ZIMBABWE Cricket Union (ZCU) board member Ozias Bvute has denied any links to the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), saying a row with white rebel cricketers had been personalised to
tarnish his reputation.
Bvute, implicated in racism claims that were supposed to be heard before an International Cricket Council (ICC) panel this week, says he has also been a victim of President Robert Mugabe’s land reforms after people with government letters claiming his property invaded his farm.
“I have never worked for the government. People have just personalised this issue,” Bvute told IndependentSport as he spoke out over his role in cricket for the first time.
Bvute has been accused of being a member of the mysterious CIO, with some of the rebel players alleging he had been seconded from the President’s Office to drive out whites from the game of cricket.
“I bought a commercial farm but as we speak there are people with offer letters fighting for the farm. If I were a member of the CIO or worked for the government, do you think my farm would have been targeted?” said Bvute.
Bvute is the ZCU’s acting managing director while the union seeks a replacement for Vince Hogg who quit after an acrimonious row with dissenting players.
Bvute’s name popped up as a central figure in the row sparked off in April when the ZCU fired 15 players who were demanding the reinstatement of Heath Streak as skipper.
Streak had been stripped of his captaincy after issuing the ZCU an ultimatum saying he “would resign from all forms of cricket” if the union did not revise what he perceived as a racially motivated team selection policy, among other demands.
The ZCU argued that the rebel players’ concerns were not genuine but racist, because they did not want to play under new skipper Tatenda Taibu.
Bvute, however, says problems in Zimbabwe cricket had been simmering over the past decade. Zimbabwe became a full member of the ICC in 1992.
“The problem with Zimbabwean cricket was that it was not accountable,” Bvute said. “With the blessing of all these (white) players, why were we always ranked number nine until the blessing of Bangladesh coming in at number 10?”
“We could go on losing and that was it. After our loss to Bangladesh, we wanted an explanation and the selectors met to make some changes.”
Bvute says there are some senior white players who felt threatened by the rise of young black cricketers who ended up instigating dissent in the national team.
However, these under-performing cricketers, including Grant Flower, still made the team despite failing to prove their mettle.
There was a time when the Mashonaland Cricket Association (MCA) threatened to disrupt an international one-day after Stuart Matsikenyeri had been dropped from the team despite making the double figures in a loss to Bangladesh in the previous game.
“The MCA queried whether it was blacks who were causing the team to lose,” Bvute said. Bvute says he intervened in order for the match to go ahead, although he said it was too late then to re-select the team after briefing the selectors of the impending row.
Bvute also cited cases of alleged racism against black players such as Henry Olonga, Everton Matambanadzo and the late Trevor Madondo – some of the first black players to make it into the national team.
White players, who are accused of taking cricket as a preserve of the minority, would always threaten to strike if they felt the ZCU was not being fair to them, Bvute claimed. They accused the ZCU of employing a quota system to cater for non-white players.
“A history of strikes has always been prevalent in Zimbabwe cricket. There was racism towards non-white players.
“This was allowed to carry on because there was no player base.”
But the ZCU got fed up with the threats and ultimatums when Streak called for radical changes to the selection policy among other demands that the union felt had no merit.
Bvute says that’s when the racism saga turned personal since he was the one championing “integration of black players into the national team on merit”.
A young man with business interests in Zimbabwe and Botswana, Bvute has been in cricket administration for over four years. He was ushered onto the ZCU board in 2001 after a constitutional amendment meant to facilitate racial integration.
“I was invited to join the ZCU board in 2001. The board asked me to chair the integration committee,” said Bvute.
But how did the ZCU pick him?
“Contrary to people who say I can’t even hold a bat, I’ve played cricket at primary and secondary school level,” Bvute said.
“I went to university in India and for the four years that I was there I developed an intense passion for cricket.”
Bvute, whose nephew is former Zimbabwe international cricketer Everton Matambanadzo, says he was first involved with Universals before Old Wistonians asked him to become their patron.
At the time Bvute started the integration crusade he says less than 2 000 were actively playing cricket. The integration and development committee then set up goals which, among them, envisaged a fair presentation of blacks in the national team by the year 2004.
“Right now about 55 000 to 60 000 are playing cricket, which shows how our development efforts have worked,” Bvute said.
Streak supported the integration committee’s goals because he personally believed there were blacks good enough to make the national team. But, Bvute claimed, the former skipper made an about-turn which made Bvute and the entire ZCU board believe there was a third force goading the white players into a rebellion.
“I genuinely know there’s a huge third force behind this. The truth will come out,” Bvute said.
Despite his rocky mission Bvute, who says he was “a little perturbed by an unfair press”, believes the future is bright for Zimbabwe cricket even if most of the rebel players don’t come back.
“I’m convinced and firmly believe we have a bright future. Isn’t Tinashe Panyangara a revelation who didn’t have a chance?” said Bvute, adding that the ZCU would still welcome unconditionally any of the rebel players who wanted to represent the country.