RIKI Wessels, the son of South African cricket legend Kepler Wessels, spent a couple of years playing in Zimbabwe’s domestic league a few seasons ago.
Sports Panorama with Enock Muchinjo
Affable and easygoing Wessels is a citizen of the world, so to speak. He was born in Australia, raised in South Africa, holds British citizenship and is classified as an English cricketer. His legendary father represented both Australia and South Africa in international cricket.
And here he was, a gifted son of a world cricket icon, playing first-class cricket in Zimbabwe for Midwest Rhinos and living in the small sleepy town of Kwekwe — a backwater of world cricket and far cry from the bright lights of the big and glamorous cities where young sportsmen like him hobnob with the upper end of society.
Wessels was still only in his mid-20s when he completed the last leg of his Zimbabwe stint, but in a magazine interview in the UK later on, he responded to questions about his experience here in the most mature, honest and independent manner.
He spoke about how serious the problems obtaining in this country were, and how downtrodden the overwhelming majority of the country’s citizens were.
He spoke about how frustrating living in Zimbabwe was for a professional cricketer like him, and he imagined — with genuine concern — how worse it could be for the ordinary folk throughout the country.
But he also revealed how open-minded he came to Zimbabwe, how he had arrived here not expecting things to always work as they do in functioning countries.
Asked about the security situation during his time here, he remarked how safer he had felt at night in Zimbabwe than he has felt in most parts of South Africa or London.
It was that open-mindedness, said Wessels, that made him thoroughly enjoy his time in Zimbabwe, an attitude that made him open his eyes to the beauty of the country and the warm-heartedness of the people. Professional sportsmen are also trained in the art of diplomacy. But I did not detect any deliberate effort of diplomacy in Wessels. Only the truth.
Zimbabwe has not been a normal society for a very long time now. It is a weird nation. The need to restore a degree of normalcy has never been more desperate. I expected Wessels to reveal a fair share of his unpleasant experience here in this regard.
But surely, there are also some good times in between, memorable occasions that refuse to be buried beneath the mire of frustrations, hopelessness and gloom. Wessels had them and was only happy to say it as it is. Maturity is non-negotiable at the professional level of sport.
Professional sportsmen have an obligation to the truth because they are role models and ambassadors. People listen to what they say.
Dutchman Errol Akbay, coach of Highlanders Football Club here in Zimbabwe, has been a monumental failure in this aspect.
With Highlanders struggling on the field this season, Akbay has been on a warpath off it — uncontrollably firing broadsides and blaming anyone he can, but himself, for the team’s woes.
This is not without examining all sides of the matter. There have been reports of Highlanders not living up to their end of the bargain. If true, this is deplorable, of course, and Zimbabwean football in its entirety is full of such unethical practice. But some of Akbay’s actions under these circumstances have not been those of emotionally stable people. Certainly, blaming assistant coaches, publicly slamming the club and announcing contract termination in the press have been less than dignified on his part.
In another view, one detects an attitude of contempt in Akbay towards his club and perhaps even his host nation.
This week he appeared to cross a line when, in a fit of rage now heavily associated with him, he told reporters that rivals Dynamos were better organised than Highlanders, his own club.
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Let us, however, deal with the moral side of the argument.
Akbay knows the fierce rivalry between Highlanders and Dynamos, but he has stuck up his middle finger to it, putting his emotions ahead of everything and showing little regard to the dynamics of Zimbabwean football and everything that comes with it.
He is clearly angry with Highlanders, and probably justifiably so. And do not get me wrong, I am not trying to suppress his feelings. But he has shown unprecedented unprofessionalism and bitterness towards his own club — making unrestrained statements ahead of a big national derby between the two great rivals.
Imagine a Barcelona coach from outside Spain declaring Real Madrid a better organised club than the Calatan giants, and that ahead of the El Clasico!
In a big way, Akbay has shown great disrespect towards the club and the fans.
Sporting potential is still suppressed in this country, and I am a big fan of the concept of talented and expert personnel coming here from abroad to help us reach the level we should be. But time and again we have been reminded how we need to meticulously scrutinise professional and intellectual records of these people to avoid hiring chancers
Some will come with fake CVs, like Paolo Jorge Silva (remember him?). Some will come with patronising attitudes, like Akbay.
Thankfully, some will add value, show some respect and tell only the truth. Like Riki Wessels.