Even though we are now in modern times where Western education and globalisation have taken centre stage, much of the football-loving population seems to sway to the notion that black magic, popularly known as ‘juju’ plays football.

From charms buried around the pitch to amulets worn by players, narratives abound about attempts to use other-worldly methods to secure victory in football matches.

In Zimbabwe, beliefs about spiritual interventions affecting football performance continue to be discussed and debated across the country. In one of the most chilling confessions, which apparently is going to spark debate on faith and sports culture, an ex-footballer made a shocking confession revealing that during his football career days, he used juju to play on the field.

Sharing his story during a panel discussion on faith and sportsmanship on the free-to-air gospel channel Exodus TV, belonging to a popular Christian denomination headquartered in Bulawayo, Eagle Life Assembly Church founded by Prophet Blessing Chiza, Kumbirai Chimombe admitted to using black magic during his heyday.

Highlanders coach Kelvin Kaindu, former Bosso captain Innocent Mapuranga, and retired Premier Soccer League (PSL) referee Martin Chivandire also participated in a panel discussion hosted by Deacon Adrian Denhere.

Chimombe, former Chicken Inn and Quelaton footballer now coaching Njube Spurs and a devout member of Eagle Life Assembly Church said he encountered a turning point when he met Prophet Chiza while stashing juju in his pocket on his way to a match practice.

The Damascus Moment

“It all started when I was still part of Chicken Inn and going for a practice match. I met a man I later learned was Prophet Chiza and by then I didn’t know that he was a man of God. When he was at a distance, Overseer Hove who was with him pointed at me. I was offended and I asked him why he was pointing at me.

“When they got closer to me Prophet Chiza greeted me by my name. Surprised, I remained quiet. He said to me, how are you brother Kumbi, you are going to a soccer match, why is it like I’m seeing juju in your pocket? As you know when you are carrying something suspicious you always react funnily and I then started touching my pockets where the thing was.

“The prophet said to me, ‘My brother, what I can tell you is that you can play without these things, using juju is ungodly’. The man of God then prayed for me. As I headed to the practice match, I deliberated whether to resort to the juju in my pocket or rely on the power of the prayer that had just been said,” recounted Chimombe.

He said he later took the field, faced with a choice, he opted to trust in his abilities and the power of self-belief rather than anything else.

“Despite leaving the juju behind, I performed incredibly well in that match, and even today, I remain unsure about what was happening.

A referee’s journey through football’s mystical moments

Chivandire who was also part of the panel discussion stated that during his distinguished career, he encountered players, team officials, coaches, and managers who believed in mystical interventions in football.

“I have officiated at almost all stadiums in Zimbabwe and I’ve met players, team officials, coaches, managers, and fellow referees during countless matches. I want to clarify that I’m not speaking for the entire refereeing community, but solely based on my personal experiences. While interacting with these individuals, I’ve observed a prevalent belief in seeking assistance from traditional healers. That belief is there “Based on my observations, some players and teams believe seeking aid from traditional healers grants them power on the field.

“Often, before the match, one team might circle the entire pitch around the other, while opposing players might avoid crossing that path. At times, team officials might inform me about coarse salt found on benches or in dressing rooms. As per Premier League regulations, we ensure the home teams clean such mess,” said Chivandire.

Ditch juju, embrace the hallelujah!

In his comment on the use of juju by footballers, Kaindu said that faith shouldn’t be forced upon anyone, but rather shared willingly with those (footballers) open and receptive.

He said by encouraging them and showing them the way, they can witness positive changes and be inspired to share their testimonies.

“Firstly ,it is not easy when you are working in these industries but what is important now is to remember that God is lifting people in every place wherever they are working from. It doesn’t matter even in prisons we have seen God lifting people to minister and spread the Gospel.

“We don’t force the word of God on anyone, instead we speak to those that are willing and we encourage and show them the way and will be able to witness positive results and testify, ‘Since giving my life to God, I’ve seen God do this’,” said Kaindu.

From charms to hymns

Mapuranga urged players to abandon reliance on juju, asserting that faith in God is the true source of prowess on the field.

“We all need God, and players especially. I thank Prophet Chiza, for strengthening my faith. Look at how we played at Highlanders – as a team, united by love. That’s all thanks to him. We were the most disciplined team in the league, no fighting among ourselves or with referees, again, driven by that love. Every team needs God.”

“As players, we used to hold solo all-night prayer sessions and even sang worldly songs. But after meeting Prophet Chiza, we embraced God’s hymns, and the fear we once felt while resorting to charms and juju simply vanished. Our faith replaced anxieties, as we knew with God on our side, victory was within reach,” said Mapuranga.

He said he was now leading a ministry in Cowdray Park, Champions of Christ International Ministries. BMetro.