Memory Mucherahowa
Memory Mucherahowa YouTube

Memory Mucherahowa, one of the greatest players in Zimbabwe's footballing history, has lifted the lid on the widespread use of 'juju', or magic rituals, by teams trying to win games.

For decades, players, staff and clubs have all denied using witchcraft to bring success in matches. This includes practising rituals, wearing amulets and charms or – in some cases – burying animals in stadiums or on pitches to improve a team's fortunes.

Now Mucherahowa, a former Zimbabwean international who had a successful spell as captain at the country's most successful club Dynamos, has uncovered the truth about the use of juju during his playing career.

In his new book Soul of Seven Million Dreams, the 49-year-old football legend described how a deep belief in juju interfered with tactics, and in some cases, badly affected players' performances.

"Every week before a game the team would consult a traditional healer. I, as the team captain, would be the one to execute whatever the sangoma [juju man] had said. Whether it actually aided us, I do not know," Mucherahowa wrote in his book.

"The team believed more in juju than players' ability. We believed in collective use of the juju and consulted one traditional healer as a team (...) In most cases we had the team's traditional healers who were on the team's payroll.

"The belief was so high at the club that coach [Peter] Nyama lost his job in 1990 after being fingered by a traditional healer as being guilty of jinxing the team."

During one incident, Mucherahowa witnessed a sangoma cutting the players' toes so as to apply his "medicine" ahead of a match against Canon Yaoundé of Cameroon during the 1987 African Cup of Champions Clubs.

The team had to play on despite the pain. "The cuts were so deep and our toes were in pain throughout the match," the captain, who retired in 2001, said.

"The pain was made worse by the fact that we drew the match 1-1. In that case juju did not help us at all, but that did not stop the team from believing in it," he added. "My loyalty was with the team's cause and I was prepared to do anything. I was prepared to die on the field ... and even volunteered to be the team's juju carrier."

In Zimbabwe, juju – although often done in secret – is perceived differently to witchcraft, an act viewed "as evil and shameful in our society" according to Bothwell Mahlengwe, a sports writer.