UK-based cricketer speaks out

Enock Muchinjo

SIMON Mugava first came into the public spotlight last year after he featured twice in this newspaper as the Zimbabwean cricket player facing deportation from the United Kingdom following a failed political asylum bid.

The gifted 28-year-old cricketer, once tipped as off-spin heir apparent to former Zimbabwe captain Prosper Utseya, has now broken his silence to tell his side of the story.

Mugava first applied for asylum in 2014 — 10 months after overstaying sports visa — on the grounds that he faced persecution at the hands of state agents if he returned home to Zimbabwe. He claimed, in the dossier submitted to the British Home Office, that he was actively involved in politics in Zimbabwe as a member of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and that “some people from the government” had — while he was in the UK—stormed his mother’s house in Harare’s Highfield suburb and left chilling threats.

It is believed that Mugava — after the Home Office threw away his case twice — could have launched a fresh asylum claim, which is much more stringent but permissible under UK immigration law.

While he spoke freely to us about life in England and his goals for the future — like qualifying to play County cricket in a year’s time — Mugava was not prepared to discuss his political claims or his present residency status in UK, only insisting throughout the interview that he was in the country “legally” and “doing well”.

Mugava cites his marriage in 2015 to a British citizen of Zimbabwean origin, Dorothy Angel, as the reason he cannot possibly be an immigration fugitive.

“I’m now happily married here and recently blessed with a two-month-old son, Daniel Zane,” Mugava tells IndependentSport.

“People do not know everything about me because I do not show off my life. I share some of my life, but not everything. Ask people in Britain, I’m here legally and I’m married to a British citizen. It is impossible to get married to a British citizen if your papers are not in order. I’m not struggling as people think. In fact, I am doing very well.”

Dorothy, a university employee in Stoke-on-Trent, central England, is niece of the Zimbabwean-born self-proclaimed prophet, Uebert Angel. The couple first met at Angel’s Spirit Embassy church in Manchester in 2014, where Mugava later proposed in front of congregants in June 2015.

A Zimbabwean-style traditional marriage followed in October 2015, witnessed by Uebert Angel and his wife Beverly.

Marrying the daughter of Angel’s sister has given Mugava easy access to the wealthy and charismatic preacher, who the cricketer calls his “father” and mentor.

“My relationship with Uebert Angel is that I’m his son,” Mugava says. “Of course, there is the family side where I’m married to his niece, but I’m his spiritual son. He is my spiritual father. He is my mentor and life coach. He had a prophecy for me when I met him for the first time in 2012, where he spoke to me about my future family life, and then again in 2014. It has all come to pass.”

The controversy that often follows Angel, a flamboyant figure who sharply divides public opinion, does not do anything at all to diminish Mugava’s absolute awe of the 40-year-old cleric.

“The way he is so humble, the way he relates to people, it amazes me,” says Mugava. “I mean, he has a lot of money. He can be remote if he wants, but he isn’t. It surprises me what people say and write about him. When you meet him, he is a completely different person. The way he talks to people, the way he mentors people, I mean, it’s just crazy. He is totally not what you hear or read about. I’m not a pastor myself or anything like that, but I live with my spiritual father in his church and it’s a life that gives me full satisfaction.”

Immigration woes and family matters aside, cricket still occupies a special place in Mugava, who somehow has stayed in the game despite talk that the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has prohibited him from playing in the UK for payment.

In 2017, Mugava was a key member of Cuckney Cricket Club’s Nottinghamshire Premier League title success. Last year he turned out for Burslem Cricket Club in Staffordshire, impressing with bat and ball.

“I’ve never stopped playing cricket,” he affirms.

Mugava is in fact dreaming even bigger. After spending the last five years criss-crossing the club circuit, he reckons he is ripe now for the pinnacle of English cricket, the County Championship.

It will depend, from an eligibility point of view, on whether he has the right documentation at the time. Talent-wise, Mugava can back himself up, at least on the level of the Minor Counties. He represented Zimbabwe at the Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand in 2010, and is a competent off-spinner who can develop into a genuine all-rounder in a conducive team environment.

“I’m just waiting to qualify for County next year,” he says.

“County is the ultimate. When (Zimbabwe fast bowler Kyle) Jarvis was here, I used to train with Lancashire. My club coach introduced me to Gary Yates, who is on the Lancashire coaching staff. They asked what my plans were and obviously because I didn’t qualify, I said ‘let’s wait until I qualify’. So I will be ready sometime next year.”
Mugava believes his experience in club cricket across the UK over the past five years stands him in good stead for a County cricket deal.

“I’ve bowled really well and got a few hundreds in Premier League cricket. The standard is pretty good. When some of the top players are not playing County, they come to the Premier League. And also guys recovering from injuries, or something like that. When I played in the Birmingham Premier League, one of the sides had seven players who played for Warwickshire. Some former international players are also involved. I remember, from my time in the Birmingham League, there was (ex-England player) Darren Maddy. So it’s serious cricket, never underestimate the standard.”

By the time he hopes to attract County interest, Harare-born Mugava will be 29, an age he considers young enough to be signed up.

“I’ve seen players who have played well into their 30s. As a spinner, if you do well, if you put in the work, you can play until you are 36, 37. I still have six to seven years of good cricket in me.”

Away from cricket, Mugava sees himself as an emerging entrepreneur with potential to make it big in the business world.

“I’ve just taken off in business. I’m running three businesses, all registered companies. One is Coco Oil Group. I’m looking to help fix the situation back home in Zimbabwe and Africa. Right now Zimbabwe has a shortage of fuel. I’m aiming to supply petroleum through suppliers in Russia and Germany.

“One of my other companies is a digital marketing agency. I am passionate about the development of digital marketing. You see, all my businesses are motivated by the situation back in Zim: fuel, and digital. Zim right now needs fuel and also to improve its e-commerce. In the Western countries, a lot of businesses have actually closed physical shops and now do stuff digitally.”

It has been a roller coaster ride for Mugava: a gifted cricket player from the townships in Zimbabwe, and now an ambitious young businessman who has the ear of a very rich man.

Sounds like a real-life fairytale, one that, according to Mugava, has nurtured distaste for him from his Zimbabwean peers in the UK. “When you wrote those last articles, I know who gave you the information,” says Mugava, naming three people he suspects to be our sources.

“I know them. There is one reason they did that: jealousy. The people who gave you that information, what are they doing now? If I was a bad person, I would have come out and tell people about their situation in the UK. I don’t do it because it’s against my morals. I know a lot of things. But I do not say them because it’s none of my business. I mind my business. As a (Zimbabwean) community we should be building each other. Let’s lift each other, instead of trying to pull each other down.”

However, Mugava refused to furnish us with documental proof to support his residency status in the UK.