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How witchcraft destroys African soccer

By Daniel Mbega
Dar es Salaam. The stadium was packed and tension griped the air as nine minutes had elapsed since the second half started.
Simba players had not shown up for the last 45 minutes, while their opponents and eternal rivals Young Africans were taking sprints in the field.
It was a 2002 Premier League first leg. The first half had ended in a barren draw, though Yanga had taken much possession.
This reporter happened to pass near Simba’s dressing room when going for a short call and found the door ajar.
Near the dressing room’s door, stood a famous club member with three coconuts and a small pot in his hands, attentively listening to instructions from inside, trying to cast a spell on their opponent.
“Vunja!” Someone shouted from inside (meaning ‘break it,’) and the man broke one coconut after another.
The instructions for the third coconut delayed, and it looked as if the fifteen waiting minutes would be over.
Yanga fans at the venue were chanting, thinking Simba had boycotted the tense match and so their team was going home with three points.
The man with the coconut became worried. “Vunja!!” There came a sound from inside and the man used all his powers to break the coconut, and the pot.
As the pot broke, all Simba players came out and went straight to the pitch. The whole National Stadium was full of noises and whistles from the Msimbazi Reds fans, while Yanga’s kept quiet for a while.
That was the miracle for the Msimbazi Reds, as they went one up in the 65th minute through Madaraka Selemani, and all of a sudden the game became tough for Yanga whose players looked like they had been paralyzed.
But they fought tooth and nail and lucky was on their side as they managed to equalise in the 87th minute through a spot kick by Sekilojo Chambua. The game ended in on one-all-draw.
This spectacle is synonymous at many domestic league games in Tanzania and other African countries as superstition and other forms of religious rituals form part of African football, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In Tanzania, the rains have something to do with a win for Simba. When the heavens cry, it is believed that victory must come.
Superstition has eaten deep into domestic football and it has been accepted as the norm. It is an open secret no player or club official will be happy to accept.
“It’s just a tradition, sometimes, such kind of superstitious practices spice up the match. It is like salt in stew,” Juma Magoma, a Yanga fan, admitted last week.
On September 28, 2003, Simba players cast strange powder and broke eggs on the pitch before their match with Yanga, while the Jangwani Street team’s two players responded by urinating on the field.
Most of the footballers then entered the stadium with their backs to the pitch. But in the end, their powers were evenly matched in a 2-2 draw.


The October 29, 2006 derby between the two teams, whose rivalry is as old as the country’s football history, was also full of all sorts of funny things.
Some minutes before the derby, Yanga and Simba, as a tradition, performed various witchcraft rituals.
Fans of both teams buried unknown substances in the pitch on the eve of the game. The players opted to use the door meant for fans when entering the pitch instead of the stadium’s main gate – for fear of passing through an area they believe may have been tainted by witchcraft. The match ended on a barren draw.
“There are many incidents, you can’t count them. The two clubs happen to have talisman throughout the country and it depends on who is the best. This is our tradition, African tradition,” says Magoma.
However, former Tanzania national team player Douglas Muhani says juju or ndumba (in our mother tongue language- Kiswahili), does exist.
“Yes, during my playing days for both club and the national team, I witnessed so many witchcraft practices,” he says.
“I don’t believe in juju, but being part of the team, you can’t refuse to perform rituals, otherwise you’ll be regarded a traitor. And if a team happens to lose a game, you take the blame.
“I remember in 1978, when playing for Sigara FC, we spent a sleepless night at cemetery in Mwanza casting rituals with our talisman from Tanga ahead of our match against Yanga,” he recalls.
“He told us that the game would be tough and that one of our fellows would faint while playing. He said we shouldn’t touch him because he would die.
“Sure, before we scored a goal, one of our players, John Mlebo, collapsed. We just watched until he was taken on stretchers. We thought the game was all ours, but Omar Hussein equalised for Yanga eight minutes to time.”
Muhani, a former centre-back who featured for various clubs in the country, including Sigara, Coastal Union, Bandari Mtwara, Maji Maji, says rubbing palm oil on the ankles, jumping over a bonfire, cutting the ankles with a razor blade and rubbing black powder into wounds, were some of the practices they normally did, and are done as prescribed by the witchdoctors in every team.
“Sometimes you’re told not to shake hands with anybody before the game, or you must enter the field by walking backwards. All these are psychological beliefs that try to give you encouragement,” he says.
However, Muhani says the only spell that could make a team win is good preparations with a strong team full of talented and committed players.
“Most African teams lose a lot of money on witches to help them win games. It’s absurd. If the money could only be used for preparation of the team, it could deliver positively.”
He adds: “Witchcraft in football is given only 2%. It is psychological phenomenal and depends on one’s belief.”
He insists that a team must have a well trained coach, players and the technical staff must be paid accordingly and train under conducive atmosphere if they are to win.
“Jujumen can only encourage you by making spells, letting you know that you are going to win the game because your opponents have been bewitched.
“But you have to play hard enough to make it happen, thanks if a team is well prepared.”
African football legend Abedi Pele of Ghana once admitted that witchcraft exists in football.
“As for juju, I have been in it many times because in the Black Stars they were bringing us things to wash, things to drink and bathe with,” the former Ghana captain revealed to GMS Press.
“In your own local clubs, you were introduced to so many of them,” he added.

Mobile: +255 715 070109; e-mail: mbega.daniel@gmail.com

NOTE: Don’t miss the second part of this article in next week’s Sport Extra.

SOURCE: The Citizen, Monday 27 February 2012

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