanders’ class of 1998 and Bulawayo City Football Club stole the limelight at the service where other speeches were delivered by family members and friends with only the Bulawayo giants’ legend Lawrence “Lofty” Phiri taking to the stage.
Highlanders’ president Ndumiso Gumede was in no show with sources saying club chairman Johnfat Sibanda was told to attend as a friend and not in his capacity as a club official.
The Bosso leaders after 2006, when the club last won the league title were not welcome.
Sibanda was chairman when Bosso won its last title in 2006.
Legendary Highlanders’ striker Zenzo Moyo and Gift Lunga Junior spoke on behalf of the class of 1998 players that won four titles on the trot with Sibanda as manager.
“Maphepha did not only teach us football. He made all of us his boys. He did not only teach us to win championships, but he groomed us to be men and have families. We are proud of you (Maphepha) that is why we had tried to celebrate you when you were alive. We thank you very much,” Moyo said.
Lunga said had it not been for Sibanda, most of them would have languished in prison.
“He taught us football from grassroots. We grew up in his hands until the time we won the four championships. Football has helped us a lot and had it not been for Maphepha we would have been in prison. We must impart what you taught us to our upcoming stars,” Lunga said.
Also taking to the stage was Bulawayo City chairman Jerry Sibanda, who was full of praise for Sibanda, who at the time of his death was a board member at the council-owned club.
Sibanda is a former Highlanders player and club treasurer while Moyo is Bulawayo City vice-chairman and Lunga is a juniors’ coach.
A class of Highlanders 1998 player, now Highlanders’ assistant coach Bekithemba “Super” Ndlovu, is a former Bulawayo City coach.Highlanders’ legend Phiri said Maphepha came to Highlanders when he was player manager.
“I signed him when he came to Highlanders. When we played in Gweru and drew 2-2, our players had gone on strike and we spent all night looking for players and that was the first time I saw how humble Maphepha was. He was very intelligent and I saw the capacity in him to take over as manager. We fought in the former players committees as we discussed how we were not being recognized. He took up that fight and ended up being chairman,” Phiri said.
Also accorded opportunities to speak at the service were parliamentarians, suspended Zifa vice-president Gift Banda and Omega Sibanda, a Highlanders life member.
Zifa and the Premier Soccer League were not accorded that privilege.The burial was also attended by former players and legends, Bulawayo resident minister Judith Ncube, mayor Solomon Mguni and politician and Highlanders’ benefactor Tshinga Dube.