SIMON Mugava’s life took a dramatic turn in 2013 when he was presented with another opportunity to play club cricket in the United Kingdom.
By Enock Muchinjo
He had first set foot in the UK the previous year, as a 22-year-old highly-rated rising star, to play as an overseas pro for Hampshire club Eversley on a five-month contract. Mugava would return home to Zimbabwe at the end of the English season, but had impressed well enough that Essex-based Westcliff-on-Sea Cricket Club brought him back for another short UK stint in 2013.
It was during this second spell that Mugava decided he wanted to stay in the country for much longer, perhaps even permanently, so he applied for an extension a month before his visa was due to expire.
The application for visa renewal was turned down, and marked the beginning of his descent into trouble. Visa refusal meant Mugava — who had a modest upbringing in Harare’s Highfield township and was educated at the sporty public school, Churchill Boys High — had to pack his bags and head back home to Zimbabwe to resume his cricket career there. Mugava’s six-month sports visa expired in November 2013, upon which he made his first wrong move. He did not leave the UK, and so began a life of hide-and-seek with the authorities.
During his illegal stay in the UK, Mugava started following the teachings of the controversial and wealthy Zimbabwean-born Prophet, Uebert Angel, who a decade ago founded the Spirit Embassy Ministries in Manchester. To go with his flamboyance and showmanship, Angel is renowned for preaching the gospel of prosperity, and he does not shy away from showing off the kind of affluence he preaches.
In one recent post, retweeted by his protégé Mugava, Angel uploaded a picture of a sparkling lime Lamborghini, belonging to his wife, with the accompanying caption: “If you want to be a success in life, pimp your focus, pimp your motivation, pimp your prayer life and ooooh, before I forget, pimp your wife’s lambo.”
Quite appealing gospel for someone like Mugava, whose own social media activity gives insight into the kind of lifestyle he desires, a yearning for the finer things in life which has unfortunately landed him in trouble in the wake of a failed quest for political asylum on the grounds that he faces persecution at the hands of state security agents if he returned to Zimbabwe.
As an unauthorised resident, The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is said to have banned Mugava from playing cricket in the UK for payment. Few months before the Home Office rejected his application for asylum in the English summer of 2014, Mugava had met Dorothy Angel at church: beautiful, slender, stylish and niece of Uebert Angel. The two engaged in June 2015 when Mugava proposed in front of congregants after Uebert Angel and his wife Beverly, who he calls “mom and dad”, delivered a spellbinding sermon on love and marriage. Four months later the lovebirds were traditionally married Zimbabwean-style in Stoke-on-Trent in the presence of a few family members and friends, including Uebert and Beverly Angel. In August 2014, around the time he first met Dorothy, Mugava unsuccessfully applied for humanitarian and human rights protection on the grounds that he was an active member of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Zimbabwe’s main opposition party.
The asylum application, which was made 10 months after Mugava had lost the legal right to stay in the UK, was declined by the Home Office. He appealed against the decision in the courts, the first-tier tribunal, which upheld the Home Office ruling.
Mugava then went a step further and appealed to the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber), which again ruled in favour of the Home Office in February 2016 — meaning he had exhausted all appropriate legal avenues so has to leave the UK, or face deportation.
“The Appellant’s claim was that he was at risk on return to Zimbabwe as a member of the MDC and as a professional cricketer associated to two well-known Zimbabwean international cricketers who had publicly expressed anti-government views,” reads the Upper Tribunal’s ruling, obtained by this paper.
“For these reasons, the Appellant had been detained by the authorities in Zimbabwe in March 2013. Whilst in detention he had been physically abused before being released on bail. In May 2014, when the Appellant had been in the UK, CIO agents had visited the Appellant’s home in Harare and had threatened the safety of the Appellant to his mother.
“The Judge dismissed the appeal because the found the Appellant’s evidence to be lacking in credibility and he was not satisfied that the Appellant had been detained and tortured as claimed. Therefore, the Appellant did not come within any of the risk categories identified in Country Guidance jurisprudence. In deciding credibility, the Judge took into account the Appellant’s delay in seeking asylum, and identified various discrepancies in the Appellant’s evidence which the Judge also described as lacking in detail. The Judge also considered the facts that the Appellant had returned to Zimbabwe from the UK during 2012 and 2013 and had continued his cricket career there. He had not experienced any difficulties in returning to the UK again. The Appellant had never been politically active.”
