Independent SportView With Darlington Majonga
THE cacophonous frenzy that followed the vanishing of eight Zimbabwean footballers into the hustle and bustle of London last week seems to b
e fizzling out – but not before exposing staggering hypocrisy on the part of some loudmouths.
Six Caps United players – Artwell Mabhiza, Silent Katumba, David Sengu, Raymond Undi, Elton Chimedza and Tichaona Nyenda – and the Highlanders duo of Luckson Mutanga and Dalisizwe Dlamini avoided their flight back home after their teams had clashed in a spurious exhibition match in the United Kingdom.
The “renegade” players have been pilloried left, right and centre for choosing to dump their careers in top-flight Zimbabwe football for menial work as illegal immigrants in the UK.
But the attempts by some blabbermouths smack of clumsy propaganda to score points instead of instigating useful debate on the issue.
While we certainly don’t condone the running away by the players, it is also true that the hullabaloo over the issue was devoid of context and exposed the double-faced apostles of mobocracy.
It is unhelpful to just condemn the players while ignoring the causes of their flight and the dynamics that influenced that. Those players are no different from the millions of Zimbabwean economic refugees holed up in various countries across the globe.
They are no different from journalists, engineers, architects, lawyers, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and many other professionals who have left Zimbabwe to work in other countries illegally. The only difference is the manner in which they left and the publicity around the issue.
Otherwise, the causes are the same – it’s the situation back home. That is the context and therein lies the explanation as to why the players deserted. No amount of rumbling will change the fact that the players ran away from the crisis at home.
This, however, does not mean people should condone their actions, but it means they should not be treated as worse criminals than thousands of local border-jumpers and economic refugees. We have had journalists in the public and private media running away from their jobs or defecting during trips abroad in the same manner the players did.
While the flight by the players in real terms dramatised the Zimbabwe crisis, it is a serious indictment of Caps United and Highlanders as institutions, as well as Zimbabwean football, and of course the country at large.
Honestly, it would be strange if a well-remunerated player foregoes a chance – no matter how slim – to frolick with the world’s best footballers in national colours to pursue a lifestyle that can ill-afford him a chance to frequent flashy restaurants unless he finds employment there as a kitchen porter.
Even though most footballers in Zimbabwe don’t enjoy the celebrity lifestyles their status would normally entail, something would be seriously wrong when a top-flight player is left with no option but to disgrace himself and opt for a hide-and-seek game just to survive.
The eight footballers were quite aware that they would attract worldwide media coverage if they absconded, but their conscience still convinced them all they wanted was to find means to survive – regardless of the reprehensible manner they did it.
While we are in no way privy to the salaries and perks premiership footballers are getting, it’s clear from the actions of the deserters that they were not getting enough to make ends meet.
If Zimbabwe’s international cricketers were not comfortable with their remuneration, it’s quite clear most of them would have deserted the team abroad bearing in mind that they travel a lot.
It’s pertinent that soccer clubs and all institutions administering the sport make it their core business to ensure footballers are well-paid, though – understandably – it’s quite difficult to make any worker happy in Zimbabwe.
Over the past five years, we have had droves of Zimbabweans flocking to the UK, with estimates putting the number of emigrants at nearly a million.
While a number of them have been granted asylum in the UK on the premise of political persecution, the majority are simply economic refugees.
With Zimbabwe’s economy tottering on the throes of death, life has become so unbearable that anyone who gets an opportunity to escape the suffering would not hesitate.
That is why we have had journalists, doctors, nurses, engineers, technicians, bankers and teachers seeking refuge in the UK where some of them have abandoned their esteemed careers for menial jobs such as caring for the elderly, cleaning ablution facilities and serving food and drinks in bars and restaurants.
Even Information deputy minister Bright Matonga was at one time an economic refugee in the UK.
We have had before other footballers such as Memory Mucherahowa, Joe Mugabe, Ernest Chirambadare, Muzondiwa Mugadza, Fungai Kwashi, Murape Murape, Bheki Mlotshwa, Chamonoda Musanhu and Matambanashe Sibanda, to name but a few, finding the pound too irresistible than to wallow in poverty in the comfort – or lack of it – of a useless celebrity status back home.
The major difference is that all these former footballers had to use their own resources unlike the recent deserters who ridiculed the faith of the exhibition tour’s sponsor in the impoverished footballers.
It’s all appalling and embarrassing, but in the same breath to ignore what would have forced the economic refugees to opt for the menial jobs available for mostly illegal immigrants in the UK would be unfair.
Unless politics – both of power and our stomachs – changes for the better, we will continue seeing not only footballers but also even the most “patriotic” Zimbabweans grabbing any opportunity to flee the suffering in this country.
All Zimbabweans – including the Caps United and Highlanders players – want is to survive.