|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
Monday July 12th – Sunday July 19th 2004
Media Weekly Update 2004-28
1. GENERAL COMMENT
2. ATTACKS ON CIVIC AND RELIGIOUS BODIES
3. LAND REFORM CHAOS
AS this report went to print, Press freedom suffered yet another severe blow with news that the High Court had upheld the decision by the government appointed Media and Information Commission (MIC) to shut down the privately owned weekly newspaper, The Tribune. MIC closed the paper in June on grounds that its publishers, Africa Tribune Newspapers, had not informed the commission about material changes made to the paper as required under the repressive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). In his ruling, Justice Tendayi Uchena noted that the MIC acted “within its discretion”, adding that the commission’s decision to deregister The Tribune “could not be faulted” (The Herald 22/7).
The ruling makes it abundantly clear that the provisions of AIPPA are undemocratic and grossly repressive. Instead of necessitating public access to information, this draconian piece of legislation has been used to systematically erode basic information rights of the citizenry.
MMPZ therefore calls for an urgent repeal of the law and indeed other equally repressive pieces of legislation such as POSA for there can never be a free and fair election next year without the free flow of information. This is particularly so in light of revelations by the Zimbabwe Independent’s (16/7) that the authorities were trying to build a case against the South African based weekly Mail & Guardian (M&G) in a bid to silence it. The M&G is increasingly becoming one of the main sources of information among the few remaining alternative media, which are accessible to Zimbabweans. According to the Independent, the authorities obtained a subpoena compelling officials at Century Bank to supply the police with information about the M&G account from January 1 this year and records of all cheque transactions done since the beginning of the year.
This happened barely a week after police visited to the newspapers’ distributors following The Sunday Mail’s (20/6) unsubstantiated allegations that the publishers intended to print the paper in Zimbabwe. Such blatant attempts to gag the M&G fully expose the government’s paranoia of free Press and hatred of alternative viewpoints.
THIS week the government media intensified their onslaught on civic bodies and the church in a bid to justify government plans to introduce a controversial law that would enable the authorities to exert their stranglehold on the operations of non-governmental and religious organisations ahead of the March 2005 elections.
The proposed law, the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) Bill, would empower the authorities to police the activities of these institutions, which they have accused since the 2000 general election, of advancing foreign interests and supporting the opposition MDC at the expense of their spiritual and humanitarian roles.
Similar repressive laws such as AIPPA and POSA have been enacted under the guise of safeguarding the country’s sovereignty. These have been selectively applied to severely curtail basic rights of those perceived as enemies of the State, including the private media and the opposition MDC.
But instead of viewing the impending law as yet another attempt to further erode the country’s shrinking democratic space, the official media merely colluded with the authorities in justifying government’s stance against NGOs and the church. This was demonstrated by the way the government media unnecessarily politicised church and humanitarian aid issues or shielded government from relevant criticism over its alleged human rights excesses by the clergy. Sadly, there was no counter coverage to their reports, as the private media largely remained noncommittal on the matters.
In fact, the distribution of allegedly ‘poisonous’ sorghum seeds to farmers in Masvingo by private companies contracted by the international humanitarian organisation, CARE International, provided ZBC with a platform to propagate anti-civic organisations sentiments. For example, ZTV (12/07, 6pm) conveniently ignored facts surrounding the story in an effort to malign CARE and use the issue to vindicate government’s claims that NGOs were bent on sabotaging the country’s programmes. Radio Zimbabwe and ZTV (13/7, 6pm) even tried to build a conspiracy theory on the issue alleging that the fact that the seed came from Botswana has “raised speculation…of interference on the part of the Americans and the British, who have made it clear that they were working with neighbouring countries to effect a regime change in Zimbabwe”.
While grudgingly acknowledging the role CARE played in providing food assistance in the past, ZTV claimed that the organisation, and indeed other relief agencies, were deliberately inducing food shortages in the country to “undermine the agrarian reforms and justify their stay in the country”. No evidence was provided to support this claim.
