DRIVING through what used to be prime farmland — now reduced to stretches of derelict, barren landscape — you are most certainly going to miss Hwedza Country Club in its present state.
Sports Panorama with Enock Muchinjo
Even if you had never been there in its prime to fully appreciate how it was back then, it is hard to avoid disappointment when you look at it now and observe the degree of deliberate destruction to what clearly used to be a beautiful little place — deep in the middle of Mashonaland countryside.
Those that had the privilege of witnessing such places as Hwedza Country Club, in the good old days, knew they could not be fooled at all by the tranquil and pleasant environment of these iconic establishments.
Many great battles of sport were fought on those scattered outposts of our country, the spirit of competition, organisational skills and camaraderie belying the amateur state of Zimbabwean sport at that time.
From there emerged some of the great sportsmen and women who would put this country on the world map — across a variety of sporting disciplines — national rugby, cricket, hockey, tennis, squash and bowling players, a 16-time European Tour winner in golf, Springbok players, as well as many more world-class athletes whose formidable competitive streaks were nurtured in the vintage charm of those rural settings.
When I worked in the media department of Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) a few years back, I was part of a staff delegation that travelled nationwide to assess the level of dilapidation on some of the earliest and outstanding cricket facilities in some parts of the country.
The cricket field at Hwedza, which we were told used to be one of the best surfaces in the country, was now worn out, bumpy and the grass a shade of pale thin brown. Locals had erected makeshift wooden goalposts on it, to play football.
The scoreboard and sightscreens were vandalised.
War veterans, who had wrested the once attractive club house at the peak of the land invasions, had turned it into a rat-infested eyesore and those faint-hearted dared not visit the lavatories.
Floor tiles had been removed and old club memento stolen. The walls had remained unmaintained since club members were forced to vacate.
Zanu PF meetings are held there these days. Eleven years after we were greeted with evidence of blatant and wilful destruction of property, I can only imagine the state of affairs now.
From there we set off to Manicaland, first arriving at Makoni Country Club in Rusape.
It also had fallen victim to the farm disturbances of 18 years ago and, again, what a place of rich sporting heritage — the home of Kevin Curran, one of the most respected overseas players in English county cricket from the mid-1980s.
Trying to salvage what was left of a dying but proud sporting institution, a handful of remaining members had gone into the black areas of Rusape to persuade young boys and girls to play a variety of sports at the club — to show how valuable the facility was to the community.
Behind the noble gesture was local Rusape farmer and businessman George Frangoulis, the enterprising team manager of the brilliantly-assembled Zimbabwe Under-21 rugby side that produced a Springbok prop in the form of Brian Mujati, alongside such decorated Zimbabwe players as Daniel Hondo, Jacques Leitao and Cleopas Makotose.
Of course, such places at Hwedza and Makoni had been built on a long history of white sportsmen, but through the foresightedness of visionary administrators — who realised that they could no longer continue to nurture and consistently supply the finest Zimbabwe had to offer — they started tapping into the country’s majority population.
You could not talk of a great deal of rugby players in this country around the late 1990s and early 2000s better than Martin Mahwani, one of the quickest men l have ever seen on a rugby field, whose sizzling pace and deceptive footwork from fullback, centre or wing could be so devastating it was nearly impossible to stop when in full flight.
Martin had grown up playing football in the workers’ areas of Beatrice farms until his demonic speed was said to be best suited for rugby. Then he was good enough to rapidly earn Mashonaland Country Districts colours and, barring a bit of a chequered disciplinary record, he really should have enjoyed far more than the handful of Test caps he won for Zimbabwe.
But what a delight to watch when he was up for it, and he always seemed to be.
There are many other super-talented sportsmen from this country, both from the yesteryear and modern times, who had roots in such places as these localised facilities — established and proudly administered over many years by dedicated generations of men and women who wore their hearts on their sleeves.
One such place is the century-old Gweru Sports Club, which the city’s municipal authority now wants to scandalously demolish to make way for residential stands.
It is a ridiculous idea that must never be allowed to prevail, if not out of respect for a significant place in the history of sport in this country, then for future generations.
I am sure the dearly departed Sables flyhalf Arnold Takawira — who smoothened the rough edges of his rugby at Gweru Sports Club — will turn in his grave if he could hear of plans to plough down his beloved home away from home.
Equally dismayed at that idea will be another member of the affable “Midlands Mafia” alongside Takawira, Gilbert Nyamutsamba, who today guides Zimbabwe’s Sevens team — African champions — against South Africa, Argentina and Samoa at the Dubai Sevens.
But I am not totally surprised by what the City of Gweru is trying to do. Theirs is the typical deplorable attitude of powers-that-be in this country towards sport. They are simply not mindful of those they serve, a lot of whom are sports lovers.
And while it is too much to expect these be-suited bureaucrats to even entertain the idea of investing in new sporting facilities — using public funds for the benefit of the same public that loves sport — they should never be allowed to destroy existing infrastructure, worst still privately owned.
What happened at the height of madness at places like Hwedza and Makoni should serve as deterrent to other would-be destructive forces of infrastructure built with sweat and sacrifice — all for the love of the community, sport and the country.
The real tragedy is that the destruction of the Hwedza Country Club is a microcosm of the broader and systematic ruin of the country’s sporting and leisure facilities as well as other infrastructure.