21 January 2013

Zimbabwe: David Coltart Replies

ROBSON Sharuko this morning (Saturday) in The Herald poses the following questions which he says I won't answer.

He writes:

"FOR everything that Education, Sport, Arts and Culture Minister David Coltart has said to back his controversial package of measures guiding the appointment of national team selectors, there is one fundamental question he hasn't confronted. It's either he has deliberately skipped it or simply ignored it.

Do we have people in this country whose ambitions to play for the national team were blocked because of the colour of their skin?

And, if that is the case, is it fair, 33 years down the Independence journey, to re-open old wounds and draft measures that will elbow those people, out of their sporting structures, because they happened to have been victims of racial prejudice in the past?"

Whilst I am reluctant to perpetuate this debate as the questions have been put directly to me I am obliged to answer them immediately.

I have no doubt that because of the injustice of racial discrimination in the past that there are many people whose ambitions to play for their national team were blocked because of racial discrimination.

I am keenly aware of that and have never been an apologist for the racist policies of the Rhodesian Front and would never want to be part of a system which sought in any way, directly or indirectly, to bring the horrors of that system back in any form.

I think that my professional record over the last 30 years since I returned to Zimbabwe shows that I have embraced a multi racial Zimbabwe wholeheartedly and abhor racism in all its forms, both past and present.

It follows that it would be entirely unfair, and completely out of my own character, to deliberately implement policies that perpetuates, directly or indirectly, the injustices of the past.

However, I now have a few questions for him. Who are these people and how have they been elbowed out? He is talking in the plural and so the onus is on him to spell out who these people are. The only person at present who has been mentioned is Givemore Makoni. I would like to know who else has been or will be affected.

Once we know the names of the people then we must interrogate whether they were in fact blocked from playing for their country because of the colour of their skin.

Whilst I do not argue for a second that it took a long time for black Zimbabweans to be drawn into cricket (something we see in South Africa today 20 years after the end of apartheid with pitifully few black players in both their cricket and rugby squads) and that it was difficult for black players to learn the game and be recognised even post independence, we must still ask the question whether the person allegedly affected had the skills to play for Zimbabwe.

As I understand the arguments put forward Givemore Makoni says that he would have played for Zimbabwe but for the fact that he was blocked, and therefore is now being prejudiced.

But is that true or just a cover? Makoni says that in 1988 he went to under 15 trials which accordingly to my calculations means he was born in 1973, that is after Bruce Makovah, born in 1969, and after Ethan Dube, born in 1970. Both of the last two gentlemen played cricket at provincial and national level, something Makoni never did.

Henry Olonga and Pommie Mbangwa were both born in 1976 and both went to Government schools. Whilst they had three years less of racial discrimination to contend with they clearly were not discriminated against when it came to selection for Zimbabwe.

Bruce Makovah, in defending Makoni, said this week that Makoni played cricket "but not at a high level" -- his words not mine.

Why was Mr Makoni discriminated against if they weren't or was he just not good enough? I am not in way disputing that black players had tremendous and unfair obstacles to overcome but can we truthfully say that that was the reason Makoni didn't play provincial or national cricket? In other words was he in fact "blocked" from selection as suggested?

But there is a second question that Robson Sharuko must answer -- even if we accept that Mr Makoni should have played for Zimbabwe but for racial discrimination is he in fact being "elbowed out of their sporting structures because they were victims of racial prejudice"? I would answer that question for him as follows.

Firstly if Mr Makoni is the only example that can be given, he is not being elbowed out of his sporting structure.

He remains as manager of the Rocks and indeed in terms of the amendments to the Directives which the SRC is now working on will be eligible to remain a selector if the Zimbabwe Cricket apply to the SRC.

So even in this one example there is no "elbowing out". And if the gripe is that he is being "elbowed out" of the position of convener that is not because of race or his past but because of international best practice.

If we narrowly focus in on cricket, it is true that every single top Test playing cricket nation bar Zimbabwe and New Zealand employ respected former national players as convener of selectors.

There must be a reason for this and it has nothing to do with race or historical racial discrimination. Related to this can we say with absolute honesty that the system employed in Zimbabwe Cricket is working well? Our performances on the field over the last year certainly do not indicate that.

Secondly Mr Makoni is not the only person in sport in Zimbabwe who will not be able to keep his position as convener -- for example Austin Jeans, the well known sports doctor, was convener of the triathlon national selection panel, and he too will no longer be able to be convener.

Jeans is white so it has nothing to do with race, but everything to do with a consistent national policy which is in the national interest and consistent with international best practice. Triathlon Zimbabwe, like Zimbabwe Cricket, will have to apply to the SRC to have him approved as a selector.

There are two final questions I have for Robson Sharuko. Is it right that a policy which is clearly in the national interest, and designed to improve Zimbabwe's sporting performance, should be blocked by spurious and baseless arguments that somehow they perpetuate racism?

Secondly is it right that such a good national policy, which seeks to implement international best practice, should be attacked solely to protect the interests of one person? I hope he won't deliberately skip or ignore these questions.

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