Rather, selected individuals and farmers’ organisations representatives were quoted calling for “drastic actions against NGOs”, adding that a “law to closely monitor the operations of NGOs” should be put in place. Similarly, Radio Zimbabwe (13/7, 8pm) quoted unnamed individuals saying, “the granting of wrong seeds resembles an attempt to poison all Zimbabweans”. The Sunday Mail (18/7) echoed similar views despite the fact that CARE published a Press statement in the same issue of the paper explaining the matter.
The church was not spared either. The government media lambasted the local Catholic Church and its Bulawayo archbishop, Pius Ncube, for allegedly causing chaos in the country by misrepresenting the human rights situation in Zimbabwe to the international community. As a result, the Chronicle (12/7) ran an emotionally-charged comment calling on the “Pope (to) discipline Archbishop Ncube” for having allegedly stopped “preaching repentance to the people” but taking “every opportunity afforded him to lie about his own country and President Mugabe”. The paper’s comment followed a Sunday News (11/7) report, which reported Ncube as having criticised Mugabe’s leadership qualities and expressing doubts about the fairness of next year’s general elections. The Herald (13/7) followed suit. It quoted ZANU PF’s secretary for information in South Africa, Gadzira Chirumanzu attacking Ncube saying he was agitating for “ chaos and insurrection”. Said Chirumanzu: “The archbishop has abandoned his flock and seems to have decided to become a full time politician. Surely that is his right, but he must not weep when he is treated as such by other politicians.”
The Catholic Church in South Africa was also targeted. The Chronicle (14/7) castigated it for having joined the crusade to lobby its government to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe at the “spirited” instigation of Ncube. So incensed by the activities of the church was government that it reportedly urged the Roman Catholic church to “rein in one of its arms, the Catholic Commission of Justice and Peace (CCJP)” which, the authorities claimed, had been calling on the Australian government to tighten screws on the country, The Daily Mirror (13/7). The paper said the call came in the wake of the resumption of communication between the CCJP and Brisbane’s Justice and Peace Commission, which resulted in the Australians writing a letter to their government on behalf of the CCJP, asking for its continued opposition to Zimbabwe.
The Mirror quoted Department of Information secretary George Charamba describing the CCJP’s actions as electioneering and as a fundraising activity ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections. But the CCJP national director, Alouis Munyaradzi Chaumba, defended his organisation’s activities saying, “Government is intolerant to other views and that is destroying our country.” He said that the recent African Commission on Human and People’s Rights report, which accused government of excessive human rights abuses, reflected a true “observation that there was harassment of journalists, lawyers and civil society”. Reminding readers of the CCJP’s role during the liberation struggle and the Matebeleland and Midlands disturbances in the mid-1980s, the Mirror cited the Catholic Church insisting that contrary to government’s claims, its role as champions of civic liberties had not changed.
Meanwhile, The Herald and Chronicle (12/7) tried to politicise last month’s appointment by Pope John Paul II of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Hwange, Robert Ndlovu, as the archbishop for Harare. In their reports, which bordered on tribalism, the papers cited unnamed sources as contesting the appointment, which they described as irregular and “a slap in the face”, saying it had created “a rift” in the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe because church members were questioning the “rationale of appointing someone from Matebeleland to head the Harare archdiocese” ahead of “suitable” candidates from Mashonaland. The appointment, highlighted the papers, would mean that Zimbabwe’s archbishops would both come from Matebeleland since archbishop Pius Ncube of the Bulawayo Diocese also hails from the same region.
The papers did not, however, detail how the touted Mashonaland candidates were better suited for the job than Ndlovu. Instead, they merely cited “concerned church members” as being “particularly incensed” by the approval given to Ndlovu’s appointment by vocal government critics such as Mike Auret, the former director of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, and Father Nigel Johnson, a cleric based in Bulawayo. Based on the presumption of political machinations in the appointment of Ndlovu, the papers then quoted part of a petition that the “concerned church members” intended to send to the Pope “so that he would rescind his decision”. They argued that Ndlovu’s appointment “should have put aside the politics of the day, racism, regionalism, tribalism…”
In fact, the extent to which the government media politicised the issue was further illustrated by the way The Herald (13/7) reluctantly accepted clarification on Ndlovu’s appointment by the Pope’s representative in Zimbabwe, Apostolic Nuncio Father Edward Adam. Though the paper quoted Father Adam as saying the appointment was non-political and was done “through the regular process required by Roman Catholic Church” it still maintained that there were suspicions by some church members that the selection was “unprocedural”.
