BULAWAYO – Former Highlanders striker Gift Lunga Senior was a prolific goal getter who could have made his mark in Europe had he not fallen victim to club politics at the Bulawayo giants.
A product of Ali “Baba” Dube’s famed Highlanders juniors set up of yesteryear, Lunga was the country’s top goal scorer in 1994 and his exploits saw him joining German outfit Bonner SC for the 1995-96 season.
And contrary to the popular belief that he was let go by the Germans after sustaining a serious back injury, Lunga claims he was denied a chance to return to Europe by the then Bosso leadership.
“They wanted me back in Germany and I even had the return air ticket but I could not go back without the blessing of my team Highlanders, who had loaned me to the German outfit,” Lunga said.
“I had received specialist treatment for my back injury through the assistance I got from Emmet Ndlovu and the truth is that there was some internal strife at Highlanders and I unfortunately became a statistic.”
Lunga made his Highlanders first team debut in the early 1990s but failed to command a regular starting berth as he was playing second fiddle to the Ndlovu brothers, Peter and the late Adam.
This did not deter him and he proved his goal scoring abilities when coming on as a super substitute.
He eventually got his chance when Peter left for England and went on to form a deadly partnership with Adam upfront.
Lunga eventually went on to shoulder the striking responsibilities when Adam also left for Europe and did not disappoint.
He was the country’s top goal scorer in 1994 and his exploits saw him being called up to the Warriors side that played against the then Zaire during the Ebola epidemic after the regular squad members refused to travel.
Bonner SC then came calling and Lunga moved to Germany where he played for a season before coming back to his boyhood club Highlanders.
Lunga stayed at Highlanders until a crude tackle by then Dynamos defender Kaitano Tembo ended his career in the late 90s.
After hanging up his boots, Lunga ventured into coaching and worked with Entumbane Cosmos, which was owned by his friend Bongani Ndlovu.
He coached Cosmos for two seasons before he was roped into the Highlanders junior structures. In 2006 he won the Premier Soccer League title with Highlanders as assistant to Methembe Ndlovu and later followed his former teammate to Bantu Rovers, where he is still coaching up to now.
Lunga had previously won the league championship twice as a player under Roy Barretto in the early 90s
While Lunga’s European sojourn may have ended prematurely, there is hope that the Lunga name may feature again in international stadia if his son Ray lives up to his talent.
Ray is currently studying in the United States and his father said he hopes he will go on to hit the big time.
“As a father, I do wish that my son goes on to realise his full potential but at the moment school comes first for him,” Lunga Snr said. – Sakheleni Nxumalo