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Farewell to Andrew ‘Mai Maria’ Kadengu

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The football fraternity is still mourning the loss of legend Andrew Kadengu during the most grievous month on record for the game in Zimbabwe.

November 2023 turned out to be a bleak month for Zimbabwe football with five members losing their life, some at the prime of their career. Coaches Rahman Gumbo and Andrew Kadengu, retired players Audience Rundofa and Milton Mukwesha along with active goalkeeper George Chigova, leaving the football family and the nation in general in ceaseless mourning.

It was inexplicable that Gumbo and Chigova passed away in the same week, both due to heartdefects in which they collapsed untimely and never to wake up again. While Chigova’s life terminated in South Africa Gumbo and Rundofa, a former Dynamos player in the 2000s, both passed away in Botswana.

Mukwesha, who turned out for the now-defunct Zimbabwe Crackers in the late 1990s died in Harare while Kadengu breathed his last in his hometown of Chinhoyi.

Kadengu, nicknamed Mai Maria, was among the greats at the once-mighty Zimbabwe Saints and died a week after celebrating his 71st birthday on November 28th. Gumbo bade farewell a week before attaining 60 years of age.

Kadengu, whose death on November 21 capped the tragic month, chronicled his career on paper for posterity ahead of his passing, portraying his rich and trophy-laden exploits.

The diminutive midfielder was born in Chinhoyi on November 21, 1952 but attended primary and secondary school in Bulawayo.

His was a nomadic career that was birthed in Bulawayo, took him to Mutare as well as back to his birthplace at Alaska Mine in between.

His star first shone at Eastlands FC in Bulawayo in the late 1960s where he played alongside players like Tymon Mabaleka, Tommy Masuku, Lovemore Nechironga and others. In 1972 after a match against Mhangura at Barbourfields the visitors coach Gideon Chieza recruited him to Mhangura’s copper-smelting subsidiary Alaska, an offer he found irresistible as it brought him closer to where his navel was deposited.

It was only for a year though as another impressive showing in Alaska colours away in Mutare caught the eye of football-loving city mayor Johnny Kirkos who was among the spectators and he convinced him and teammate Itai Kamhonde to stay in the eastern city under the care of Umtali United.

The duo obliged and rubbed shoulders with players such as Jimmy Makomo, Ebson Sugar Muguyo, Wonder Chisetera, Alban Mafemba and Spiro Yatras.

The following year saw Kadengu, Muguyo and Mafemba making the long trek to Bulawayo after being lured by Zimbabwe Saints scouts.

Kadengu melted into an array of stars in the Saints line-up who included Gibson Homeboy Homela, Max Shaluza Tshuma, Musa Muzanenhamo, William and Emmanuel Sibanda, Nelson Mapira, Onias

Musana, John Nyumbu, Phillemon Dangarembwa, Eric Meya, Itai and George Chieza, Ben Makadzange among other luminaries like Chita Antonio, Moses “Madhala Boy” Moyo and Steve
Kwashi. Tendai Chieza, Peter Dera and Simon Machaya, whom Kadengu described as exciting and innovative, took turns to coach and manage Chauya Chikwata.

The team won silverware including the Chibuku Trophy, BAT Rosebowl, Castle Cup and the 1978 league championship. Kadengu moaned over his diminutive built which caused national selectors to overlook him for international duty.

In those days players of my stature were considered unsuitable structure-wise, thats how I usually missed out on selection at national level, Kadengu often sighed. In spite of light and bantam weight Kadengu was a marvel to watch on the left-flank, weaving his way in midfield past a forest of taller legs.

Fans often wondered why he was nicknamed ‘Mai Maria’ and the response was because he was so slippery on the left wing tormenting defenders, one needed the pray the Rosary via mother Mary to stop him-hence Mai Maria.

He hung his boots well into his late 30s to go into coaching that took him for training in Brazil in 1992.

At the time of his death Kadengu, also a coaches instructor, was mentoring Lomagundi College and sat on the Zifa Mashonaland West board. Francis Zimunya, chairman of the Zimbabwe Football Stakeholders Forum had this to say about Kadengu:
The country has been robbed of a patriotic and dedicated football Coach Instructor and leader who
mentored hundreds of football coaches around the country.

He leaves us at a time when football reforms and the Normalisation of our game are taking place. His contributions towards the restructuring of football which is set for a new transformation will sadly be missed both in Mashonaland West Province and the country at large.

Kadengu was buried at Chemagamba Cemetery in Chinhoyi on December 2, 2023.

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