Sharuko on Saturday
HE was one of the first people to welcome this blog’s return from a four-month personal tragedy-induced sabbatical, whose emotional wounds and psychological trauma remain fresh.
Little did we know that seven months down the line he would also be gone.
For the Chifunyise family, the fall of a gentle giant on whose broad shoulders it had leaned, the rock on which they have built their foundation and the leader whose instincts they trusted.
For David, him of that song with those catchy sing-along lyrics, “takataura nyaya just general, sipping on the mineral,” the loss of a loving father, whose influence shaped his adventure into the arts.
For the people of Zimbabwe, the death of its foremost playwright, a relentless fighter for the promotion of the arts.
And, for me, the loss of a dedicated reader of this blog, a mentor, the counsel, the one who told me when I was veering off course, the one who encouraged me when he detected elements of fatigue.
Crucially, the one who advised me when he spotted failings in my writings.
Stephen Chifunyise didn’t need an appointment to come and see me, after all, he was simply doing me a favour, a very big one, and he was brutally frank about everything he said — where I was coming short and where I could do better.
And, in January this year, when this blog reappeared in these spaces, he personally wrote to me:
I was surprised this morning to find “SHARUKO ON SATURDAY” in The Saturday Herald. I had given up the search for months.
I just could not believe that you had stopped writing the column. I am one of the millions of readers of The Saturday Herald who were attached to the paper by “SHARUKO ON SATURDAY.”
The absence of your column was devastating, I missed so much of your lessons about life, explained mainly through sports events, personalities and recollections of incidents and encounters you faced.
Robson, do you remember the few soccer lessons you gave me as Permanent Secretary for Education, Sports and Culture on your way to Burkina Faso for the ’98 CAF Championships and me on theatre programme?
That was the first time I spoke to you and I found your words as diligently chosen in your speech as in your writing. You are so wise and much younger than me, but what an opportunity it was.
You and The Herald may have not realised that your column adds a lot of value to the newspaper and that its absence reduces the significance of The Saturday Herald.
You see, on Saturday I can read “SHARUKO ON SATURDAY” so many times just to enjoy your style of presentation of fairly tough issues in a manner all readers will not mind your critical outlook because of the lessons on life contained in the writing.
Even today’s column contains so many lessons in life which you have been able to share in two decades. Please continue writing. You are not writing for yourself, but for us.
Greetings to Kalusha!
This, coming from such a literary giant, who in his working life rose to become the Permanent Secretary for the then Education, Sport, and Culture Ministry back in the days, is something I will always treasure.
For, he was not just another playwright, he was a living giant in his field, good enough to be one of UNESCO’s pool of experts in cultural policies in the world and news of his death made it onto CNN.
“Stephen Chifunyise, the prolific Zimbabwean playwright and cultural connoisseur has died of complications from cancer, his nephew Dennis Chifunyise told CNN. He was 70,’’ the international news organisation reported.
“Chifunyise was an arts aficionado and co-founder of several arts organisations, including the Children’s Performing Arts Workshop, which has birthed world-class stars, including Hollywood actress Danai Gurira.’’
IT HAS BEEN A BAD WEEK FOR ME, NO DOUBT ABOUT THAT
It has been a bad week for me — the wise, old counsel is gone and, those who say lightning can at times strike twice are certainly right.
For, Willard Manyengavana is also gone, blown away at the very prime of his life, just two years into his journey on the other side of 50, without sounding any warning or alarm.
He collapsed in the gym, working out as he has been doing for a number of years now, without sending any distress signals to us, without showing any signs of a flame about to be extinguished.
He was a rare good man, in a toxic domestic football landscape full of snipers ready to bring others down, people who believe they are God’s gift to everything, individuals who think everyone else doesn’t matter because they are the merchants of purity, the owners of knowledge. He was an oasis of tranquillity in a raging ocean of madness.
On a minefield exploding with hate simply because the other fellow appears to be doing better, littered by land mines planted by those not happy they are in shadows, because they believe they are the best thing that ever happened to this world, in their jealousy-fuelled rage, Willard was an exception.
I said it earlier this week that my college lecturer told me that “journalism largely consists of saying ‘Lord Jones is dead,’ to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive.”
And, I said while that might be true, for me this week, journalism “largely consisted of saying ‘Willard Manyengavana is dead,’ to people who knew Willard Manyengavana was alive.”
People who never, in their worst nightmare, thought he would die this young — just two years into the other side of his half century, and in this manner — a collapse in the gym.
Because it was all sudden and unexpected, it brought about the shock and awe that has paralysed us, those who knew him well.
