Chikuhwa speaks on bizarre method to counter “juju”

On fire Highlanders striker, Lynoth Chikuhwa also known in football circles as Sonjy, has become a figure of fascination and, dare we say, superstitious beliefs, on the Zimbabwe Premier Soccer League (PSL) football scene.

On fire Highlanders striker, Lynoth Chikuhwa also known in football circles as Sonjy, has become a figure of fascination and, dare we say, superstitious beliefs, on the Zimbabwe Premier Soccer League (PSL) football scene.

His bizarre ritual during corner kicks has tongues wagging and goalkeepers scrambling for new water bottles.

The 31-year-old striker is currently the top goal scorer in the PSL with seven goals, one ahead of Never Rauzhi of Bulawayo Chiefs and Juan Mutudza of FC Platinum who both have six each.

Whenever a corner kick is awarded to Bosso, Chikuhwa makes a beeline into the opponent's goal area.

But instead of lining up for the header, he performs a rather unorthodox act as he picks bottled water belonging to the opposition goalkeeper and drinks from the container before washing his face before proceeding to shake the nets.

“Lihlikize i net Sonjy, khipha imtewuro yabo (shake the nets Sonji, remove their rituals),” Bosso fans shout out to Chikuhwa in their usual chorus at the Soweto Bay.

Chikuhwa claims he will be performing a spiritual cleansing, ridding the goal of any malicious "juju" that might be hindering Highlanders’ chances to score.

Juju, a traditional African belief system incorporating spiritual elements, is often associated with curses and bad luck. By pouncing on the opposite goalminder’s water and shaking the nets Chikuhwa believes he will be neutralising any dark forces at play.

“I do that purposely. I first check the bottle if it's sealed before I open it to drink water. But when it's not sealed I open it and throw it away,” Chikuhwa told The Sports Hub in an exclusive interview.

“My general belief is that everyone comes to play football prepared. So if you just watch them practice their beliefs in your face, you might fail to send the ball back to the nets. Teams do whatever they believe to win the game and I know that for some goalkeepers it's not just a bottle of water from the supermarket, but there is a belief attached to that water bottle.

“Last time, I had an encounter with Chicken Inn FC goalie Donovan Bernard after I opened his bottle of water and threw it away from the goal area. But we spoke about it after the game in a very friendly way, we are very okay but I had to do what I believed in for the game. We have different beliefs and whatever we do, we do it to win,” the Highlanders striker explained

Last season, referees had to intervene to stop the contest after Chikuhwa picked Bernard’s water bottle at Barbourfields Stadium and washed his face before throwing the empty bottle away.

PSL chairman Farai Jere said there were no laws or specific policies, which stops players from performing their rituals whenever they play games.

“As PSL we do not have any laws in relation to the use of juju because those are beliefs just like religion,” he told this publication.

“We have Christians, Muslims and others. So we cannot stop players from bringing their bottles of water because we don't know what they believe in. These things are there even in the South African league, we see some bringing different kinds of things inside the pitch.

“Some bring towels, others bring water. Sometimes they hide their stuff in their boots and we don't see them or we see them practising their beliefs inside the ground hence we cannot do anything about it because it's there even in Europe players bring in their water bottles, but who knows what's inside the water bottle?” Jere added.

However, Zimbabwean football legend Peter Ndlovu said goalkeepers were allowed to have their drinks close to them, but no one can question what will be inside their bottles.

Ndlovu added “I always put my God first in everything I do.”

This eccentric ritual has divided opinions. Some fans hail Chikuhwa as a maverick hero, taking the fight against the unseen. Opponents scoff, calling it a mere sideshow, a tactic to distract the goalkeeper.

Irrespective of belief, Chikuhwa's water-wielding routine has undoubtedly become part of his PSL story. Opposing goalkeepers are sure to be keeping a close eye on their water bottles, hoping to avoid a soaking from the self-proclaimed "juju exorcist".

Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) normalisation committee chairperson Lincoln Mutasa added his voice to the contentious issue.

“As Zifa we do not have any laws in relation to the use of juju, but we are guided by national laws on witchcraft. We do have laws prohibiting use of drugs and substance abuse. The pillars for success of any football team consist of good administration, discipline, psychology, tactics, and training," he said.

“Under the psychology pillar, coaches and players all over the world have many beliefs to motivate, increase luck, and other superstitious behaviours. My belief is that the best juju is hard work, discipline and focus.”

The water bottle belief is not only peculiar to Zimbabwe.

In 2022, Egypt goalkeeper Mohamed Qotb Abou Gabal Ali also known as Gabaski had a water bottle listing Senegal players' penalty preferences during the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) final shootout defeat, with the shot stopper going the right way on all spot kicks.

The water bottle was covered in small pieces of paper with an incredible amount of detail about each Senegal player penalty technique.

Chikuhwa, who has been named the PSL player of the month for April in recognition of his outstanding performance believes there is more to bottled water than what meets the eye.

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