Players’ union is overdue

At the time of you’re reading this article, matters proceeding as planned, Francis Shonhayi will have been buried at his rural home in Chirumanzu yesterday. Thus passeth the glory of the world…dust to dust, ashes to ashes ‘ eternally. And so, as Zimbabwean award-winning author Charles Mungoshi has Lucifer say in his monologue in Waiting for the Rain, “your roots claim their rightful pound of clay.” Francis Shonhayi: former captain of former Zimbabwe Premiership soccer kings Dynamos, former captain of former South African champions Cape Town Spurs, former captain of another South African Premiership side Amazulu and, above it all, former captain of the Zimbabwe senior men’s national soccer team, the Warriors. He was a leader of men. Francis Shonhayi: falling at 39 at the Victoria Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa on the last Thursday of last month, to the one match that he could not win, the one match that none of us can ever win. He had fought for long against tuberculosis and meningitis. I travelled with the Warriors a handful of times when Shonhayi was captain. During the airport check-ins, flights, hotel check-ins and meal-times, Shogi would go to great lengths to make sure that all was well not just with his players but with the accompanying media as well. And so rest in peace, Captain ‘ my Captain! But for those of us who have survived him, there should be no peace until we have corrected what was wrong around his last days. Until we set up a structure or infrastructure, a safety net, that will ensure that those of our former players who fall by the wayside- as many of them have done in the past, are doing now and will do in the future ‘ do not hit the hard ground. A wise man whose name I have never been told advised that each one of us should learn from the mistakes of others because neither one of us lives long enough to make all of the mistakes ourselves. The Zimbabwe sporting community is taking too long to learn this lesson. Tell me, my friends, why I had this feeling of deja vu when Warriors defender Zvenyika Makonese, who has looked after Shonhayi in the gallant manner that a soldier will do over a dying mate on the battlefield, sent an SOS for help in bringing Shonhayi’s body home. Tell me, my friends, if we have not been here before with other sportspersons- soccer players moreso. How long should this go on before we take preventive measures? But, to be fair to you Zimbos, the failing is not unique to us. One has read about a former Zambian boxer who died a pauper, and there are similar tales from the region and beyond. And the tales are not unique to sport. One has read of the ground-breaking South African playwright who died in circumstances unbecoming an award-winner. So this proverb is advice not just to Zimbabweans: “What the fool does in the end, the wise man does in the beginning.” Yes, we have fallen in the past and had to pass the begging bowl around to pay for costs at the burial ground for those who gave their all to entertain us on the playground. But remember, my friends, that the problem is not falling down. The problem is failing to pick something up while you are down there. We have not picked something up. And so, once again, we are passing the begging bowl around. Outgoing Warriors captain Peter Ndlovu and his compatriots plying their trade in South Africa plus other Zimbabweans in the soccer community there have led the way, together with the man for whom Shonhayi was now a driver- his former boss at Cape Town Spurs. To all of you, gentlemen, please accept a sincere, hearty Zimbabwe gratitude. But it need not always be like this, comrades. It does not always have to come to this. No. Definitely not. Sports personalities, like musicians and other celebrities, enjoy a love-hate relationship with the public. There is some ambivalence. We pay for these people to entertain us. The better they are at this the more we pay them and so the more they have. Having paid for their membership of the Church of Mammon, we then chide them when they worship at the altar of hedonism. Having paid for their membership of the Church of Mammon, we then mock them when the money runs out before life does. We do not understand how they fall to such destitution they fail to afford burial costs after all we had paid for their entertainment and yet those of us who paid so much for their entertainment ensure that we either have a structure or somehow or other always manage to manage our burials. I found this lament from former England soccer great Paul Gascoigne poignant: “I get on a train and sit in second class and people think, ‘Tight bastard. Money he has got and he sits in second class.’ So I think, **** them’ and I go in first class and then they say, ‘Look at that ****ing flash bastard in first class.” Because they entertain us so much, we develop such love and admiration for our heroes and heroines that we want them to be part of us. But because they entertain us so much that we develop such love and admiration for our heroes and heroines, we want them to be, and remain, the ideal. But then the ideal cannot be part of us because the ideal is that to which we strive. The inimitable George Best said of himself: “I spent my money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.” Faced by this celebration of profligacy, a wise man retorted: “For the pleasure he has brought to millions, he could be forgiven a great deal.” Hear, hear! For all that he has done for club and country, the most fitting tribute that the Zimbabwe sports community can pay Francis Shonhayi is to draw a line in the sand here and now, and declare that never again will a Zimbabwe sportsperson have to beg to be buried. Friends, countrymen and lovers, let us have a players’ union today.

April 2006
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