The history of Highlanders football club
Highlanders Football Club was never formed as a team for recreation and luxury for sport and competition in the very first place. Football was just one of its activities among many. The club was formed by two of King Lobhengula’s grandsons, Rhodes and Albert, the sons of prince Njube. The angry grandsons of the king had been adopted by white Empire builders and missionaries and taken to South Africa to be educated and oriented away from their history and sensibility as princes. To concretise the defeat of their grandfather and symbolise their new status as subjects of the British Empire one was named after Cecil John Rhodes himself and the other after Albert Schweitzer the French-German missionary, medical doctor and musician. Naming the grandsons of the fallen king after the new conquerors was meant to rub in the defeat and humiliate the princes, empty them of all dignity and ambition.
When the humiliated and angry princes formed the Lions Football Club in 1926, in Makokoba, Bulawayo, it was in political and cultural protest. The Ndebele Amabutho had effectively been disbanded, only their songs and dances were remembered and were sung when the team was playing. War songs such as “AbeNguni Babebulala oBaba” were taken from the Ndebele impis and deployed on the sidelines of football matches. This was pure political, cultural and spiritual sublimation. What could not be said or done in the political arena and the battlefield was vented in the soccer field.
In 1936, the Lions Football Club changed to Matabeleland Highlanders but kept the black and white colours that the team adopted from the dress and shields of Amawaba, King Lobhengula’s personal regiment. The Amawaba were also called “inqaba” or fortress in reference to their role as the King’s last line of defence. Up to this day, “Siyinqaba” is the slogan and battle cry of Highlanders Football Club. Many followers and supporters of this team are not aware that it began as a symbolic and ceremonial royal regiment, not just a football club.
Amawaba or Amajaha were not every day soldiers, their regiment was an elite unit that performed parades and displays, ukugiya, during national ceremonies, they were seen only during big gatherings and big feasts, hence the name Amahlolanyama. Amawaba were feared even by other regiments as they took instructions directly from the king, their training and preparation (Ukutshwama) were more secretive and part of the mystery of royal secrecy. A few of the Amawaba became some of the warriors that had access to and carried guns. The Ndebele oath “Ngifunga ULobhengula wamaWaba,” a grave oath, arose from the military gravitas of the regiment.
The Amawaba were compared to an army of beautiful black and white birds, Amahlolanyama that hunters understood as a sign and portend of great hunts to come. In the Ndebele civil war where Mbiko KaMadlenya and others attempted to prevent Lobhengula from succeeding Mzilikazi the Amawaba lived up to their name and defended the king while other regiments were in sixes and sevens, divided between supporters of Lobhengula and those that wanted Nkulumane to be sought and found.
Amahlolanyama became the traditional name of Highlanders Football Club that had become a symbolic and cultural regiment on which the population sublimated and invested its cultural, spiritual and political energies. Clearly, Highlanders Football Club, from its provenances became entangled in history, culture and politics and became a sign and symbol of the Ndebele nation militant nationalism in the face of colonialism and the cultural imperialism of the settlers. It is in Highlanders that the nostalgia of the days of power and glory feeds and animates itself, making the team not just an entity of sport and recreation but a heritage and a monument. For the Ndebele cultural, political and spiritual community Highlanders is a fetish, in loss or in victory in the football field. Even today, the new found nickname, “Ithimu yezwe lonke” is a continuation of tapping into the history of the royal family, just like King Mzilikazi was known for nation building, taking on board peoples of different cultures and identities.
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