I WAS still wet behind the ears when I first appeared on this column as a cub reporter 16 years ago.Two senior colleagues, Itai Dzamara and Darlington Majonga — both very good writers I have the greatest respect for — had been the regular columnists before I became a fulltime staff writer on this iconic newspaper. Initially, I was only asked to hold forte when both men were busy with the core duties of their employment.
Dzamara was a hard-nosed political reporter then at the peak of his media career, while Majonga was a sub-editor of unique ability. The two, however, knew sport well, and prior to my arrival as the permanent sports writer here, they had been only too happy to generate content for the back pages, as did business reporter Ndamu Sandu.
It was Dzamara in particular who took me under his wings pretty much as a de facto sports editor for a considerable period, over and above his contractual obligations: a courageous young political reporter back then.
Aggressive and fearless in journalism as he was in life, attributes later to invite unfortunate circumstances on himself some years down the line, Dzamara encouraged me to go for the big stories — the hard-hitting stuff — and he would duly add his vigour once the copy was delivered by me.
A man of unshakeable principles, Dzamara harbored a deep distrust and suspicion of sports administrators, and he considered it his responsibility to go after the bad guys in the different sporting disciplines.
Because of that, he made a few enemies along the way, some of the enmity extended to me by association. But being associated with anything that Dzamara stood for at that time, for me, was some kind of badge of honour.
I was young back then, but Dzamara was not too old either. In the much polarised sporting environment that existed in Zimbabwe at that time — a potential minefield for sports reporters — I viewed Dzamara as a shield, and for the tough guy he was, he indeed stood as the buffer I needed.
Zimbabwe’s main sporting disciplines were getting a whole lot of bad press those days mostly due to corporate governance issues, and Dzamara never missed a good chance to take on the besuited bureaucrats at the national sporting federations’ headquarters.
Zimbabwean cricket was going through turmoil around that time, and although he did not quite fancy the game itself by his own admission, Dzamara took keen interest in the boardroom affairs of the sport, how the game was administered, and how funds were managed.
I also recall one week in 2004 when I had excited Dzamara with a diary about misappropriation of funds by two officials in the Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU).
As the week progressed, realising that I lacked impeccable proof for the story to pass the test, and that my sources might have been motivated by a malicious agenda, I had tried to withdraw the article I filed to Dzamara.
But my superior, never one to pull punches, was having none of it. The story was heavily edited by Dzamara, complete with my byline, and appeared as that week’s main sports piece under the headline “Fraud charges rock ZRU”.
To this day, one of the administrators implicated in the article, a lady, refuses to acknowledge my greeting every time I see her at matches. Instead, she looks the other way in disgust.
The only instance in which Dzamara perhaps showed a love relationship with a sporting institution, it seemed, was with his beloved CAPS United.
Not that there was anything unprofessional about it, trust me, if the club went astray, Dzamara would put his personal feelings aside and do his job without fear or favour.
Such was the case sometime in 2005. Dzamara’s impartiality was on full display when he held no brief for CAPS in his coverage after giant mobile telephone services provider, Econet Wireless, terminated its lucrative sponsorship deal with Zimbabwe’s Premier Soccer League (PSL) 15 years ago.
The political sideshow surrounding the saga aside, what played out in the media was the dogged refusal by CAPS United to cut ties with a direct competitor of Econet, something that was reported to have incensed the league sponsors, who promptly turned their back on Zimbabwean football and walked away.
But CAPS was near to Dzamara’s heart, all the more so given how they had during that time, in 2004 and 2005, won back-to-back PSL titles under Charles Mhlauri, with some of the most entertaining brands of football ever witnessed in this country.
Dzamara had established a personal friendship with the Harare giants’ trailblazing coach — Mhlauri — man of the moment in Zimbabwean football at that time, and on quite a few occasions the easy-going gaffer dropped by our offices to see his pal.Telephone calls between the two were also regular and revealed a close personal bond.
I remember a phone conversation that echoed across the newsroom after one of our weekly diary meetings on a Monday morning.
“Charlie,” Dzamara bellowed. “Undi wakanonoka kumuisawo iwewe!”
He said that in a friendly reproach of his buddy, referring to the late introduction of substitute Raymond Undi after yet another fruitful outing for United at the weekend.
After leaving this newspaper late 2005, Dzamara founded his own publication, a short-lived weekly he named Sports Leader, forerunner of what later became the politically-slanted News Leader.
At Sports Leader, Dzamara employed three young fulltime writers — Austin Karonga, Sakheleni Nxumalo and Humphrey Vambe. He gave a column on schools sport to Nigel Nyamutumbu, then a Prince Edward pupil cutting his teeth in journalism.
Five years after his abduction by suspected state security agents in 2015, the whereabouts of my dear brother and mentor Itai remains unknown.
This week, tragedy returned to haunt the family. Patson Dzamara, Itai’s equally firebrand brother, died following a battle with colon cancer.
I did not know Patson at a personal level, but his brother was one of the most compassionate people you will ever come across, and I have no doubt Itai would have led the efforts of many good folk who had managed to raise US$14 000 to go towards the cancer surgery of the now deceased activist.
Though he had since moved on, one of those to laud my return to this newspaper in the position of senior sports writer in March 2008 — having left to join the media department of Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) in August 2006 — was Itai.
Once again, I thoroughly enjoyed the freedom I was given by this paper and the support of all colleagues. Under such conditions, one can only grow as a professional.
I was on the road again in July 2010 to take up a more senior and challenging position elsewhere for a period of five years. But after I was dismissed in very hurtful circumstances by the daily publication I had joined, a development that left me with layers of emotional scars, the then Zimbabwe Independent editor Dumisani Muleya invited me in 2016 to rejoin as a sports columnist and contributor.
I did not have to think twice.
I then continued under the new editor, Faith Zaba, all these opportunities I have cherished. It has been great fun supplying sports content to this publication, truly the pinnacle of journalism in Zimbabwe.
In four years, I have shared many captivating sporting stories with you, esteemed readers, and some of your feedback has been most heart-warming.
I am humbly indebted to you all.
Sadly, for the third time in 16 years, I have to make an exit after an exciting opportunity that has arisen elsewhere.
Thank you and bye for now.