ZBC and the private media ignored the story.
WHILE The Herald and Chronicle (15/7) recorded President Mugabe as having told a visiting Chinese delegation that Zimbabweans had “successfully” reclaimed their land from “whites” adding that agriculture was thus set to “propel the country to prosperity”, other media reports seemed to indicate otherwise. They reflected the deep-seated chaos in the agriculture sector as far from being over. Even the government media, which the authorities have often used to give government’s land reforms a veneer of normalcy, belied President Mugabe claims.
However, these media did not comprehensively view the issues as indicative of the chaos that has generally marred the reforms since their inception four years ago. For example, Radio Zimbabwe (13/7, 1pm) and ZTV (13/7, 6 & 8pm) reported that more than 15,000 people that were “illegally resettled” in conservancies in Masvingo province had been ordered off the properties. The stations, however, did not ask the authorities why those people were allowed to settle in those conservancies in the first place. The Herald (15/7) further exposed the fallacy surrounding government’s one-man-one-farm policy. This was after the Lands Ministry sent out withdrawal letters to several government ministers and ZANU PF cabinet members who allegedly owned more than one farm. These included Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo, Information Minister Jonathan Moyo and Agriculture Minister Joseph Made.
However, instead of verifying the substance of the multiple ownerships with the relevant authorities or conduct its own investigations on the matter, the paper was content with downplaying this development by using mainly faceless sources to either trivialise or divert attention from the issue. Besides, The Herald did not put to task the implicated ministers that it talked to. For example, it allowed Moyo to cloud the issue by irrelevantly roping in the MDC into the multiple farm ownership saga. Similarly, the Lowani Ndlovu column in The Sunday Mail (18/7), merely peddled conspiracy theories about the matter and drowned its readers in semantics by painstakingly trying to draw differences between multiple farm ownerships and multiple farm allocations.
In contrast, the privately owned media was more categorical in its coverage of multiple farm ownership by ruling party leaders. The Sunday Mirror (18/7), for example, viewed the “annoyed” response from some of the recipients of Lands Minister John Nkomo’s letters as stemming from a “ deep-seated defiance” to Mugabe’s renewed clampdown of multiple farm ownership which the presidency has failed to tackle. Some of these recipients, it argued, had simply “secured technical immunity from charges of multiple farm ownership by having ‘eligible’ relatives assume occupation of the extra properties”.
Interestingly, Moyo told The Herald (15/7) that one of the farms that Nkomo’s officials had associated with him was actually allocated to his cousin, while Transport Minister Chris Mushowe claimed that another farm linked to him actually belonged to his son, “a grown up man with his own family”. It is against such responses that Nkomo noted in the Sunday Mirror; “Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said his wife gave up the farm, Moyo says his cousin is now occupying the Hwange farm …the point is they had more than one farm.”
Meanwhile, the private media exposed the continued farm invasions, violence and looting that is taking place on the few remaining white owned farms. For example, Studio 7(12/7 & 13/7) revealed that ZANU (PF) youth militia and war veterans had ordered two white commercial farmers, Eric Harrison of Mkwasine and John Winwood of Karoi off their farms in two separate incidents. Harrison was said to be “holed up” in his farm as the youths vowed not to leave the property, while Winwood was reportedly arrested for “refusing to vacate the farm” by the police and was later released without charge. The station quoted a Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) official confirming the arrest. However, a comment from the police was missing.
SW Radio Africa (13/7) also reported the incidents adding that violence had been “escalating in the past few weeks” in the white owned farms, particularly in Karoi and Chiredzi sugar plantations. In fact, the Zimbabwe Independent (16/7) carried a CFU statement saying at least six white wheat commercial farmers in Karoi faced expulsion from their properties after they were given 48-hour eviction notices by the Mashonaland West governor, Nelson Samkange. Their pending eviction was despite the fact that they had already applied to the courts for a stay of execution to harvest their wheat crop while challenging Section 8 notices in court.
