Zimbabwe: In, More Ways Than One, It's Like a Return to 2015

3 December 2020

Senior Sports Editor

THEY were the worst of times for domestic football -- a brutal, if not shameless, purge of critics amid an explosion of nasty boardroom wars.

It all helped create a a circus, which kept spilling into the FIFA corridors, transforming ZIFA something close to a pariah football association.

Cuthbert Dube was on the ropes, the ZIFA councillors were in rebellious mode, demanding his resignation, or he would face impeachment.

For five turbulent months between May and October 2015, the country's national game was trapped in an ugly, and vicious power struggle.

And, its corridors were transformed into dark islands of chaotic and toxic, boardroom warfare.

Nothing was considered off-limits, even the tone of the language used took a darker shade, and a group that was lobbying for the dissolution of the ZIFA board were labelled a bunch of "vampires, criminals and sycophants".

Even a Deputy Sports Minister was labelled "ignorant" and "ill-informed" by that under-fire ZIFA leadership.

Then in May that year, matters came to a head.

Some ZIFA councillors convened a meeting and announced they had revoked Dube's mandate as the association's leader.

But Dube and his lieutenants, refused to budge. And their reaction was as predictable as it was brutal, with the then ZIFA vice-president, Omega Sibanda and board member in charge of finance, Ben Gwarada, being suspended.

More than a dozen other councillors were also suspended.

Those who received the boot were the late ZIFA Northern Region chairman, Willard Manyengavana, his deputy, Martin Kweza and board member Sweeney Mushonga.

Their Southern Region counterparts - Musa Mandaza (chairman), Tumeliso Ndlovu (board member) and Bryton Malandule (board member) - were also suspended.

The then Eastern Region chairman, Piraishe Mabhena and his board member Davison Muchena, the then Central Region boss, Felton Kamambo and his board member, Patrick Hill were also caught up in the purge.

And, so were the then beach soccer leader, Joseph Musariri and councillor, Dennis Tshuma.

It's a dark period which no one, who cares for domestic football would like to see the game returning to.

But five years down the line, there are worrying signs it's already staggering back towards that cycle of madness.

When it comes to local football, it seems, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Kamambo, one of the councillors who was suspended in that battle for the game to free itself from the clutches of Dube and his crew, is now the ZIFA boss.

Malandule is now one of the board members while Mabhena is now the chairperson of the association's arm which deals with certifying stadia's eligibility to host matches.

Virtually all the councillor, who fought that good fight while risking their places in the game's leadership are still part of the mainstream administration of domestic football.

However, five years after their gallant and noble fight to give their game a chance, domestic football finds itself in the eye of yet another raging storm which first made landfall last Thursday.

It came via a bombshell when the Sports and Recreation Commission announced the suspension of ZIFA chief executive, Joseph Mamutse. Sports Commission's director-general, Prince Mupazviriho, was also suspended, pending investigations, by his board.

ZIFA responded with a hard-hitting attack on the SRC, targeting the organisation's chairman, Gerald Mlotshwa, whom they claimed appeared to be on a mission to paralyse their board, and replace it with a normalisation committee.

And just like in 2015, ZIFA have turned to FIFA, for a protective shield.

ZIFA claim they are being harassed by their regulatory body in what, according to the association, is tantamount to third-party interference in how they should be running their domestic affairs.

Five years ago, FIFA, provided a defensive shield for Cuthbert Dube, after he had been toppled by the ZIFA councillors at that meeting in May.

But crucially, the world football governing body urged him to also find a way to seek peace with those he had axed in that brutal purge, including reversing their suspensions.

The move to lift the suspension of the 12 councillors was immediately put into motion.

"Following the mediation meeting held on the 18th of June 2015 between the Sports and Recreation Commission director-general, Colonel Charles Nhemachena, ZIFA president Dr Cuthbert E Dube, ZIFA Northern Region's Mr Willard Manyengavana, ZIFA Northern Region's Mr Martin Kweza and ZIFA Central Region's Mr Felton Kamambo, the Zimbabwe Football Association is more than ready to consider lifting your suspension in the interest of football development and camaraderie, provided that you show remorse for attending the meeting of 16th of May 2015," the then ZIFA chief executive, Jonathan Mashingaidze, wrote to the councillors.

A few days later ZIFA confirmed the suspension had been lifted.

"The Zimbabwe Football Association has withdrawn the sanctions imposed on 12 ZIFA officials who had been suspended following their involvement in activities detrimental to the development of football," the association said in a statement.

"Consequently, their suspensions have since been lifted with immediate effect in the interest of football development and camaraderie."

However, the winds of rebellion, against Dube's leadership continued to gather pace.

And in October that year, a properly constituted extraordinary meeting was called by the councillors, with only one item on the agenda - revoking the mandate of their leader.

This time, there was no hiding place for Dube and on the eve of the indaba, he sent a statement to The Herald, just after 10pm, announcing he had quit his post. The councillors still went ahead with their meeting, the following day, and voted 51 out 54, to revoke his mandate as ZIFA president.

Five years later, what are the chances of a mediation, like the one which FIFA provided back in 2015, providing a breakthrough to end the impasse which has seen ZIFA and the SRC trading blows, like ageing prized fighters, in recent days?

Has a red line been crossed given the harsh tone of the messages which have been flying around, between the two bodies?

Is there a way back from this crisis which has the possibility of sucking domestic football into a state of paralysis, where the game could wave goodbye, to international competitions, for a long time to come?

Does the presence of a number of people, who were part of the game during that dark period, when the game's soul was being ripped apart, provide hope the tension will be allowed to cool down and a resolution found?

Clearly, none of those councillors, including the man who is now the ZIFA boss today, want a return to that mayhem. Whether some cool heads will emerge in the coming days, will be crucial.

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