The Ghosts of 2003
Windhoek – Ten years ago this past week, former Zimbabwe cricket players Andy Flower and Henry Olonga wore black armbands in an ICC World Cup Match to “mourn the death of democracy in Zimbabwe”.
That 2003 World Cup was the first time Africa ever hosted cricket’s supreme tourney (co-hosted by Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe) and that they chose to make their political statement there was obviously designed to grab as much attention as possible.
Zimbabwe was playing Namibia in what would turn out to be a fascinating encounter.
Unfortunately, Flower and Olonga’s politicking stole the headlines and triggered a crisis that Zimbabwe’s cricket is yet to fully emerge from.
Flower recently opened up on his actions in an interview with BBC and he – as expected – declared that he did not regret what he did.
He claimed he had deliberately picked Olonga to help him in the political grandstanding because he wanted a black player to diffuse claims that his actions were based on race.
Flower told BBC, “I thought Henry might grab the concept and have the courage of his convictions to take a stand. I also thought the fact that it would be one white Zimbabwean and one black one operating together gave the message the most eloquent balance.”
What Flower did not say though, was whether or not he merely did what he did to curry favour with an English cricket infrastructure that later went on to accommodate him to the point of becoming that country’s national men’s team coach.
In 2003, Flower was 34-years-old, a decade older than Olonga. It was known that Flower would retire from international cricket after the World Cup and had already signed a good deal (financially) with Essex in England. Olonga had yet to make a name for himself.
Flower is still director of coaching in the current England set-up. But Olonga – who was never really the greatest of cricketers – has drifted on and has failed to make a mark in the sport.
Olonga trooped behind Flower to England after his Zimbabwean cricket club froze him out because, as is standard across the world, they did not believe sport and politics should mix.
But in England, as Flower played out his final years and moved on to become a successful coach of the national team, Olonga floundered.
Olonga – born of a Kenyan father and a Zimbabwean mother in Zambia – realised cricket had no space for him years ago and now works largely as a musician, living with his Australian wife.
The other key figure in that 2003 grandstanding was David Coltart, a lawyer and member of the MDC political party.
According to Flower, he and Olonga had several clandestine meetings with Coltart.
Today Coltart – like Flower – is thriving. He is the Minister of Education, Sports, Art and Culture in Zimbabwe.
It seems 2003 was good for Flower, but not so good for Olonga and for Zimbabwe Cricket in general.
As Sports Minister, Coltart today is battling the demons that he helped raise back in 2003. He faces much opposition from sports administrators who feel that he brings too much political and racial baggage to the field of play. He has been accused of trying to force through rules that largely bar black administrators from holding key national posts because they “lack experience” – experience which they failed to gain because their skin colour placed them at a disadvantage when trying to enter white-dominated sports like cricket and swimming in decades gone by.
Of course, Flower, Olonga and Coltart will never acknowledge this.