The Bosso Journals - Series 1: Prologue
Bulawayo. Southwest Zimbabwe.
The crowds start to gather at Barbourfields, the home of Highlanders Bosso. The Soweto End is singing. A black & white sea of people make the rhythms of waves. Rising and falling in unison, they crash onto the shores of the football pitch, where their heroes play below them.
The royalty of Zimbabwean football, Highlanders were founded in 1926 by Albert & Rhodes Khumalo, the Grandsons of Lobengula - the last King of the Northern Ndebele people. The brothers had been sent to South Africa to study, by Colonialists, as a means of appeasing the Monarch who had begrudgingly given up some of his peoples’ lands to Beit, Rhodes & others. He had been tricked, as it soon became clear that the lands were to be wholly annexed & this deception triggered the First Matabele War.
But the Princes had come back from South Africa with football.
After 11 years of playing as Lions Football Club, the players changed the name to Matabeleland Highlanders Football Club, in 1937. The name was chosen to proudly reflect the region which they represent. It was a way of reclaiming their heritage. It is a club of resistance. Much like their fiercest rivals - Dynamos - they have often been a focal point in Zimbabwe for rebellion & freedom.
The Dynamos-Bosso rivalry is a complex one. Traditionally, it was drawn along the lines of Shona v Ndebele - the two biggest ethnic groups in the country. Dynamos were Shona & Highlanders were Ndebele. Although it is important to note that when it came to player recruitment, Highlanders were open to all & did not choose players along ethnic lines - even from their earliest days. Nowadays both clubs are explicit that they welcome both groups.
There are still, general, regional affiliations too. Dynamos - Harare, Mashonaland, Manicaland, Masvingo & bits of the Midlands. Highlanders - Bulawayo, Matabeleland & other bits of the Midlands.
In 1966, Bosso were invited to join the Rhodesia National Football League (RNFL) and, in 1968, they joined officially, taking part in Division 2. They got promoted at the first time of asking and by 1970, were playing in the Super League - the top flight in Rhodesian football. They won their first national trophy in 1973 - taking home what is now known as the Cup Of Zimbabwe.
They dropped the Matabeleland part of the name, in 1975, at the urging of Joshua Nkomo - who later became the Vice-President of Zimbabwe under Mugabe. He felt that football was still drawn under tribal lines too much to benefit the Nationalist movement & there had been one-too-many clashes with Mashonaland United - who similarly dropped theirs to become Zimbabwe Saints.
A year later the spirit of rebellion rose again, when Bosso realised that the RNFL were mismanaging the finances & taking disproportionate cuts from gate receipts. They left the association & founded the South Zone Soccer League (SZSL) - this decision almost destroyed the club entirely. A number of senior players left to form a new club - Olympics - and even took the black and white kit with them.
Happily, Highlanders not only survived but flourished. A number of Harare-based clubs followed suit, which lead to the formation of the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL.) Realising that there was a standoff benefitting no-one, the RNFL approached the NPSL about a merger. This lead to the formation of the Zimbabwe Football Association, or ZIFA, in 1979 that remains to this day.
Finally in 1980, the same year that ZIFA were officially accepted by CAF, the Zimbabwe Premier Soccer League was formed. It took Highlanders Bosso a decade to win their first league title, but have been making up for lost time ever since. They have now won 7.
This is a team whose motto could not be more appropriate - Siyinqaba! (English - ‘We Are A Fortress.’) They are a fortress. They have withstood Colonial rule. They have withstood league corruption. They have withstood droughts. They have withstood wars & coup d'états. They can withstand anything.
As long as there is football, there will be Highlanders Bosso.
In the rest of the series, I will be exploring the culture of the club from different perspectives. I will delve more deeply into their history. We will hear from fans, players & staff to get a feel of what makes this club so beautiful, so unique and so special.
Words by J.S. Leatherbarrow. Original photograph used with kind permission of Highlanders FC. Artwork by FATC staff. All rights reserved.