THE man who made history by taking Taifa Stars of Leodegar Tenga and others to the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1980, Joel Bendera, has finally bowed out from the world stage for his Creator.
I first met Joel Bendera in the then East Germany or the Democratic Republic of Germany, as it was then known, in January 1980, when I went with Sethi Kamuhanda, for a six month course in News Agency Reporting at the Berlin Institute of Journalism, also known as Warner Lamberz School of Journalism.
As Shihata (Tanzania News Agency) reporters, we had just completed one year since the end of our two year diploma course in journalism at the Tanzania School of Journalism, currently referred to as IJMC, part of the University of Dar es Salaam.
Bendera was during the time undergoing his two year coaching course in football in Leipzig, which was within the Leipzig University, in Leipzig.
Other students who were pursuing degrees in various fields at the Leipzig University during the period included Hassan Mitawi, who has since retired from civil service in the Zanzibar government and Ali Siwa, who would later become my German language instructor at the Goethe Institut in Dar es Salaam as I prepared to join Radio Deutsche Welle, which was then located in the cultural city of Cologne in 1991.
My friend, Kamuhanda would later become Managing Editor of the Tanzania Standard Newspapers, publishers of ‘Daily/Sunday News’ and ‘HabariLeo’ before he was later appointed Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Culture, Youth and Sports.
Bendera was a jovial and highly skilled soccer coach, who has left an indelible mark, call it legacy if you like, in the country’s soccer annals. Bendera’s passing on at the Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH), on Wednesday this week, marks the sad end of a group of soccer coaches who were trained abroad by the first phase administration of President Julius Kambarage Nyerere.Bendera’s generation of coaches, who has since passed on after registering illustrious services in the beautiful game includes Paul West Gwivaha, who took Simba to the semifinal of the continental club championship in 1974, Raymond Gama and Syllersaid Mziray.
But what differentiated Bendera from many soccer coaches this country has had was that he combined coaching skills with grounding in psychology. The man was good at making his players believe that they had what it takes to win a match at hand.
Indeed, taking a glance at matches he steered his teams to victory, he could not have done well without preparing his players, psychologically. Bendera strongly believed that for any team to win a game, it was important it was also well prepared mentally.
One of Bendera’s most memorable victories included his handling of Simba Sports Club, when they were taking part in the continental club championship in the late 1970s. In the first leg match played at the formally national Stadium, now Uhuru Stadium in Dar es Salaam, Simba had gone down by four goals to nil against Zambia’s mighty side, Mufulira Wanderers.
And, when asked at the then Dar es Salaam International Airport by local journalists whether he had given up on the return leg match in Ndola, Bendera had this to say; “if they were able to beat us by four goals, there is no reason why we should not do what they have done to us.”
As usual, no one believed in Bendera, including some of us, and the reason was very simple; Simba had been outplayed in each and every department. For Simba, those were the days of players like Abdallah Kibadeni, Thuweni Ally, who had been recruited from Zanzibar and Mohamed Kajole, to name just a few.
Finally, the day of reckoning came with a live broadcast from Ndola by Radio Tanzania caster. As they say, the rest is history. Simba beat Mufulira Wanderers by five goals to nil to advance to the second round of the tournament.
In the memorable match, Thuweni Ally, who was one of the few Tanzanian players who were traditional centre forwards, registered a hat-trick. Since Bendera took Taifa Stars to the AFCON finals in Lagos, 37 years ago, Taifa Stars have never qualified for the prestigious tournament.
Bendera later went into politics and would be elected Member of Parliament for Korogwe Urban (CCM) before he was later appointed Deputy Minister. He then became Regional Commissioner for Morogoro. Until October this year, Bendera Since Bendera took Taifa Stars to the AFCON finals in Lagos, 37 years ago, Taifa Stars have never qualified for the prestigious tournament had been Manyara Regional Commissioner.
When I googled, to refresh my mind over Bendera’s biography, I was surprised to note that what was available in the net only dwelt with Bendera’s political life, which he had earned through his political role as a member of parliament.
The bio said nothing about Bendera’s exploits as one of the most successful coaches. Yet his constituents in Korogwe would not have known him had it not been for the path he had cut for himself as one of the best soccer coaches this country has ever had.
Apart from Simba SC and Taifa Stars, Bendera, had quite a stint with Young Africans and Tanga’s African Sports. The fact that Bendera served two administrations, first as deputy minister, and later as regional commissioner, just goes to show the man’s leadership skills. I last spoke to Bendera, through the phone, in 2015, when I was trying to arrange an appointment with him for my sports book I have been working on.
I had wanted him to give me his detailed bio including the challenges he went through as a coach. When I contacted him to seek appointment with him, Bendera was Morogoro’s Regional Commissioner. He had agreed to raise me, once in Dar es Salaam, but it is with a lot of sadness we never met.
Joel was always, understandably, very busy, trying to put down fires on endless conflicts between peasants and pastoralists. In the passing on of Joel Bendera, the soccer coach, politician and government leader, Tanzanians have lost a man who was more than a soccer coach.
However, when all is said and done, we will always remember him as a man who sent Taifa Stars to the AFCON finals in Lagos, Nigeria in 1980.