HARARE – Shepherd Makunura, so highly regarded he was touted by admirers as a future coach of Zimbabwe’s national cricket team – and deemed by as many to be one of the best black cricketers never to play for the country – has passed away on Thursday morning aged 46 after a lengthy illness.

Makunura, who died at a private hospital in Harare, was Zimbabwe’s fielding coach at the time of his passing although illness had prevented him from being with the team over the past five months, including at the T20 World Cup in Australia in October and November.

A serial winner as a coach in Zimbabwe’s domestic league, Makunura won a combined four titles in a row in the first-class competition, the Logan Cup, in charge of Manicaland Mountaineers and Southern Rocks between 2016 and 2021.

Harare-born Makunura was part of the third generation of township cricketers to receive scholarships to Prince Edward School, where he emerged as an all-rounder of real promise in a star-studded schoolboy side that impressed on a tour of England in 1995. He teamed up in that PE team with such gifted players as Mark Vermeulen, David Mutendera, Patrick Gada, Nyasha Chari, Moses Chitare and others.

Shepherd Makunura (front row, first from left) with the Takashinga Cricket Club side of 2001-2. Next to him is Tatenda Taibu and then Prosper Utseya, who both captained Zimbabwe. Another former Zimbabwe skipper Elton Chigumbura is in the back row, between senior teammates Walter Chawaguta and Givemore Makoni. Club coach Steve Mangongo is in the bright-coloured shirt and floppy hat. Mangongo and Chawaguta are both former Zimbabwe head coaches whilst Makoni is current MD of ZC.

Hailing from Harare’s high-density suburb of Highfield, an epicentre of black cricket in Zimbabwe, the then budding football goalkeeper was introduced to cricket at Chengu Primary School in the area through a development programme of the national cricket board.

The Prince Edward scholarship was a turning point for Makunura, who longed to follow in the footsteps of pace bowlers Henry Olonga and Mpumelelo “Pommie” Mbangwa, the first two black cricketers to be capped by Zimbabwe around the mid-90s.

Childhood friend and ex-teammate Patrick Gada was one of the first to pay tribute to Makunura following announcement of his death on Thursday morning.

Gada, who has always hailed Makunura as the best township talent of their generation, was also at Prince Edward on scholarship.  

“We toured the United Kingdom together in 1995 with Prince Edward Boys High School and we had a wonderful time,” Gada told SportsCast from the UK, where he lives.

“Shepherd really played well on that tour and I feel he was one of the best amongst everyone at handling pressure or tense match situations. He always looked calm and relaxed at the crease when batting. He did make batting look easy many a time.”

Shepherd Makunura (middle row, first from right) with the Prince Edward School touring squad at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London in 1995. Two players (back row, third and fourth from left) David Mutendera and Mark Vermeulen, went on to play for Zimbabwe.

Of a very pleasant nature, amiable and modest, the ever-smiling Makunura was known to enjoy quality time with good friends over rounds of beer, and a great many will testify how easy he was to get along with.

Gada recalled fond memories of Makunura and their childhood.

“I grew up with Shepherd in Highfield from the early 1980s. ‘Shepp’ or ‘Shapiro’ as I preferred to call him, was a great brother to me and from his young days he was always calm and respectful,” Gada remarked.

“In all our time growing up and into adulthood, I cannot remember a time when I saw him really angry or not able to control his anger. There were times when one felt that maybe he should have been a bit more vocal, even on issues he was passionate about, but Shepp was not that type of an individual as he preferred to keep to himself. I grew up with Shepherd and his family, living next door to each other as neighbours in Highfield. I knew all his family and we always had great love and respect for each other.

“We shared many happy times on and off the field from primary to high school as we both attended the same schools. Growing up, we played cricket and football in the same team in primary school and at home. We also played a lot of street cricket and street football together. I had great respect for his sporting abilities and he was a great all-round sportsperson. He was an elegant cricket batsman, good wicket-keeper, good accurate pace bowler and a very good football goalkeeper. In cricket, he was to me the best cricketer from the townships who never got to play for his country. As a coach, he also learnt a lot from (Guyanese-born former England batsman) Monte Lynch, who coached in Zimbabwe at Southern Rocks some years back. Shepp was very close to Monte.”

From the 90s to the early 2000s Makunura was a prolific batter and a naggingly accurate medium pace bowler for high-density outfit Takashinga Cricket Club, on top of being an electrifying fielder.

However due to limited opportunities back then, older Takashinga players like Makunura and others were already looking beyond their playing days, venturing into other areas of the game.

But they kept playing, selflessly taking on the role of club elder statesmen and helping in the grooming process of younger teammates – Tatenda Taibu, Hamilton Masakadza, Vusi Sibanda, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Elton Chigumbura, Prosper Utseya – who all went on to play for Zimbabwe.

A handful of first-class games for Mashonaland ‘A’ and Northerns completed Makunura’s playing career, which was derailed by injury hence he turned to coaching early.  

Makunura’s coaching skills came to the fore early as well, one of his students being a young Colin de Grandhomme – the former Zimbabwe Under-19 star all-rounder who later played 29 Tests, 45 ODIs and 41 T20Is for New Zealand.

“In the late 90s, I worked with Shepherd at Highlands Junior School in Harare, and he was the school’s sports master,” Gada said.

“This was after he asked me to come and assist him with cricket and sports coaching. I found him to be highly knowledgeable and organised as a coach and administrator. He did help many young people in Zimbabwe with their sports development and all the young people at Highlands Junior loved and called him ‘Mr Mak’. He was also instrumental in the development of Colin de Grandhomme at Highlands Junior in the late 90s. I used to watch a lot of cricket with him in our spare time and he loved his local music as well as reggae music.”

Makunura was married to ex-cricketer Sinikiwe “Sneez” Mpofu and the couple had two children.

The two had a prominent all-cricketers’ romantic relationship that charmed the cricket circles back in the days: Hararian Makunura, a rising star in the country’s coaching ranks and Mpofu – from Bulawayo – the stunning poster-girl of Zimbabwe’s historic first women’s cricket team.

Mpofu is currently Zimbabwe Women’s assistant coach.

“On behalf of Zimbabwe Cricket, our deepest sympathies are with his family, colleagues and friends as they come to terms with losing such an affable and wonderful man,” said ZC managing director Givemore Makoni in a statement.

“We have lost one of our very best coaches, an unsung hero of our game who has been instrumental in the unearthing and nurturing of many of Zimbabwe’s talented players.

“We are grateful for his immense contributions to the sport in Zimbabwe and beyond and the void that he has left will be hard to fill.

“Our thoughts are with Sinikiwe, his family and friends at this devastating time.”


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