We cannot talk of Malawi netball without mentioning his name,” that is how Netball Association of Malawi (NAM) general secretary Carol Bapu has mourned former Queens coach Griffin ‘Zagalo’ Saenda on Thursday.
Saenda died at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) in Blantyre on Thursday morning.
Bapu said: “He was a great inspiration to netball coaches in Africa and was a big contributor to Malawi Queens’ achievements. We will greatly miss him. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”
Australia-based Queens’ shooter Mwawi Kumwenda, who was nurtured by Saenda at Kukoma Diamonds before becoming the country’s first overseas professional netballer in 2011, described the 68-year-old’s death as a “devastating loss”.
“A huge sense of loss that I feel. To know he is no more is definitely a hard hit for the country. He was a true legend. May your soul rest in peace,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
Minister of Youth and Sports Ulemu Msungama said he was deeply saddened by Saenda’s departure, saying it is a great loss to the netball fraternity.
“Until his death, Mr Saenda was one of the best coaches for the Queens and he made great contributions to the country’s netball. The netball fraternity and, indeed, the whole country, will miss his contributions. May his soul rest in peace,” he said.
Former Malawi National Council of Sports (MNCS) executive secretary George Jana, under whose tenure Saenda’s career thrived, said he knew and worked with the late Saenda for not less than 15 years.
He said: “He was not only a work colleague, but a friend as well. He was always cheerful. He was a talented coach and, although a lot of people knew him as a netball coach, he was also trained and was equally good in athletics, cycling and tennis, among many other sporting codes. He could coach football as well.
“Griffin was a hard-worker with a spirit towards achieving the best out of any situation he involved himself in. He remains a man to be remembered for his tremendous input into the development and success of netball in Malawi, having been within the first group that introduced serious netball practice in the country.”
In an interview on Thursday, Queens current coach Peace Chawinga-Kaluwa, who is with the team at Sun City, South Africa for test series, described the deceased as an inspiration to her career.
She said: “This is a sad day for us the Queens and me personally. Mr Saenda has been more of a father, a mentor and adviser. He was the one that spotted me at MBC netball team and brought me to Tigresses.
“He also encouraged me to become a coach. I am lost for words for he was influential towards my development as a player and coach. Netball has lost a very important person, the legend.”
Former KukomaDiamonds general secretary Chimwemwe Bakali said it is hard to believe that the club’s founding coach is no more.
Saenda’s daughter Chipulumutso on Thursday said the legendary coach, who guided the Queens to a historic third-place finish at Fast5 World Netball Series in Australia in 2016, was admitted to QECH last week after suffering a minor stroke due to diabetes.
She said he came from Majanga Village in the area of Traditional Authority Mwambo in Zomba and is survived by 10 children.
Chipulumutso said burial arrangements were yet to be discussed by family members.
The late Saenda first made a name as a reputable netball tactician when he built Diamonds (then Escom Sisters) team in 2006 before steering it to its first elite netball trophy, the Toyota Malawi Championship in 2008.
Since then, Diamonds have been a formidable force under his leadership, winning several trophies.
Saenda, who won all domestic trophies with Diamonds in 2016, was hired by Botswana Netball Association in 2017 to help in the development of players for that country’s national netball team.
In 2017, he won Malawi Broadcasting Corporation’s Sports Personality of the Year and overall winner for the year.
On the international stage, he had on several occasions been assigned as Queens coach, helping the Malawi national netball team become a sixth ranked team globally.
Apart from coaching, the late Saenda was also MNCS Southern Region sports development officer until his retirement last year and was once NAM technical adviser. A family member said Saenda will be laid to rest tomorrow at HHI Cemetery in Blantyre.