Political leaders should also play

Way back among our people, education, book-education, was held as the only sure-fire way of escaping the trials and tribulations that was otherwise our lot under the yoke of colonialism. Parents sent their children to school to imbibe as much “book” as they could so that they could get well-paying jobs in the city and then help to support their siblings and later look after the parents in their old age. This was common among parents whether they were peasant farmers in the dust and stone of the rural areas or workers domiciled in the African residential areas then called locations in Zimbabwe ‘ as if where the other races lived was not located!

I thought their areas were actually better located. The story, which I do not tire narrating to visitors when we pass through the different “locations” on the way from the Harare International Airport is that the former white areas, now low-density suburbs, were located in such a way that on his way to work in the morning, the “baas” would have the sun behind him and then on his way home after work, he would have the sun behind him. In other words, they never suffered the nuisance of driving into the sun.

But now I seem to have lost my thread. That is what talk of those days does for me. I become excited and excitable. But I digress.

I was saying that our people wanted their children to inculcate as much theory as possible and then proceed to go and work at oiling the colonial economic machinery. That was their objective: to get children to learn enough to get work. That set-up of course was a part of the whole machinery of occupation that was meant to provide the colonial master with the literate stratum of his workforce.

Woe befall any child who so much as hinted that they did not want to be just be automatons of the academic system but wanted to follow their natural bent and develop themselves in arts or crafts. It was not the done thing. The only thing that “saved” you going through an academic system that prepared you to be a worker was money. But that would be the last resort. A parent would only admit financial hopelessness as the very last resort. Our parents would rather they died than tell you they did not have money for your schooling. And so they borrowed from far and wide, they sold cattle or some other of their livestock, they sold maize or some other of their grain or some other agricultural produce: all to ensure that you accessed a desk at an educational institution and be taught.

That was then. Now is now. Over the years, our parents learnt that fame and fortune were not exclusive to theory and more theory, to book knowledge. They learnt that successful careers could be crafted out of skilled feet or hands or voice. They learnt that there was nothing shameful in pursuing a career as a sportsperson or a musician.

Now is now. Sport has become a major business. It is no less so on our continent and in our region. Indeed, the role that sport can play in Africa cannot be over-emphasised. Our continent is plagued by a variety of problems, some which we have inherited from geography and nature, others which we have caused ourselves. Either way, no sport can be relevant on the continent if it stands aloof from the burning issues of the day.

Thus sport is engaging or seeking to engage wider society as behoves a team player and responsible corporate citizen.

In Zimbabwe, for example, among the primary economic challenges that the government is facing is the reduction of inflation to between 350 and 400 percent by end of 2007. The economy is expected to register a positive 0,5 to 1 percent growth, with agriculture set to grow by 6,4 percent while tourism is projected up by 23 percent. Sport can help there, especially in promoting tourism.

Nurtured well, sport can be the region’s, nay continent’s, leading employer, an empowerment mechanism and a marketing tool. By offering sport as a new profession or just pastime for all, we are offering an alternative to the youths who would otherwise find themselves with plenty of idle time to engage in risky behaviour. And so we are, in that regard, helping to combat the spread of HIV-AIDS. That modern-day plague that has pushed us screaming and sniffing back to the battle-field, back into the trenches, where fathers bury their sons, threatens to play havoc with our human resource base, moreso as it strikes at our youth, mowing them down and confining a sizeable chunk of our future into nursing homes or home-based care.

It cannot therefore be argued that if we say sport is so important, if we want to use sport as a tool for national development then we must ensure that sport remains well within the national radar. Sport should remain on the national agenda because it is of national importance. It should remain a subject for the democratic discourse enamoured of our people aboard the train or minibus from the location to work or on the reverse trip, or at the bus stop or station waiting for the above, or at lunch, or over a beer. It should remain on the menu of the day’s discussion in parliament.

Thus, we applauded the statement by Zimbabwe Vice-President Joice Mujuru late last week that sports administrators should run clean ships. She expressed concern about the issue of poor administration that continues to plague a lot of the sporting disciplines. The Vice-President pointed out that sporting organisations that were administered poorly also suffered lack of funding because potential sponsors shy away from badly-run teams.

That this comment is coming from such high office gives sport its rightful place in the national scheme of things. And that is as it should be.

December 2006
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