In another classic example of the lawlessness gripping government’s agrarian reforms, the Zimbabwe Independent revealed that the government organ, the Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (ARDA), had seized 152 cattle worth more than $304 million from opposition MP Roy Bennett’s Charleswood Estate and relocated them to one of its farms in Chikomba district. Bennett’s lawyer, Arnold Tsunga, described ARDA’s action as constituting “stock theft under common law”.
SW Radio Africa and Studio 7 (12/7) also carried the report.
The MEDIA UPDATE was produced and circulated by the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe, 15 Duthie Avenue, Alexandra Park, Harare, Tel/fax: 263 4 703702, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Feel free to write to MMPZ. We may not able to respond to everything but we will look at each message. For previous MMPZ reports, and more information about the Project, please visit our website at http://www.mmpz.org.zw
LETTER FROM KUTAMA: MTHULISI MATHUTHU
Fighting imperialists? No! Mugabe is alone in the ring
(READ MTHULISI'S PREVIOUS ARTICLES)
A FUNDAMENTALLY flawed and deeply disturbing notion about President
Robert Mugabe's political conduct since 2000 has taken root. It suggests
that the Zimbabwean tyrant is embroiled in a fierce fight with British Prime
Minister Tony Blair over our troubled country.
The connotations are that a righteous African patriot is waging a just
war against the bitter descendants of Cecil John Rhodes and company - Blair
among them. Even otherwise intelligent political commentators have purchased
wholesale into this fallacy and are floundering in a bog.
Mzwakhe Mbuli's latest album Mbulism points to this sad truth. Track
16 is a wonderful idea in which he sarcastically asks redundant questions
whose answers are known to all informed people. For instance he asks if the
arms of mass destruction were found by the Bush government following the
invasion of Iraq a couple of years back. But I disagree with him when he
asks: "U Robert Mugabe wase Zimbabwe lo Tony Blair bona babangani" (What are
Blair and Mugabe fighting over?).
The effect of this question is that it implicitly helps the notion in
question. Since Blair is the Prime minister of a country that colonised
Zimbabwe and caused all sorts misery for the African people in very nearly
all the continents it is easier to conclude that the supposed feud is a
racial drama informed by imperialist interests on Blair' s part and
patriotism on Mugabe's part.
Another development fits into this debate. An editor of a respectable
Christian magazine in Oxford recently asked me to make a contribution on
Blair's obsession about Mugabe. He said it was clear to him that Blair was
fighting this African leader and he had the evidence since all the papers in
England were all out to get Mugabe.
This was beside the fact that Blair' s government doesn't own
newspapers of note. I resorted to obfuscation and stirred an irrelevant
debate with the sole aim of creating conditions under which no concrete
arrangement would be arrived at on that subject.
The danger was that whatever I was going to write it was going to lend
credence to this pathetic notion. Yet the truth today is that it is easy to
read a racial component in this whole Zimbabwean drama since some whites are
evidently bitter over their lost farms than they are surprised at the wanton
murder of black people in the 1980's in the Western part of the country.
Yet is even easier to see that Mugabe has erected a smokescreen to
obscure his appalling failure on the economic front and his sheer savagery.
That which has been termed "a false fight" has been designed between Mugabe
and the British government to suggest that he is waging a Pan-African war to
defend dear motherland.
Day and night the Presidential flatterers are peddling this fallacy
with pathetic enthusiasm. Every comment made by number 10 Downing Street is
not a comment but a stone thrown at an African patriot and all Africans
should stand up to condemn the act, we are supposed to believe.
The reality is interesting. Mugabe is not involved in a fight with
anybody. He is an old paranoid dictator who soon found himself under the
spotlight and before
demands for accountability. But unlike a rabbit he is angry and is
lashing out at anybody whom he suspects to be plotting against him.
To him even his friends and soul mates should be among those aiding
this push and hence they should be jailed and sidelined like James Makamba
and Edison Zvobgo.
Suddenly everybody else is wrong except the dear leader himself! Once
it became clear to all that the rivulets of misrule were pouring into the
mighty river of economic decline it became apparent for Mugabe to invite the
world to witness his imagined persecution by the imperialists.
"Robert Mugabe took the view that white bashing was good for his image
as a strong blackman," writes Christopher Hope in his book Brothers under
Travels in Tyranny. The irony is that this "strong blackman" and
supposed African patriot has performed or sanctioned every evil that
Africans abhor. The 1980's atrocities will suffice.
