Remarkable changes for Zimbabwe Cricket

2010-03-06 00:00

STRANGE noises are emerging from Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC). Hitherto it had been a simple matter of identifying and criticising those using positions of influence to line their pockets. Now the issue has become more complicated. Suddenly white sources inside the system are praising the incumbents, and asking for restraint from critics.

Meanwhile other sources, black and white, close to the action, insist that recent events are a mere charade, calculated to retain power and end travel bans and the freezing of bank accounts.

On the surface a lot has changed in Zimbabwean cricket. In the space of a few months numerous disenchanted players have been lured back, most of them white. Alistair Campbell, a past captain, has been appointed chairman of selectors and Grant Flower has been named batting coach. Dave Houghton, another former leader, is assisting and Neil Manthorp, a former journalist of repute, is working as the team’s media manager in the West Indies. Encouragingly, the team won its first international match in the Caribbean, beating their hosts in a T20 contest.

Furthermore, former England player Alan Butcher, who unsuccessfully coached Surrey, has taken up the position of national coach. Meanwhile, approaches have been made to other Zimbabwean cricketers playing overseas. The argument is that things have changed — and they ought to come back and take a look. If nothing else, it suggests that ZC is open for business and scrutiny.

All sorts of motivations have been offered for this apparent transformation. In some opinions Ozias Bvute, hitherto a despised and distrusted CEO, has undergone the sort of conversion associated with the road to Damascus. Reports indicate that he has been helpful, enthusiastic and committed to the cosmopolitan cause.

Less sanguine souls, on the other hand, suspect that CSA officials have told Bvute, Peter Chingoka and the rest of the old black guard to mend their ways or take the consequences.

Sceptics argue that Pakistan and India have lost patience with ZC, removing its International Cricket Council safety net. Cynics point out that David Coltart, an honourable man, has become minister of sport, replacing a poisonous racist.

Whatever the reasons, a palpable change has been detected. Moreover, senior officers have become sensitive to their image. Last week your correspondent felt obliged to cast a critical eye over ZC’s affairs.

No sooner had the column been published, when Marvellous Mhlanga, a reporter working for Voice of America, and closely identified with Bvute, sent a message to him, drawing attention to the column and adding that “it’s part of what we are trying to redress so you need to step up the pressure on positive articles”.

Whilst a pleasant change from the usual tirade, it was an interesting development. Exactly what a professional journalist was doing having that sort of contact with a public figure is a moot point. Still, the exchange confirms that ZC is anxious about its image. It also suggests that care needs to be taken before putting faith in the regime. After all it’s not the perception that matters, but the reality.

Several questions need to be addressed before the all-clear bell can be rung. Firstly, it is interesting that so much money has suddenly appeared in ZC coffers, so that competitive wages can be offered to international coaches and renowned media figures. Of course there may be an innocent explanation, but the position needs to be clarified or else people will wonder what happened previously to the millions given to ZC after the World Cups and as part of the ICC’s handouts to Test-playing countries, suspended or otherwise.

As far as Bvute is concerned, and disregarding his private life, the most pressing issue concerns the wealth he has acquired in recent times, a feat matched by Chingoka. Forex dealings concerning cars from Croco Motors attracted the attention of the usually loyal Central Bank and numerous charges were proven, though the pair escaped serious retribution.

Bvute’s relationship with Supa Mandiwanzira and his company Mighty Movies likewise raises eyebrows. Mandiwanzira, a media magnate, is close to Mugabe and his skills were used to undermine Archbishop Pius Ncube, an almost saintly critic of the regime, and also to frame Morgan Tsvangarai on absurd treason charges.

He has also attacked Nestle for refusing to take milk from one of Grace Mugabe’s farms, and runs the new body called upon to indigenise foreign companies. In short, he is Zanu-PF hardliner, a position that has served him well. He is part and parcel of the current political chicanery

Bvute and Mandiwanzira go back a long way, and still spend a lot of time together. It is not the sort of conduct, or company, normally associated with those eager to promote harmony and transparency. They are angry men. Perhaps they have reason. Bvute says his father was dragged along by a horse ridden by the white oppressor.

Notwithstanding their current charms, Chingoka and Bvute have a problem with credibility. On the face of it both remain Zanu-PF stalwarts, who have made fortunes on the back of a crooked regime. Once earned, a reputation is not so easily mended. Perhaps they have changed. Perhaps they will recall and distribute any funds they might hold in Botswana, North America, South Africa or elsewhere, and do the same with their various properties. Perhaps they really do care about things other than themselves. Perhaps.

As the esteemed president of Liberia told African leaders a few years ago: “Africa is not poor; just poorly managed. We accept $132 billion n a year in aid and have $153 billion stashed away overseas in personal bank accounts.”

Over the past few years, much the same has been said about ZC. Maybe things have changed. If so, the improvements demand recognition and reward. But critics can be forgiven for remaining wary about the bona fides of Zanu-PF and its cricketing wing.

* Peter Roebuck is an international cricket correspondent who lives in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands.

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