The good, old ones keep leaving us

PETER Chingoka’s death last year was a cause of great sorrow to many of us who knew the man well and treasured his tremendous service to the game of cricket in Zimbabwe for a number of decades.

Enock Muchinjo

It did not diminish the sadness in the slightest that in the last years of his reign as head of Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC), Chingoka had assumed, if not acquired, a rather hostile attitude towards critics he viewed unkind to his increasingly failing administration — and these included me.

To us, it became quite a depressing development that a man of Peter Chingoka’s calibre as we knew him, with his impeccable record in the sport, had been reduced to seeing shadows where they did not exist.

Perhaps, in hindsight, that new attitude had become Chingoka’s convenient escape from a very stubborn reality that stared him in the face every day, reality that he could not turn back the hands of time, back to the untainted good old days, before his legacy was somewhat stained by those who joined him in the governance of the game at a much later stage.

Chingoka passed on last December at the age of 65, a total of 16 years after the death of another black administrator who stood as a colossal figure in the development of cricket in this country during a crucial period of transformation.

The late Dawson Mutsekwa was the legendary former headmaster of Churchill Boys High School, under whose guidance the Harare school encouraged the talents of future national cricketers like Tatenda Taibu, Douglas Hondo, Hamilton Masakadza, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Vusi Sibanda, Elton Chigumbura amongst others — transforming Churchill into one of the strongest cricketing schools in the country.

A passionate all-round sports lover and distinguished educationist, Mutsekwa was a man to whom integrity was everything, and he would later join the then Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) in 2000 as a facilities coordinator.

At the time of his death at the age of 62 in 2004, Mutsekwa held the position of ZCU’s provincial development manager for Mashonaland, a post that perfectly suited his passion for cultivating raw cricket talent, and leveling the playing field for disadvantaged young players.

A gentle personality inside a huge physical frame, Mutsekwa had an aura of goodness about him, genuine intentions, no agendas — just the passion of an old-fashioned schoolmaster to see his boys make the best of their lives.

During his time with ZCU, Mutsekwa worked at headquarters with one amazing and hardworking woman called Viola Muza who, according to Tatenda Taibu in the former Zimbabwe captain’s autobiography, “used to run the ZCU offices pretty much alone”.

Full of life, beautiful, amiable and always with an infectious smile, Viola was well-loved by all players and cricket staffers across the country, a friend to many, and her untimely death four years ago — after she had since left the organisation — was received with shared grief by all of us whose lives she touched through her lovely personality and delightful administrative competence.

As Taibu puts it, Viola worked for the local cricket governing body when its offices were still very small in both size and personnel, but no less effective than a bloated ZC is now.

Her boss, with whom she formed quite a dynamic pair, was the former Zimbabwean umpire Ian Robinson, who also passed away around the same time in 2016 at the age of 69.

Also to die in recent time among selfless cricket personalities I interacted with in their lifetime was former board president Alwyn Pichanick, who steered Zimbabwe to Test status in the early 1990s, veteran development stalwart Mike Whiley — a decorated sportsman and educationist — as well as Duncan Frost, who gave his all by sourcing funds and equipment in the Bulawayo area for the benefit of underprivileged children.

It has been a very difficult period for the game in this country with all these iconic figures departing at regular intervals. Only a few months ago, Richard Munjoma, a committed township cricket coach of the 1980s, also bade us farewell at the age of 65.

On Wednesday, we received the news of the passing of 77-year-old Jackie du Preez, a Zimbabwean who played two Tests for South Africa in 1966-67.

Tributes have poured in from around the cricketing world for the world-class leg-spinner and later a respected administrator and selector in Zimbabwe.

The greatest tragedy for Zimbabwean cricket, in mourning these departing heroes of the game in our country, is that there are very few fitting replacements from among those surviving.