HARARE – Back in the days when Navy Masuku was a goalkeeper for Highlanders Royals, she would vehemently protest against refereeing decisions that went against her team and accuse match officials of bias.
This tendency to protest and mobilise fellow players to complain even earned her the nickname Mai Musangano.
Fast forward to today, and the tables have turned on Masuku as she is now the one at the receiving end of players’ complaints as a Class One referee.
“I used to give referees a hard time when I was a player because I thought they were biased and I only got to realise how wrong I was when I started getting flak from players when I became a referee,” Masuku says.
“The match officials were just implementing the laws of the game but back then I believed they were against us especially when we were playing New Orleans, who had usurped our dominance as a powerhouse in women’s football.”
Masuku’s involvement in organised football began in 1990 when she joined Highlanders Royals.
Women’s football had been introduced in the country the previous year, but Masuku had been unable to join from the onset since she was expecting her first child.
After giving birth, she joined Highlanders Royals as an outfield player but was assigned to keep goals in 1991 after the first choice goalkeeper left for South Africa.
Her first game was against fierce rivals Zimbabwe Saints Queens, which Royals convincingly won 8-1.
The team’s leadership was satisfied with her performance and arranged for her to train with the men’s team under the then goalkeeper coach Cosmas “Tsano” Zulu.
Masuku benefitted from rubbing shoulders with the likes of Sydney Zimunya, who was Highlanders’ first choice goalkeeper in the absence of the injured Peter Nkomo.
She developed as a goalkeeper, leading to her being selected to be part of the Mighty Warriors squad in 1993.
Her first taste of international football came that same year when she kept goals for a Bulawayo Select side that beat South Africa 2-1 in a friendly match in Harare.
After putting up a man-of-the-match performance Masuku was asked to keep goal for a Harare Select that engaged the South Africans on the following day.
She, however, could not stop the visitors from romping to a 3-0 victory.
Her performances though, were enough to secure her the number one jersey for the Mighty Warriors and she went on to feature for the national team until 1998 when she lost her position to Duduzile Nkomo.
Some of the players that Masuku played with in the trailblazing Highlanders Royals of the early 90s include the late former team captain Sikhangele Sibanda, Bridget Zimunya, Eve Tombwala, Samukeliso Mahlangu, Suku Dube, who took over the captaincy when Sibanda went to South Africa, Benita Phiri, Eveline Ndlovu, Jackie Ngwenya, Lindiwe “Mabhonzo” Ncube, dribbling wizard Zenzile “Dolly” Mpofu and Amelia Mlesu.
Young players that later joined the team include former Mighty Warriors players Nomsa Moyo, Rosemary Mugadza, Talent Zulu and Soneni Nyathi.
Mugadza and Moyo later abandoned ship and joined New Orleans in the mid 90s and the emergence of the Entumbane-based side saw Royals losing their status as the powerhouse in women’s football.
Masuku also got an offer to join New Orleans but chose to remain loyal to Highlanders Royals.
This loyalty was repaid when the club paid for her to attend a refereeing course in 2002.
She had upon her retirement in 2000 served as the team manager for the Royals.
“The executive called all the senior players and asked us to choose between refereeing and coaching and I chose refereeing,” Masuku explains.
“I initially just went along just for the sake of doing it, but today I am grateful that they had the foresight to think about my livelihood at the end of my playing days.”
Masuku cited meeting former South African president Nelson Mandela as one of her career highlights and her most disappointing game was when Royals lost 2-0 to Tsakane Ladies of South Africa in 1996. – Sakheleni Nxumalo