Are Chiefs fans becoming xenophobic?
Harare- First it was Kingston Nkhatha and now some of the Kaizer Chief boo boys have turned their guns on Zimbabwe international striker, Matthew Rusike, amid genuine concerns here that they are being influenced by xenophobic traits.
Nkhatha walked away from the Amakhosi, after winning a league title, with six months left on his contract, after finally losing patience with the boo boys who stalked his every move and booed his every miss.
The Zimbabwean forward became the easy target for some of the Chiefs fans, in bad times, and he was booed so much that he revealed, in a recent interview, that the persecution by his own supporters made him suffer nightmares.
“Even sleeping became difficult because I would be asking myself: ‘What did I do wrong today?’ People were on my case, even though many others in the team also made mistakes, but they were never on them,” Nkhatha told the March issue of Kick-Off Magazine.
“You end up thinking that maybe these fans are booing because I am a foreigner and they just don’t like me for that.
“But at the same time I would also know that some of them just supported me for being part of the team. The trouble is that when one person starts being negative it rubs off on the rest of the crowd.”
One of Nkhatha’s replacements, since he moved to SuperSport United, has been his countryman, Rusike, who has suddenly found himself in the spotlight now that he is having more game time in the colours of the Amakhosi.
But, as Nkhatha found out in the past few years, Rusike is beginning to learn the hard way that it is never easy to lead the Amakhosi forward line, especially if you are a foreigner from Zimbabwe, in these days when South African society has turned xenophobic.
When Chiefs’ 24-match unbeaten streak was ended in the league by, ironically, a SuperSport United side powered by Nkhatha, the Amakhosi boo boys decided it was time to find a new target and poor Rusike was the unfortunate victim.
Even though Rusike scored in the CAF Champions League preliminary round tie against Township Rollers of Botswana, as Chiefs carried a slender lead into the second leg, it did not stop the boo boys from targeting him. Zimbabwean football agent, George Deda, believes it will be unfair to claim that the Amakhosi boo boys have turned xenophobic because Chiefs, more than any South African club, have provided a home for Zimbabwean players.
“I think we have to look at it in the right context because Chiefs have been good to our players and provided a home to them, better than any other team in South Africa,” said Deda.
“There is also the issue of Willard Katsande, who is a Zimbabwean, and is held in very high regard by the Chiefs fans and he performs very well, week in and week out.
“He is comfortable there and he has taken his game to a higher level and I think, when you consider what Knowledge Musona also did at this club, and how he was loved by the fans, you can probably understand my point.
“I think in terms of our strikers, the challenge is that Musona set the bar, in terms of the standards, so high and everyone who is Zimbabwean and goes to play for Chiefs as a striker, people will be hoping to see another Knowledge and when that doesn’t happen, they become disappointed quickly.”
African football expert, Ed Dove, who writes the game from his residence in France, has also been analysing the issues at Chiefs for Kick-Off.com.
“While I foresaw a SuperSport victory, I did not expect Chiefs fans to turn on forward Matthew Rusike,” Dove wrote.
“As Chiefs struggled, the Zimbabwean was barracked by fans and became a scapegoat for the team’s overall failings or struggles.
“Was he really so inferior to Bernard Parker on the day? The South Africa forward was guilty, after all, of a late miss for point-blank range which would have levelled the contest.
“Rusike was guilty of missing several chances against Rollers at the weekend, despite scoring Chiefs’ opener, but against SuperSport I found him bright and lively – certainly looking more intense and focused than some of his teammates.
“It’s important to remember, as well, that he has had his own troubles with injury and has endured a disjointed season, often struggling for match fitness.
“In truth, it remains to be seen whether Rusike will ever be ‘Chiefs quality’, but I see enough in his pace, his sharpness, his work-rate and his shot to suggest that he can progress – not that that will happen if the fans remain on his back.”
Dove also feels the Amakhosi fans were wrong to target Nkhatha and sees similarities in their treatment of Rusike.
“When things aren’t going well, effort and energy can often paper over the cracks left by a lack of confidence or cohesion,” wrote Dove.
“Perhaps it was inevitable that the heckling that had affected him so much in Soweto, and become a burden during his time at Chiefs, inspired him on to a finer performance against his former club on Tuesday (February 17).
“I accept that Nkhatha had his failings and missed his fair share of sitters, but the reaction of Chiefs fans to his performances hardly helped. Amakhosi supporters are in danger of forcing history to repeat itself with needless barracking of Rusike.”