Charles Yohane: From Zimbabwe’s Warriors star to taxi driver

Yohane played in successive Afcons for Zimbabwe, in 2004 and 2006

The death of South Africa-based former Zimbabwe national team footballer Charles Yohane has again highlighted the challenges that African players can face at the end of their careers.

Yohane died in South Africa on 12 February at the age of 48 in an apparent car-jacking incident.

He was working as a taxi driver and as a coach with an amateur football club, and had also set up an academy with his good friend Edelbert Dinha, who he played with at the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations.

Yohane was killed after he was car-jacked when he stopped at a traffic light. He was shot in the head in front of onlookers in Soweto, and his body was discovered the following day.

Club record

Yohane’s career highlight was supplying the cross for Zimbabwe’s first-ever Africa Cup of Nations goal, finished by captain Peter Ndlovu, as the Warriors lost 2-1 to Egypt in their debut match at the 2004 finals.

He also played a part in the strike that was named goal of the tournament – as he laid the ball on to Esrom Nyandoro, who scored with a superb long-range shot from outside the box in a 5-3 loss to Cameroon.

From those heights, and a club-record 268 appearances for South African top-flight club Wits, Yohane was a driver for for taxi company Bolt at the time of his death, while working on other plans.

“He would have been earning maybe around $5,000 (£3,700) a month as a player and around $400 a month working for Bolt,” spokesperson for the South African Football Association Dominic Chimhavi told BBC Sport.

Yohane moved from Zimbabwe to South Africa in 1996 and played for top-flight side Wits, becoming the captain and making a club record 268 appearances from 1997 to 2006.

Bidvest Wits in February 2020
The Bidvest Wits side in February 2020, shortly before Yohane was dismissed from coaching them

He later became coach of the Wits developmental side, but lost his job when the club sold its franchise to Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila in 2020.

Keen to maintain his coaching skills, he joined amateur club Leruma United FC in the third-tier ABC Motsepe League. But that amateur status meant he needed a new source of income – hence the need to work as a taxi driver.

Academy hopes

Yohane is one of many prominent African footballers who have had notable careers but then fell on hard times after the end of their playing days.

Congolese and African football legend Mulamba Ndaye died in poverty in South Africa at the age of 70 in 2019.

He scored nine goals at the 1974 Nations Cup, a tournament record that still stands.

David Mkandawire was a Zimbabwean footballer who, like Yohane, went to South Africa and did not return.

Mkandawire played for clubs including Amazulu, but he struggled after he stopped playing, and he died destitute.

His is just one of many such cases around Africa, and there has been much talk over the years for plans to be made for the welfare of former players.

But the harsh reality is that it is not possible to meet their needs.

Edelbert Dinha
Yohane’s academy was set up with his international team-mate Edelbert Dinha

Desmond Maringwa is president of the Footballers’ Union of Zimbabwe and a board member of FIFPro Africa – an organisation representing active players around the continent.

“The challenge is that players need a fall-back plan for when they retire,” Maringwa told BBC Sport.

“Players are retiring every year, and we can’t have an organisation to look after those who fall on hard times.

“We encourage and teach players to make the most of their careers, to plan for life after football.

“We can make players conscious of the need to do this, and hold coaching courses – and we are also hoping to get non-governmental organisations to assist – but they have to plan when they are playing.”

Yohane does at least leave a legacy – a football academy that he set up with former international team-mate Dinha, who played for Orlando Pirates.

The academy has 100 children involved and they try to train every day.

“Charles’ death was a shock. It is still a shock for all of us in South Africa,” Dinha said.

“But the reality is we just have to accept it.

“Charles and I created Shumba Football Development for disadvantaged kids here in Johannesburg. We want to try and give back what we learned when we were playing. That was always the aim – to give back to the kids.

“The passion that Charles and what we also have is what we want to give them. We want to have the next Messi or Ronaldo to come out of the academy,”

If events had been different, Yohane might not have been a former player in need, and he would have still been around to pursue his dream – that of helping others to achieve theirs.