Charles Mabika, Sports Commentator
History is littered with sports stars who have fallen victim to publicity.
After their glowing performances and emergent superstar status, their egos get the better of them and they start assuming they are bigger than the game.
That selfish fallacy always results in their downfall and they gradually sink into oblivion and end up buried into the dustbins of history.
Zimbabwe football legend, David “Yogi” Mandigora, who passed away on Saturday morning aged 64 after a long battle with peripheral vascular disease (a circulatory condition which narrows blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the limbs), was not one of the afore-mentioned and narrow-minded athletes.
From his active period in his illustrious career up to his time of death, he remained a humble and modest character who was purely “An Officer and A Gentleman” on and off the soccer pitch.
As the football fraternity were stunned by his death, messages of condolences continue to pour in from all over the world with the same sentiments — Mandigora was an astonishing, selfless and rare breed of footballer who had an unwavering character of care and politeness.
The 1980 Soccer Star of the Year will forever remain a household name in Zimbabwe’s game after he excelled at his beloved club Dynamos and the Warriors, both as a player and coach.
Yogi was born in Kadoma and his father was a policeman who was later transferred to the capital’s Highfield police unit when his son was aged seven.
The then little Mandigora’s football skills were quickly apparent at Chipembere Primary School in Highfield where he later captained the senior team.
The same trend would follow him at St. Peter’s Kubatana High School situated in nearby Glen Norah high-density suburb and it didn’t take long for the country’s biggest side, Dynamos, to lure him into their junior ranks at the tender age of 14.
After a few years, Mandigora broke into the club’s first team in 1977 where he would rub shoulders with senior players like ‘keeper Labani “Zuma” Kandi, George “Mastermind” Shaya, Oliver “Flying Saucer” Kateya, Sunday “Mhofu” Chidzambwa, Kuda “Kuda Boy” Muchemeyi, Simon “BaCharle” Sachiti, Isaac “Musasa” Nhema, Shaw “Kojak” Handriade, David “Broom Boy” George, Cremio Mapfumo and player-coach Shadreck “Margarine” Ngwenya.
He would star for his club and the Warriors for another decade and his most memorable match was the inaugural Zimbabwe Independence Cup final in 1980 when the Warriors beat arch-rivals Zambia 2-1 and he scored the hosts’ equaliser after Chipolopolo had taken an early lead. Shacky Tauro then grabbed the winner to send a fully packed Rufaro Stadium into delirium.
Yogi would always, later in his life, pay glowing tributes and recount the invaluable lessons and direction that he got from these seniors right up to his death.
“When I became Soccer Star of the Year in 1980, it was all because of the astute direction that came from these guys and I will forever be grateful to all of them and the club’s administrators and many more for what I achieved later in my life,” remarked Yogi in one television interview I held with him some time back.
Kandi, who watched the younger Mandigora’s progress from an early age, recalled those early clashes: “I kept goal for Highfield Youth Club and he was the key player for rival side BSAP Youth Club and boy, he was always a menace for us because he could play as a right winger, attacking midfielder or centre striker and each time he had possession, I would scream at my teammates to try and dispossess him.”
In fact, the nickname Yogi was given to him by his young pals at Chipembere Primary School who teased him that his facial features were similar to the comical character, Yogi the Bear.
And Mandigora laughed … he didn’t get angry and accepted the nickname all his life.
Yogi had three favourite subjects that he would marvel to talk about all the time: Dynamos, the Warriors and English Premiership giants Liverpool . . . in that order.
He was a self-ordained preacher of the Dynamos gospel and his eyes would always light up whenever he unravelled the Dynamos values, statistics and institutional ethics. This club was his first love and it explained why he had countless “on-and-off” coaching stints with them and he finally got it right in 2007 when he led them to the Premiership title after a 10-year wait.
The following year he came within a whisker of taking the side to their second African Champions League final after they lost 2-0 on aggregate to Cameroonian giants Coton Sport Garou in the semi-finals.
He stepped down soon after that continental exit but would bounce back as the team’s head coach once again in 2015 (becoming the club’s vice-chairman in 2013) . . . he just couldn’t stay away from DeMbare!
Mandigora also had coaching stints at Cone Textiles, Lancashire Steel, Triangle United as well as in Mozambique and Eswatini. His assistant during that final stint at DeMbare, Tonderai “Stanza” Ndiraya, who is now the club’s gaffer, spoke highly of Yogi’s influence in his career.
Visibly shaken, Ndiraya said: “Yogi coached me in 2006 at DeMbare and I will hasten to say that he was one of the finest mentors ever to guide me. It was a proud moment for years later when he called me to a meeting to offer me the assistant coach’s position in 2015. I didn’t need any time to think about . . . I agreed instantly because it was an honour to work alongside this great man.
“In my football journey, Yogi will always remain a pivot that taught me a lot of things not only about soccer but about life in general. Only recently, I invited him to our training venue to come and give an inspirational talk to the players and like always, it was a great lesson for the youngsters,” said Ndiraya.
Stanza also revealed in a post-match Chibuku Super Cup interview on Saturday that team had dedicated their 1-0 triumph against Harare City to Mandigora.
Yogi was just unbelievable in his life’s activities even after his right leg had been amputated in 2017 following the initial diagnosis of the disease that later claimed his life. He was never scared and talked about the disease casually, as if it was having a drink.
And he still felt strong enough after the amputation to continue with social football coaching activities where he would impart his vast knowledge to anyone who asked for his time. He had all the time in the world for anyone. Oh, he also enjoyed a game of pool once in a while.
After I had heard that the disease had recurred in his other leg and a second amputation was necessary, I phoned him to get more confirmation before the fateful Saturday morning.
Once again, he was calm and collected, as he confirmed the news and said he was comfortable with undergoing a second operation and would continue to avail himself for interviews, coaching assistance and anything else from his wheelchair. That was Yogi for you . . . always viewing life form the brighter side.
His wife, Mercy Tsitsi, said she and her family had lost their pillar, comforter, leader and advisor.
“We were looking forward to another successful operation and he was still in high spirits as we left the doctor’s rooms as we wanted to prepare but alas, the Almighty had other ideas,” she revealed as she struggled to contain her tears at the couple’s residence yesterday.
“Yogi will always be my family’s champion and we are really touched by the many and unbelievable messages of condolences pouring through from all over the world,” she said.
I am sure that this once great midfielder and inspirational coach, administrator and sociable character will have a special place reserved for him on the soccer technical bench up there somewhere.
For he was truly “An Officer and A Gentleman”. He is also survived by his three children — Leeya, Tsungai and Cephas — and five grandchildren.
Mourners are gathered at No. 9 Goshawk Avenue, Vainona.