IT IS not clear where Claudius “Madyira” Mukandiwa is right now, he was not at liberty to disclose his location to us.
By Enock Muchinjo
But wherever he is, there is no doubt where his heart is: at home in Zimbabwe, and with his favourite pastime, cricket.
It is certainly a period of great personal anguish for Mukandiwa — following unforeseen circumstances that befell his family last November — but the watershed moment in Zimbabwean cricket, in which the national side has to negotiate through a tricky qualification competition to be amongst the 10 teams at next year’s World Cup in England, is also occupying his mind.
This week, the 37-year-old former youth prodigy opened up to the Zimbabwe Independent about his worst cricketing fears, his faith in mediumship and spiritism as well as his marriage to Mandi Chimene, the former Manicaland Provincial Affairs minister.
Chimene — a staunch supporter of deposed president Robert Mugabe — was forced to flee the country following dramatic events in November that ushered in a new political dispensation, with Emmerson Mnangagwa emerging as Zimbabwe’s new head of state.
Mukandiwa is still traumatised by events of that episode, even worse now that the former “first man” of Manicaland cannot be there in flesh to support Zimbabwe’s World Cup qualification quest.
“I would like to wish our national team all the best in the Qualifiers and my word of advise is, this is the time to shine as you are home and please, use home advantage to make our nation Zimbabwe proud,” said Mukandiwa this week.
When the much-respected development coach Peter Sharples instilled a passion for cricket at Queensdale primary school in Harare around the late 1980s and early 1990s, Mukandiwa — alongside other enthusiastic youngsters like the brothers Douglas and Daniel Hondo — immediately played around with the idea of becoming professional cricketers one day. But coming from a Chitungwiza family that placed more emphasis on classroom education, young Claude’s sporting activity was significantly cut later on at Cranborne Boys High.
It was a different story for the Hondo boys, who proceeded to the more sporty Churchill Boys High for senior school, and carved out careers in sport.
Douglas would go on to play nine Test matches and 56 ODIs for Zimbabwe between 2001 and 2005, with his young brother Daniel captaining the national rugby side, the Sables, with distinction.
“We probably could have represented the country together, but for me, I think it was a calling to get into the political and coaching aspects of the game to represent the majority who were being mistreated at that time,” said Mukandiwa, a decent swing bowler who also scored runs in the middle-order.
Known for his unshakable advocacy for integration and development, Mukandiwa still holds his position as vice-chairman of the Harare Metropolitan Cricket Association, Zimbabwe’s biggest cricket-playing area. But perhaps Mukandiwa’s biggest contribution to Zimbabwean cricket was helping popularise the game in his hometown of Chitungwiza. In 1999 he formed Uprising Cricket Club, a plucky high-density outfit that fought tooth-and-nail with some of the best teams around, a club whose name aptly captures what its founder stands for.
“What made us form these clubs was the racism with the white-dominated clubs,” said Mukandiwa.
“They never used to see us as good cricketers. Hence I quit playing competitive cricket to go coaching.”
Gifted Uprising players like Alois Tichana, Innocent Chinyoka, Luther Mutyambizi, Mercury Kenny and Tarisai Mahlunge — most with roots in Chitungwiza — all played first-class cricket in the formative years of the club, but none were internationally capped due to “favouritism and poor selection”, in Mukandiwa’s opinion.
“Even (Tatenda) Taibu himself and the likes of (UK-based ex-first-class player) Patrick Gada all played for Uprising at some point because they knew that our roots were from the ghetto,” added Mukandiwa.
Trademark walking stick in one hand and snuff container in the other, Mukandiwa — those who have known him over the years will testify — has remained defiant in his conviction that Zimbabwe’s great forefathers are the soul of the land, where the nation draws its strength. Mukandiwa is not quite influenced by Rastafarian culture. He says he is simply a “traditionalist”.
“I don’t subscribe to Rastafarian, as much as I am a reggae music fan through and through. Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, you know, all the greats. For me, it’s just tradition,” explained Mukandiwa, better known in cricketing circles by his totem, Madyira.
“No human being has the power to speak to God directly. It’s a lie. We can spend entire day debating with churches, the so-called prophets. It’s unfortunate. Our ancestors are the ones with the power to speak to God. As black people, our ancestors look over us. For one to live, it’s because of the ancestors. That’s what we were told by our forefathers).
“Zimbabwe is a land of the spirits. Even those who went to the war, it was not the church which helped them win. They were victorious because Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi protected them in the trenches. Those are the spirits of the nation. So mediums are very important in Zimbabwe. People can refute that. Zimbabwe is a blessed land. It has always been that way. It will remain that way).”
Added Mukandiwa: “I dance to the drum, that’s who I am. That’s what I grew up seeing. We all have rural homes. We all hold traditional functions to appease our ancestors. Your ancestral background defines a person. It’s unfortunate people think I am a snob. I dance to the drum and take snuff, you know that. So without tradition we are not going anywhere.”
Similarly, Mukandiwa maintains Zimbabwe should seek the medium’s intervention in the Chevrons’ desperate bid not to miss out on the World Cup for the first time since 1983. “A mother hen will not abandon its chicks,” he said.
“We will leave it to the mediums to say look, your chicks have been descended upon by hawks in their own backyard. There should have been a traditional ceremony, but who believes it’s the ancestors who can make it happen? But we hope that it shall be well. We will consult the spirits across the land, and leave it to them. I also hope that selection will be fair.
The players are also driven by the spirits. Without the ancestors they won’t achieve anything. They can receive fake anointing oil, but it’s the spirit mediums that guide them. We will continue asking the ancestors so that we won’t be seen as a nation that has retrogressed in terms of cricket. I know that we have the talent and we shall rise to the occasion and send the message that Zimbabwe is still here.”
As much as Mukandiwa was keen on discussing cricket only, and his devotion to tradition, he also disclosed how he met the 59-year-old war veteran Chimene.
Mukandiwa married Chimene, 22 years her junior, in a traditional ceremony in Manicaland six years ago.
“It’s unfortunate people still refer to her as Mandi Chimene, she’s now Mandi Mukandiwa, Mrs Mukandiwa. Chimene was just her trade name, so that people could recognise her. But not now.”
The two lovebirds apparently met in Harare, and Mukandiwa claims it was by chance. “We met just like everybody else. I was struck by the girl’s beauty. I asked her out, and she asked me to wait, so she could see the kind of man I was. She later agreed to date me and I told her I was a divorcee with kids. She also said she had children of her own and we decided to get married. I paid lots of Brahman cattle for lobola. People wonder where we met. We just met on the street in Harare and I asked het out, only to discover who she was much later. So it was just as ordinary as anything else. I never grew up in Mutare either. I grew up in Harare. If I’d grown up in Mutare, people would say I knew her beforehand. The most important thing is I paid lots of kettle and I am a son-in-law of the Chimenes.”
Mukandiwa says the family will return home to Zimbabwe soon when the dust settles.