Thousands of former soccer lovers, relatives, friends and colleagues of the late former Warriors and Highlanders legend, Willard Mashinkila-Khumalo, gathered in Bulawayo on Thursday to bid farewell to one of the country’s greatest players amid calls from some that Zimbabwe should give such icons the recognition they deserve, both in life and in the death.
Addressing mourners during a service held at MacDonald Hall in Bulawayo’s Mzilikazi high density suburb, Khumalo’s young brother, Brian, who spoke on behalf of the family, said his brother was a loving and humble person inspite of the fame that he had achieved from his heroics on the football pitch.
Brian said he was pained that although his brother's talent could have brought riches, he had died a poor man.
He said Mawi, as he was affectionately known by Zimbabwean soccer fans, often confided in him that he would sometimes not get paid for his services either as a player or as a coach, but added that Khumalo was not bitter as football was his first love.
Friends and colleagues, both at Highlanders and the national team, Rahman Gumbo and Madinda Ndlovu, also praised Khumalo for his skills, his loyalty to friendship and his humility with Gumbo saying that he is happy that Willard died when he had become a born-again Christian.
Another soccer legend, Moses Chunga, also heaped praise on his compatriot saying he was a true gentleman and a nationalist who always remained humble inspite of his fame.
He called on the government to come up with a comprehensive sports policy that would help ensure that football affairs, including players' welfare, would be properly taken care of as well as befitting recognition to inspire the youth and others.
Secretary Paul Gundani of the Zimbabwe Footballers Union, who played with Khumalo in the famous Warriors Dream Team, said Mawii was instrumental in the formation of the players’ union and also reiterated that it is important for players like Willard to be rewarded adequately and honored while they are still alive.
Highlanders supporters, who spoke to Studio 7, said they were saddened by the fact that "Mawi" had died at a time when he could play a major role in bringing back glory to the much-loved Bulawayo club, Highlanders.
After the service Khumalo’s body was paraded in the streets as thousands waved to say goodbye to their legend.
He was also taken to the nearby Babourfields where he horned his skills before becoming a national icon.
Thousands of adoring fans filled the stadium. Khumalo died last Saturday after suffering from diabetes.
He was 49 and leaves behind a wife and children