MANY will recall images of a blood-spattered John Coat, a white farmer who had allegedly been worked on by Temba Mliswa at the height of Zimbabwe’s land reform exercise.
With boyish looks and standing at barely 1,70 metres, Mliswa is not the person you would expect to “strike fear into the hearts” of white farmers and, least of all, sportsmen.
But just a “brotherly” phone call by Mliswa was enough to force Zimbabwe cricket captain Tatenda Taibu into premature retirement – at just 22 years of age – according to reports.
Interestingly the 34-year-old Mliswa says boxing is his number one love, although many remember him as a gifted rugby coach and aggressive sports administrator.
“My first love is boxing, then cricket,” Mliswa told IndependentSport. “I used to spar with Kid Power and I’m one of the people who floored him at a health studio in Harare.”
If he could floor Kid Power, a former Zimbabwe national light-heavyweight champion for years, those who coined the aphorism “dynamite comes in small packages” might have had Mliswa in mind.
But Mliswa, a keen cadre of President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party, claims he is not violent and has no intention to use his sparring skills outside the boxing ring. He quickly reminds this reporter that charges against him in connection with Coat’s assault had been dropped after the police failed to get evidence linking him to the crime.
“People paint a bad picture of Temba Mliswa because no one spends time with me,” the multi-skilled sports consultant said.
So did Mliswa not threaten Taibu, who reportedly went into hiding after receiving a phone call from the sports administrator?
“On Taibu’s allegations, he needs to grow up,” Mliswa said. “I needed to give him brotherly advice because I thought some of the decisions he was making needed guidance. Unfortunately there was an exchange of words.”
When Taibu quit last week, he said: “The personal pressure on me has become unsustainable for me and my family, especially events off the pitch.
I have recently become a father and this has led me to question what is most important in my life. I cannot justify or ignore the threats I and my wife have received.”
Taibu might have infuriated Mliswa on November 10 when he, together with 74 other cricketers, issued an ultimatum demanding that Zimbabwe Cricket chairman Peter Chingoka and managing director Ozias Bvute quit. The players slammed the involvement of Mliswa in cricket, saying his credentials were dubious.
“First of all Tatenda is 22 years old. The difference between us is that the year he was born is the year I started playing cricket,” Mliswa said.
“Contrary to what some people think, he’s an arrogant boy. Money and fame have gone to his head and he has failed to manage it.”
Although Taibu denies administrators fighting Chingoka are using him, Mliswa insists that’s the case with the cricketer.
“I simply advised him to stick to playing because he was encroaching into a territory in which he is a novice. If you hear a player calling for the chairman or managing director’s resignation he’s not the author of that document,” Mliswa said.
“He’s a role model, but a bad one. The discipline aspect is key, and arrogance has never taken anybody anywhere,” said Mliswa.
But with controversy having literally become Mliswa’s second name, many would expect him to be the last person to lecture Taibu about discipline.
At 22, just like Taibu, Mliswa had already become a popular rugby coach in the United Kingdom and the United States but his fame was short-lived.
As coach of a select squad of Under-14s from New York that he took to the AAU Junior Olympics at Satellite Beach, Florida, in 1994, he was condemned as an irresponsible tour leader, “who wasn’t worthy of parents’ trust”. Managers of other tournament teams alleged that Mliswa had told the kids not to listen to their parents, and allowed them out unsupervised until after midnight.
Mliswa is said to have quit his US base under a heavy financial cloud, allegedly leaving behind debts amounting to US$2 800.
“Here in the US, as in the United Kingdom, his coaching was helpful and appreciated.
“But too late it was discovered that his rugby skills were wrapped in a web of deception and immaturity, spun out of a shyster mind on a forked tongue,” Foster Niumata wrote in RugbyMagazine, a US publication.
Back home, Mliswa was immediately in the news when he formed an all-black rugby club, Chimurenga, which had the full backing of former High Court judge, Justice Robinson.
Incidentally, many believe Zimbabwe’s rugby went on a slide after Mliswa embarked on his indigenisation crusade. Rugby, just like cricket, was predominantly a white sport.
“How can people, including Taibu, say I have destroyed rugby when the top four in ZRU are white?” Mliswa questioned. “They are ill-informed. It’s not Temba Mliswa who is the president of rugby.”
Although Mliswa caused consternation among the white administrators at the helm of the Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU), he feels he deserves credit for nurturing indigenous talent.
“Chimurenga was successful. Instead all should be saying they wish they had a hundred Temba Mliswas,” he said.
Mliswa claims he is the one who discovered rugby sensation Tonderai Chavhanga, who is now a bright prospect for South Africa’s Springboks.
“Chavhanga is on the verge of becoming a great player in South Africa after I introduced him to rugby at Blakiston Primary School before taking him to Prince Edward,” Mliswa said.
“Today you write about Max Madziwa, there was Victor Olonga, Kenny Tsimba, Mordecai Mwerenga . . . Who took them to England? How many players did I take abroad? Nobody talks about that success.”
Mliswa was deported from the United Kingdom in May 2002 after he was allegedly involved in an immigration scam. A year earlier, he had set up a recruitment agency, Education UK Ltd, which saw Zimbabweans anxious to enter the United Kingdom being sent back home at Gatwick Airport – but not before parting with £100 for Mliswa’s services.
Before his ignominious exit from the UK, Mliswa had formed a pressure group in Zimbabwe called Pioneers of Black Cricket, which aimed to increase black participation in the national cricket team.
“My position with whites has always been the same since I was 16,” Mliswa said. “I always wondered why blacks were not being given the opportunity to play rugby and cricket.”
When Mliswa went to the UK to train as a coach as well as administrator, he says part of his travel costs were met by Kenyon Ziehl, a white farmer.
