A GOOD journalist should remain sober-minded when others are carried away by excitement. He should also adopt a sceptical frame of mind when confronted by state propaganda. He must keep his eyes ope
n both in times of success and failure.
While trying to avoid beating our own drum at the Zimbabwe Independent, I still believe our sports desk has remained sober at a time when the nation aided by the state media went into a frenzy over Kirsty Coventry’s success at the recent Olympic Games in Athens. We also adopted the same steadfast approach ahead of and after the Warriors’ match with Nigeria, when colleagues in other media literally went bonkers.
My colleague, Itai Dzamara, had the good sense to remind Zimbabweans not to be blinded by Coventry’s success. Far from attempting to belittle her achievements, the statements in this column three weeks ago merely alluded to the hypocrisy of the government about the whole issue. I didn’t realise how pertinent his points were until last Thursday.
Dzamara candidly pointed out the hypocrisy of ministers, government officials and indeed the president himself when they tried to bask in the glory and success of a “white” girl who had achieved success entirely out of her own efforts and resources with no help whatsoever from them.
It was ironic that the Minister of Education, Sports and Culture Aeneas Chigwedere was among the delegation to welcome the swimming sensation when he had done nothing to fund or facilitate the construction of a single swimming pool in Harare. The Chitungwiza Aquatic Complex was a bloated white elephant, wrote Dzamara, making a mockery of Chigwedere’s claptrap about developing sporting facilities.
Being a business journalist it was by accident that I found myself attending a hand-over ceremony for the Paralympics gold medallist Elliot Mujaji last Thursday. At first I was reluctant when the request from the sports desk came to me, of course not knowing how that excursion would reveal something quite challenging.
Three companies, Lobels Zimbabwe, Global Insurance and Tube Craft were donating money to fund Mujaji’s travel for the Paralympics games which start this month in Athens.
I am now convinced that the government wants sports personalities only when they can be used to boost its waning popularity. To them a medal-winning swimmer or team becomes an object to be used in their propaganda over-drive.
But what I observed last Thursday regarding Mujaji’s plight was revealing, yet discouraging.
And if I had any doubts about the hypocrisy of those who purport to lead us, events on Thursday last week left me thoroughly convinced. I read another chapter of the sad story of Zimbabwe sports development.
It was a desperate situation and Mujaji literally had his begging bowl in his hands. He was in need of cash to pay for his kit from Faith Wear, the official manufacturer of national team sportswear. Journalists attending the function were told that the Zimbabwe Olympics Committee (ZOC) had not paid for his kit, despite having promised to do so. There was no explanation as to why the committee had not considered Mujaji when they bought kit for the Olympics team, at the last minute by the way.
So desperate was Mujaji’s situation that Global and Tube Craft had to bring hard cash instead of cheques. There wasn’t time to cash the cheques because poor Mujaji had less than three hours to conclude his preparations. Lobels later cashed his $4,5 million cheque, which he used to acquire the kit. By the end of last Thursday Mujaji was still to get US$300 he needed for pocket money, yet he had to leave the following day. As of noon the same day Mujaji had not bought his track suit, sports shoes, toiletries and a green blazer (the Zimbabwe one that is). One couldn’t avoid but wonder where Chigwedere was. How callous can a government be!
There was no government official at the occasion to hand over the money to Mujaji. Chigwedere was nowhere to be seen. He seems to forget that his portfolio includes “sports” but only when a Coventry emerges from the woods in this country with medals does he suddenly becomes visible. Just wait and witness the hullabaloo if Mujaji wins a medal. Chigwedere and indeed his colleagues in government will suddenly be “proud to be associated” with the poor athlete.
Mujaji, like a fugitive, quietly slipped out of the country headed for Athens via Johannesburg on Friday. I am not sure if he had obtained the US dollars, and if so, how. But he had to go without a trainer and manager due to lack of funds. There was no send-off bash for Mujaji. No minister was anywhere near the Bulawayo Airport to see him off. The reason for this neglect is clear: Mujaji has not won a medal recently and as such was not yet ripe for manipulation and exploitation. He was a nonentity with no glory and success in which government officials including the president could bask.
But Mujaji’s plight should not be viewed in isolation for he is a victim of a broader and inherent system that has gradually but surely destroyed sports in Zimbabwe. It is the same system managed by opportunists that gave birth to the now defunct Warriors’ Trust a few days before the national soccer team’s trip to Tunisia. It is the same attitude of opportunism and hypocrisy that saw the trust dissolve soon after Tunisia, amidst chaos and controversy. The trust had served its purpose, which was to show the people that the government cares. What a charade!
In a state of disillusionment, one is tempted to even mention the contentious issue of segregation against the disabled. But in all fairness, a rational analysis would reveal that this is simply incompetence and a lack of understanding of the importance of sports and a clear misplacement of priorities.
One would have thought that they learnt something from the Coventry issue. That Kirsty had to leave this country and train in the US is supposed to ring a bell. And at least out of shame, the head of state must have publicly admitted and offered to review the national policy regarding sports. But again, lest we forget, the man has too much stomach aches and headaches to grapple with.
One can already start visualising the carnival atmosphere at Harare International Airport if Mujaji brings a medal from Athens. The excitement would begin with the president sending a laudatory message telling him how he has made the people of Zimbabwe proud. Then, when he finally arrives, the Chigwederes, Makwavararas and Graces would take over. He would immediately be whisked to the State House where he would be presented with a diplomatic passport and perhaps a few thousand United States dollars.
The companies that made his journey possible would be elbowed out of the way to the podium. And, the journalists who were present at the handover ceremony last week would be expected to laud the minister and government for their contribution towards sports development. No prizes for guessing what would be splashed on the pages of some broadsheets. The same ageing faces, wearing broad smiles with Mujaji’s medals around their necks. My foot!