Mugabe is a clear and present danger to a common humanity. All those
who thought two elephants were fighting had better stop to watch how the
other elephant is rampaging mad lumbering about destroying grass and trees
in its own camp in search of an imagined offender.
Mugabe is alone in the ring and when a man goes into the ring alone
with gloves on, punching into the air, cursing worried spectators, bumping
against the ropes and guardrails he is not fighting anybody. He is anything
but a normal and settled gentleman.
Witness how he cuts a lone and pathetic figure even as he talks. He is
the only one talking the language of "fist fight", "degrees in violence",
"crush", "never ever", "defeat". None of those whom he is said to be
fighting are talking that language.
All what black people of Kezi and Harare are demanding from Mugabe is
accounting. They want to know how he allowed their people to be killed by
the army he leads. They want to know how his ministers got rich so quickly
when they were a s poor as anybody only yesterday. They want to know how
Zimbabwe had its resources washed down the Congo River before they were
consulted. They want to know why his henchmen, known to be thieves and
murderers are not where Makamba is.
That is scaring to Mugabe and so he should pretend to be a persecuted
Pan-Africanist - email@example.com
Sunday Herald (UK)
Plot quickens in thriller trial
The trial of Old Etonian Simon Mann resumes in Zimbabwe this week. He is
accused of trying to overthrow Equatorial Guinea's President Nguema and
could face execution
By Fred Bridgland
Africa's biggest mercenary trial in 40 years resumes on Tuesday at a
Zimbabwean maximum-security prison, with hundreds of soldiers patrolling the
razor wire-topped walls that surround it. The plot, unfolding in Chikurubi
prison, is so complex it is worthy of a John le Carré or Frederick Forsyth
novel. The two main characters are a flamboyant British mercenary, whose
father captained the England cricket team, and the president of what is
probably the most oppressive state on the continent of Africa.
Simon Mann and his group of 69 employees, arrested in Zimbabwe on March 7,
face charges of violating the country's immigration, firearms and security
laws. But they are also accused of plotting to overthrow Brigadier-General
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, president of the newly oil-rich west African
state of Equatorial Guinea.
Nguema has demanded the extradition of Mann and his men to face possible
death sentences, and some reports allege that the Zimbabwean president,
Robert Mugabe, has agreed in exchange for guaranteed supplies of Equatorial
Guinean oil to his country, which has the fastest-collapsing economy in the
In theory, in the Africa of the new African Union, vicious black dictators
and white soldiers of fortune have been consigned to history. But Mann and
Nguema are real players in a positively Shakespearian plot. It is a matter
of debate which of them is the nastiest stain on the contemporary map of
The Mercenary: The trial of Old Etonian Simon Mann resumes in Zimbabwe this
week. He is accused of trying to overthrow Equatorial Guinea's President
Nguema and could face execution
Simon Mann is the Eton-educated son of a former England cricket captain and
president of the MCC, George Mann, who made his fortune from the Watneys
Mann brewing empire. He is a member of White's, London's oldest gentlemen's
club . He owns a beautiful house in 20 acres of pasture on the banks of
Hampshire's Beaulieu River that once belonged to the Rothschilds.
At birth, 51 years ago, he was an unlikely candidate to end up in chains and
shackles in one of Robert Mugabe's fetid prisons. But although Simon Mann
had a privileged upbringing, he also had a low boredom threshold and a taste
Eton was followed by Sandhurst and the Scots Guards, the British regiment
most closely associated with royalty and upper-class British society. He
passed the selection procedures of the SAS at the first attempt. He became
troop commander of 22 SAS, serving in counter terrorism and intelligence in
Cyprus, Germany, Norway, Canada, Central America and Northern Ireland.
He resigned from the army and established his own security company .
However, he was so much a member of the Establishment and so highly thought
of that General Sir Peter de la Billière, commander of British forces during
the 1990 Gulf war, recalled Mann to uniform to be his right-hand man.
After the war, Mann became a mercenary soldier who was a hero to many black
Africans. He put together a mercenary deal for the government of Angola that
resulted in a major victory against guerrilla rebels.