The contents of Mugava’s application are indeed quite sensational and hard for any judge to deal with, all the claims of political persecution, and also the said association with the “two well-known Zimbabwean international cricketers”.
He seems here to be referring to Henry Olonga and Andy Flower, who staged a daring protest against the regime of former president Robert Mugabe at a World Cup game 14 years ago when Mugava was only 13 years old. Throughout sports, there are several cases of some seriously talented athletes who have used poor judgment in their personal or professional lives, horrible decisions that have cost them dearly.
The worst tragedy is when the poor judgment ends up costing you more than your career, but also your freedoms as a person.
This is what has happened to Mugava — once one of the most promising young cricketers in Zimbabwe — but could succumb to decisions that on reflection he will wish he never made. Facing deportation and barred from playing professionally in the UK, his life appears in limbo.
However, hundreds of failed asylum seekers in the UK have previously been allowed to reapply, a route Mugava is likely to have taken. But the conditions of a second attempt are much tougher, and it will seem so in Mugava’s case. Only those who are “facing deportation to a place where security has deteriorated since first applying, or there are new risks of persecution” are likely to be granted asylum.
Mugava is still only 27, he was a member of Zimbabwe’s Under-19 World Cup squad in 2010 and by now could have been playing at the highest international level.
Five of his teammates from that Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand have already played for Zimbabwe’s senior side. Tendai Chatara, PJ Moor, Natsai M’shangwe, Tino Mutombodzi and Richard Muzhange have all been capped with varying success.
For Mugava, that may never be. The repercussions could be worse, if a club in the Nottingham area presses charges after Mugava allegedly accepted a sign-on fee knowing well he had been barred from playing in the UK. Mugava’s case could have been viewed as that of a cornered young man seeking a better livelihood, in an environment and country that allows him the opportunity – away from the hopelessness and despair of his homeland. But it is also further testimony of many other UK-based Zimbabweans’ desperation not to return to their beleaguered country to the extent of colouring asylum quests with sensationalism and lies.
Mugava’s file of appeal contains black-and-white pictures of scars, purportedly from the CIO torture whilst in Zimbabwe, which were adjudged to lack “evidential value”. Five years ago, Mugava was a fast-improving orthodox right-arm spinner for Zimbabwean domestic side Midwest Rhinos, which attracted the interest of UK scouts. Quite remarkably, Mugava had continued to play on England’s club cricket circuit until the end of last season, most likely because clubs did not know of his status.
His luck finally ran out when Nottingham Premier League outfit West Indian Cavaliers wanted to sign him for the 2018 season, but were notified by the ECB that their target was not allowed to play. The Cavaliers are said to have made an advance payment of an unspecified amount to Mugava, who they were excited to sign after a splendid previous season in which he took 40 wickets for Cuckney Cricket Club. They want their money back.
Presently, Mugava is required to report to the Home Office or a police station at specified times. Unable to work in the UK, Mugava has created an online account, called crowd funding, in which well-wishers can donate to a cause if they deem it worth. He has tried to raise £5 000 (US$7 000).
Mugava’s story is that of a gifted young sportsman who had a very bright future ahead of him. But he was not patient enough to wait and ended up trying to take short cuts, which might have dire consequences on his life and cricket career.
There was clear lack of personal discipline, starting with the grave blunder in 2013 when he ill-advisedly overstayed his visa. Mugava’s career was well on course. With his well-flighted off-breaks and ability to hold a bat, he was lined up as Zimbabwe’s heir apparent for Prosper Utseya, who was nearing international retirement.
More so than anything else, as this story shows, there is a historically-steeped and underlining lack of guidance for Zimbabwe’s black cricketers, some whose tales are even more harrowing than that of Mugava.
It could be something to do with overreliance on a game that promised so much yet delivered very little, forcing many into unforeseen tragic situations.