Harare – It’s a sweltering day at a busy garage in Chitungwiza, a town that lies about 25km east of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare.
A young, dreadlocked man with an athletic body is expertly dismounting a car engine. He wants to fix a mechanical problem he has identified after carrying out a thorough diagnosis.
The young man is Emmanuel Mandiranga, a football star who has turned out for one of Zimbabwe’s biggest soccer sides, Dynamos. He has also donned the colours of TelOne and presently turns out for the ambitious Harare City.
But competitive football was last played in Zimbabwe in December 2019, and soccer stars have to find a way to make a living, with the exception of the Super Cup final between FC Platinum and Highlanders
Which is why Mandiranga is working as a mechanic.
“I realised that football was far from returning back in June 2020, and I decided to pursue my father’s profession which is motor mechanics,” says Mandiranga. “It was a difficult decision though but there was no hope for a quick return to football. I had to do that at any costs because staying at home was very depressing.
“This garage is now my new work place and even when the game returns I will always make sure my mechanics passion roars on. I now have a fall back plan and I would like to thank my father who advised me to try a hand in it.”
It is a tale one will hear from scores of other footballers across the country. And many of them are actually grateful that COVID-19 has prompted them to find sources of income away from football, which does not pay very well in Zimbabwe.
Says one player, who asked not to be named, “My club couldn’t continue paying us salaries as they argued that we were not providing any service as per contractual agreements. I was left with no option but to quit training and start a small business. It’s now vibrant and even when football resumes, I don’t see myself returning to the field of play on a professional basis. I am done.”
Zimbabwe Warriors defender Munyaradzi Diro-Nyenye who moved to giants Caps United from Harare City in early 2020 weighs in: “I cannot really say the football freeze was a curse but it was actually a blessing in disguise. I have always eke out a living from playing football and I didn’t really know any other means to get income.
“But, now I have more than one venture and I have acquired different life skills. I still want to play football though but I will definitely be running my ventures as well.”
Dynamos’ Emmanuel Jalai together with his friend at rival side Highlanders, Collin Mujuru, have launched a fashion label, “Just Me”, and they are confident the business will thrive whether or not they return to football full-time.