For US$30 million, plus diamond mining and other mineral concessions, Mann
registered a "security company" in London called Executive Outcomes. It was
a front for a bigger outfit of the same name that was simultaneously
established in South Africa, but which recruited former South African
Defence Force fighters for mercenary operations in Africa.
Mann and his South African counterpart, Eeben Barlow, flew 500 men, most of
them former special forces , to northern Angola. The small force routed
Unita guerrillas, led by rebel chief Jonas Savimbi, and secured for the
government the oil region of the northwest and diamond fields in the
In 1995 Mann set up an Executive Outcomes offshoot, Sandline International,
with an old Scots Guards friend, Lt-Col Tim Spicer. Sandline International
shipped arms to the Sierra Leone government, in defiance of a UN arms
embargo. Working closely with British forces from Royal Navy ships, Sandline
helped defeat Foday Sankoh's rebels .
Mann let out his Hampshire house and retired to a life of luxury in Cape
Town, where his neighbours included Mark Thatcher, Earl Spencer and Teodoro
Nguema Obiang, the murderous 34-year-old playboy son of President Nguema of
Equatorial Guinea, whose US$4m house was funded from his father's account
with Riggs Bank in Washington.
But Mann, who also found time to play the part of Colonel Derek Wilford in a
film on Londonderry's Bloody Sunday, was apparently still restless. He
established another company, Logo Logistics, which had the obvious profile
of a mercenary outfit and which owned a Boeing jet. By several accounts,
Mann was offered more than US$1.5m by Equatorial Guinea opposition leader
Severo Moto to overthrow President Nguema. It looks as though it might prove
to be an adventure too far for Simon Mann, with possible execution in
Equatorial Guinea the conclusion of an unconventional career.
The Monster: Nguema, 'a demon who systematically eats political rivals'
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo last year proclaimed himself in permanent
contact with the Almighty in a state radio broadcast in which one of his
aides said: "He can decide who to kill without anyone calling him to account
and without going to Hell because it is God himself with whom he is in
permanent contact and who gives him his strength."
Nguema, 62, is a classic stereotypical African dictator, always worrying
about coup plots. Like the one he staged himself in 1979 to overthrow his
uncle, Maçias Nguema, who was executed by his nephew's Moroccan security
Tales of the brutality of the President's forces are legion. A foreign oil
engineer recently recounted what happened when he handed over to police a
man caught stealing petrol: "He was made to brace himself up against the
counter in the police station with his hands forward. One of them smashed
his rifle butt down on the man's hand so hard that it basically exploded and
disappeared. The police then climbed in with sticks and beat him to death."
Patrick Smith, editor of the London-based newsletter Africa Confidential,
says that in the periodic coup attempts against Nguema, "the people involved
are just rounded up, paraded before the state media, and then they disappear
Nguema's brother is a top internal security officer and, according to
Amnesty and US State Department reports, a torturer whose minions throw
buckets of urine over their victims, slice off their ears and rub oil into
their bodies to attract stinging soldier ants.
Exiled opposition leader Severo Moto, who was meant to be installed as
President in the most recent alleged coup attempt, has described Nguema as
"a demon who systematically eats his political rivals". In a radio broadcast
in Spain, the former colonial ruler of Equatorial Guinea, Moto said: "He has
just devoured a police commissioner. I say 'devoured' because this
commissioner was buried without his testicles and brain. We are in the hands
of a cannibal."
In the mid-1990s the US closed its embassy in Malabo, the capital, after its
ambassador received death threats for questioning the President's human
rights record. Nguema was then named in a US Senate investigation into money
laundering via Riggs Bank in Washington.
The US changed tack just over three years ago after Exxon Mobil, Chevron
Texaco and Dallas-based Triton Energy, a company with close ties to
President Bush, had invested more than US$5 billion in Equatorial Guinea's
oil production The oil companies lobbied for strengthened US relations with
the Nguema family. The US Embassy in Malabo was reopened in December 2001.
25 July 2004
Sunday Times (SA)
Zimbabwe's 'Red Lions' fly flag in extraordinary tour of England
Former skipper and his rebels sleep on the floor at homes of well-wishers
Stowe School, Buckingham
THERE surely could not have been a more typical sight in rural
Buckinghamshire on a summer afternoon. In the middle of the immaculate
cricket pitch at the elite and private Stowe School, officials on Wednesday
chatted amongst themselves as they examined the wicket.