“When first I went to England to do sport studies, Kenyon Ziehl contributed half of my airfare. He’s a different white man, which is probably why he was not affected by jambanja (violence that often characterised the fast-track land reform programme).
“I don’t hate whites at all. When I started this racial thing I had not even gone to England, so it would be sad for anyone to say I’m bitter with whites because I was deported.”
Mliswa is a beneficiary of the land reform programme having taken over Spring Farm, a prime land previously owned by Alan and Jenny Parsons in Karoi, about 200km northwest of Harare.
“I belong to Zanu PF. I’m a cadre of Zanu PF,” Mliswa declared. “I, however, don’t believe in any person but in the party’s ideology.
“This is the party that has empowered a lot to be successful businessmen and farmers. That’s the same party that created an avenue for Taibu to be a great cricketer.”
Mliswa however said his strong links with Mugabe’s party had nothing to do with his involvement in sport.
“I have a degree in sports. I’m trained to deal with any sport at any level,” Mliswa said. “I question journalists who write sport because most journalists who used to interview me were those with degrees. So I wonder why I’m questioned about a subject I went to school for.
“So my links with Zanu PF should not be mixed with sport. I’m a professional who cuts across the political divide.
“Heath Streak is white but I believe he’s one of the greatest captains we had. I believe Kevin Curran should be the national team coach, but he’s white. If I was racist, would I say that?”
Though he doesn’t want to be seen as using his political influence in sport, Mliswa believes chairmen of Zimbabwe Cricket provinces who are calling on Chingoka to quit have a political agenda. Mliswa clashed with the chairmen at their meeting on October 19.
“I want to make things clear. First of all they said they were having a meeting of provincial chairmen, so I attended by virtue of being chairman of Mashonaland West Cricket Association,” Mliswa said. “But some who were there were not chairmen, the likes of Ethan Dube and Elvis Sembezeya.
“They were not comfortable with my presence. I told them if the meeting was genuinely for provincial chairmen and not political, there was no reason to fear my presence.
“You get a group of white people and two blacks, to me it was quite clear something was up the sleeves. It was a political meeting where a bunch of Rhodesians wanted to demonise anything indigenous simply because ‘we lost our farms’.”
But the Mashonaland West Cricket Association is not officially recognised, and Zimbabwe Cricket is yet to consider its affiliation together with other new provinces demarcated along political boundaries?
“Am I the one who created Mashonaland West as a province?” Mliswa asked. “I’m a sports consultant who simply realised the need to create sporting structures in the province.
“So I’m constitutionally recog-nised as the chairman of Mashonaland West Cricket Association.
“There’s always been cricket in the province but a lot of teams were not affiliated to the Mashonaland Country Districts (MCD) because its chairman Charlie Robertson was not doing anything. The MCD has two teams or none, but Mashonaland West has 14. Charlie has never been to Hurungwe, Magunje, Kazangarare – the key is to take cricket there.
“Why deprive the boys there? That’s defying human rights to deny the initiative to take cricket to those areas.”
The Sports and Recreation Commission has advised all sporting associations to draw up their provinces along political boundaries.
“Charlie must understand that the MCD existed during the Rhodesian era. It’s not for us to join a Rhodesian province but for him to join a Zimbabwean province.
“The more we are the merrier, but he joins us on our terms. He has to promote cricket without discrimination. The sport will not grow with him sitting in press conferences.”
Does Mliswa believe the provincial chairmen have no genuine grievances when they, among other things, query how Zimbabwe Cricket finances have been handled?
“It’s unfortunate the allegations are coming at a time the majority of the administrators at national level are black,” Mliswa said.
“But I’ve always advocated transparency and accountability in every organisation. It’s a collective responsibility and the big question is why the chairmen have allowed it to happen all along?
“There must be due diligence on all deals. Let’s go back 13 years ago. Who opened the foreign currency accounts they now question? Is it not whites? Everybody has to explain from 13 years ago who were the signatories of those overseas accounts.
“Whites were in control, and we also know Indians are the big movers of forex. All that has to be laid bare. Where there is money people want to control. They want blacks to play but not to control.”
Mliswa says he’s not himself interested in the money that Zimbabwe Cricket generates from television rights and lucrative sponsorship deals.
“I’m only a sportsman. I started playing cricket at Frank Johnson primary school before moving to Lord Malvern where I captained every age group.
“I excelled in every sport and played at Old Harareans in the second team with world-class players such as Graeme Hick. I was even a successful coach at Churchill, so it’s a pity that Taibu doesn’t even know the history of his own school. That’s why I find it hard to believe he’s not being used.”
Mliswa earned his rugby coaching credentials in England after former British Lion and England Grand Slam coach Roger Uttley invited him.
Uttley used his influence to secure Mliswa coaching stints with Harrow, Eton and London Wasps Under-18s, before the Zimbabwean was attached to Middlesex Division III club Feltham and English South West Division II side Marlow.
Mliswa then went to the United States, from where he returned an enthusiastic black empowerment crusader.
How then does Mliswa feel when Taibu, a model of the success of Zimbabwe’s indigenisation in sport, quits because of him?
“I feel sad because it’s not his decision. Unfortunately, he hasn’t got the singing talent that Henry Olonga has,” Mliswa said, in reference to the former Zimbabwe bowler who is now concentrating on music after quitting the game on political grounds.
“To be honest, I think from a professional point of view he had great potential, and certainly his best days were on their way.
“The captaincy did not help him because he still needed to mature and learn from the likes of Streak. Sad as it is, it’s a blessing in disguise that he decided to quit because his performance had deteriorated.
“But you can’t take away the fact that he’s the most experienced and most promising black cricketer that Zimbabwe had.”