|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
Enough is Enough
We have a fundamental right to freedom of expression!
12 May 2004
The brave decision of Stuart MacGill, the Australian leg-spinner, on moral grounds not to make himself available for the cricket tour to Zimbabwe, is to be warmly applauded. MacGill said he could not tour Zimbabwe “and maintain a conscience” in the light of the gross human rights’ abuses perpetrated under Robert Mugabe’s rule. Australian commentators say this is the first time in the modern era an Australian cricketer has refused to tour on moral grounds. Both the Australian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have shown their appreciation of the cricketer’s courageous stand, obviously taken at some personal cost.
Also to be applauded in the tough world of international sport in which the commercial factor is usually decisive is the principled stand taken by Des Wilson. Wilson has resigned from the management team of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) after failing to persuade his colleagues to take a firmer line against the attitude of the International Cricket Council (ICC) towards sport in Zimbabwe.
The position for which Wilson lobbied strongly was that England should tour Zimbabwe in October and November only under clear public protest, and that the ECB should start campaigning now to change the ICC’s position on this issue. To date the ICC has adopted a strong so-called “apolitical” stance, maintaining that there is no linkage between international sport and politics. In fact the ICC has gone further in introducing harsh financial penalties for any national cricket board which dares to take a principled stand on the issue. What the ICC fails to understand of course is that the issue as it concerns Zimbabwe is not a matter of party politics at all (the MDC against ZANU PF for instance), nor of idealism. The issue here transcends the normal boundaries of politics. It concerns rather a situation of desperate suffering in a nation afflicted by massive human rights’ abuses. It is therefore essentially a matter of good and evil – literally life and death - in a nation under threat of death.
In support of his proposal that the ECB should only tour Zimbabwe under protest, Des Wilson commented “In so doing it would be seen to exercise both moral judgment and accountability to UK political, public and stakeholder opinion and take a first step in rejecting the unsustainable proposition that moral concerns have no place in sport”. Sadly he found himself isolated not only on the ECB but at Lords where only the MCC supported his argument in favour of adopting a moral stance.
In passing it is interesting to note the clear parallels between the position in which the ICC finds itself today and the position of the major sporting bodies under apartheid-ruled South Africa over a decade ago. The South Africans’ experience taught them that there could be no normal sport in an abnormal society. The ICC it seems, and those who support their line, have to learn that lesson all over again, and they appear set to learn it the hard way. The most enthusiastic sporting authorities in South Africa eventually had to face the truth that there are occasions when over-riding moral considerations transcend the narrow interests of sport. And sooner or later those who today think that Zimbabwean cricket can continue as before irrespective of the end of the rule of law and the gross human rights’ abuses perpetrated on a daily basis across the country, will have to face the same hard truth.
What do Zimbabwe’s own cricketers think of bringing moral concerns into the game? How many of them are prepared make a sacrificial stand on a clear moral issue ?
Only last year two members of the Zimbabwean team, Henry Olonga and Andy Flower, made a powerful political statement by wearing black armbands as they took to the field in a World Cup match in Harare – a protest, in their words, against “the death of democracy in Zimbabwe”. A simple gesture which expressed most eloquently what very many Zimbabweans were thinking. It was a brave stand which cost both players their position in the Zimbabwean side, but it was widely applauded at the time by many civic groups and those concerned with human rights. A group of church leaders in Bulawayo hailed Olonga and Flower’s gesture as “hitting a six for freedom and democracy”.
Moreover if only two members of Zimbabwe’s squad were prepared to make a personal stand on a moral issue a year ago, the position now is very different. The Mugabe regime’s move to take control of ZCU through political appointments to the board and the implementation of a clear political agenda in the selection process (in line with the infamous Dr Zechariah’s document) has now brought out 15 players effectively on strike. Dissatisfaction among the players had been mounting for a long time over the composition of the board (specifically the inclusion of members with questionable cricketing credentials) and what the players perceived as a clear racial, and even regional, bias in the selection of the team. These concerns, elaborated in Heath Streak’s statement to the press, made it clear that however the ZCU tried to portray the white players it was not so much the players as the ZCU itself which was guilty of serious racial bias. Eventually it was their decision to sack Heath Streak as captain which tipped the scales and brought all 15 players out in protest. The non-white players then received phone calls from officials of the ZCU with known political connections, warning them not to side with their white colleagues. Hondo, Nkala and Ebrahim who were going to pull out received further threats to ensure their compliance.
An increasing number of the Zimbabwean players therefore have demonstrated their willingness to act on principle even at considerable personal cost. The truth has been borne in upon them through their own brave stand that there can be no normal sport in an abnormal society. The question which remains at this point is when those responsible for organizing the Australian and English tours of Zimbabwe will stumble upon the same truth. And whatever the final decision in respect of those tours, the bigger question is when the people of Zimbabwe as a whole will acknowledge this reality. Accepting this fundamental truth surely requires Zimbabweans, black and white and of all political persuasions, to boycott all such international fixtures en masse.