On the boundary, spectators parked their cars, settled into folding chairs
and dug into their cooler bags for sandwiches and thermos flasks.
In the clubhouse, tables were decked with cake and simmering urns of tea,
and the air was filled with the clack of spiked shoes on a parquet floor.
Even the rain, which reduced the game from 30 overs to 20 an innings, seemed
But this was no typical game. This was the remnants of what once was the
cream of Zimbabwe's national side - and the match was another in an
extraordinary English tour.
The media have dubbed them the Zimbabwean "rebel cricketers", but Heath
Streak, Craig Wishart, Andy Blignaut, Stuart Carlisle, Grant Flower, Neil
Ferreira, Charles Coventry, Sean Ervine, Gavin Ewing and others have called
themselves the "Red Lions".
They were up against an Invitation XI put together by Allan Lamb, the South
African-born batsman who went on to play Test cricket for England from 1982
Lamb's team included Sunil Joshi, who played for India in Tests and one-day
internationals, and Pakistan A player Abdur Reman, as well as county
At the clubhouse, the Red Lions mingled with spectators, most of whom
appeared to be Zimbabwean, waiting for the rain to pass. A handful of kids
approached the visitors for autographs, shepherded by a laughing Zimbabwean
woman, cigarette in hand.
"They're all cousins and second cousins and what-nots," she exclaimed.
"Don't ask me who they are, they just came with us."
Then she shouted after the boys. "Don't be rude now, you hear? Be blerry
polite and say thank you, okay?"
Later, I overheard her telling Red Lions manager Clive Field about the
"chaos and destruction" back home.
But it wasn't a farm invasion or a land resettlement with war veterans this
time; a herd of elephants, it seemed, had run amok on the golf course at the
country club. "Ellies," she called them.
The really serious stuff, though, was going down in the Red Lions dressing
room, where the cricketers decided they would go into arbitration with the
Zimbabwe Cricket Union to end the row that has effectively destroyed their
The players were sacked after refusing to turn out for Zimbabwe in protest
at the removal of Streak as captain in a dispute over selection policies,
which they viewed as racially biased and which resulted in the country being
unable to field a side which could compete at top level.
Instead, Zimbabwe were forced to postpone Test matches until the end of the
Team lawyer Chris Venturas said: "We agreed to arbitration with the ZCU. We
have to do it to try to play some cricket."
"This [Red Lions] tour is very important for us," Streak told the Sunday
Times. "Firstly, we've got to play the ambassadorial role, we've got to get
out there, show our faces to the ICC, drum up a bit of publicity and try to
get out just what is happening in Zimbabwe right now.
"And then there's the charity side of things. We're raising money for the
Zimbabwe Pensioners' Trust, as well as for a cricketers' trust fund. Plus,
Zim's a small cricketing country. We've got to ensure that as many of these
guys keep playing for as long as possible."
Lamb said: "The player base is too small. How many cricketers have they lost
already? About 30? Maybe 35? That's drastic. It's tragic. But hats off to
these guys. They managed to scrape a few pennies together, they came out
here with virtually no money - certainly no sponsorship whatsoever - to play
cricket. They've got guts.
"You know they're being billeted at various places... people putting them up
at their homes, sleeping on couches... on mattresses on the floor. That's
"When they asked me if I could do something, put a team together, I said:
'Sure, why not?' I got a lotta mates in Zim."
Even if arbitration went their way, the Red Lions would be unlikely to turn
out for Zimbabwe soon - certainly not in the ICC Champions Trophy in
Next year, perhaps? Team manager Clive Field declined to go into detail.
His edginess, he explained, was due some reporters in Britain wanting to
focus on the "politics" of the matter, and that players were being pressured
into saying things that could be taken out of context in Zimbabwe.
For the record, the Red Lions beat Lamb's Invitation XI. Their tour ends on
Wednesday, when they turn out for the Tony Oates Memorial match in
Cuckfield, East Sussex.
Oates, a farmer who was shot dead in Zimbabwe last year, had strong links
with Cuckfield cricket. His son, Jason, has invited Zimbabweans from all
over England to take part in the match.