Because he always smiled, even when he was called the Gupta-in-Chief during those dark days when an adventure into Egypt to support his Warriors was transformed into a trip of shame, it became impossible to pick any niggles, if they were any, which could have been tormenting him.
And, because he was so full of life, so engaging, so warm and never shied from any discussion, it became difficult to see anything pointing to the possibility something was haunting him.
Maybe, on reflection, a good man like Willard was never meant for the brutality of our domestic football world, a place dominated by hate, consumed by hatred and defined by hostility, where the passwords for membership are loathe, detect, dislike and abhor.
But, being apart, from now onwards, won’t change the fact that, for the past quarter-of-century, we were always together, our passion brought us side by side and our souls became entangled in an adventure we both loved.
They say colleagues are those people you would rather have in the dark, than be alone in the light, and Willard fitted that description.
And, there were many a time, be it in Egypt when he was taking all that battering, and when he was knocking on the doors of reluctant sponsors to change the face of his division one league, when the time in that wind and rain with Willard felt more comfortable than a day in the warmth of my home.
In that journey, he didn’t walk behind me because he didn’t know if I could lead, and he didn’t also want to walk in front of me, because he didn’t know if I would follow, so we simply walked side by side — in good and bad times.
I have read Oprah Winfrey’s powerful words about all-weather friends, about true companionship, about real camaraderie and I know a lot of people who only want to ride with me in the limousine, but Willard was different because he was that guy who would take the bus with me when that limousine broke down.
Too bad he is gone now, but — as someone who has suffered more than a fair share of this personal tragedy in the last three years — I know that’s the way it is and that’s the way it will always be.
GOOD FRIENDS WE HAVE, GOOD FRIENDS WE’VE LOST, ALONG THE WAY
Willard knew that a true friend is a connection to life itself, the key to sanity in a brutal domestic football world ruled by insanity where they smile at you when they had just spent the night plotting your downfall, where they say good things in your presence, when in your absence they say loads of negative things.
We shared a good number of such evil people around us and he always told me they were more dangerous than beasts because, while these wild animals can inflict physical wounds that can heal, these individuals can inflict emotional pain that might never heal.
But, we soldiered, marched together through the valleys of despair and, now and again, he would strike a pot of gold — with his unwavering commitment to better his league being rewarded — and we would take time to celebrate all that.
Like that day when he lured that Japanese car exporting company, World Navi, to come on board and be the principal sponsors of the ZIFA Northern Region Division One League at a time when others believed such leagues were too unfashionable to attract a corporate partner, let alone a foreign one.
What a deal it was, what a deal it would have been, had the local economic climate ensured all the boxes had been ticked — the Japanese firm selling their cars here and, in return, linking domestic football to their market.
Long before the likes of Lucas Podolski, Fernando Torres, Andreas Iniesta and Jo had known there could be a playground for them in the Japanese League, Willard had already explored that avenue and given midfielder Zivanai Mhanda a chance to crack into that league.
That the diminutive linkman ultimately failed to make it cannot be blamed on Willard.
The fact remains, a chance was given, an avenue was explored, an opportunity was created, and if he had made the grade, we would be talking about something totally different today. Not just in terms of Mhanda’s life, but in terms of many of our footballers who would possibly have gone there by now.
Too bad, Willard is gone, but that’s the way it is, we lose some friends along the way and win others along the way, and this week, a British journalist James Rushton provided a rainbow of light in the gloom brought about by the deaths of both Chifunyise and Willard.
He writes for SB Nation, a sports blogging network owned by Vox Media, and penned an article, “The Making and Meaning of Marvelous Nakamba,’’ which even found its way onto the official Sky News Premier League official website.
In an age where a lot of people specialise in hate and only see negativity, dismiss this newspaper as hopeless and target some of us for working for it, it’s refreshing we have people like Rushton, who are able to see beyond their hatred and his piece was just refreshing:
“We’d have all benefited from stepping into Nakamba’s shoes though, as his move to Aston Villa after growing up in Hwange is, truly the stuff of dreams,’’ Rushton wrote.
“Here’s the thing, the newspaper that Robson writes for, The Herald, was sort-of dismissed on social media when talking about Nakamba. The facts it has reported have been questioned.
“People demand proof from writers like Robson when they don’t ask it from the sporting authorities of our own country, England. In fact, people are more willing to trust ‘in the know’ Twitter accounts than an actual journalist from Zimbabwe.
“If someone doesn’t put an actual face to their account, nor an actual name, they don’t have any actual responsibility for the things that they say.
“Twitter accounts like, say, ‘Agent Sam’ and ‘Big Jimmy’ are beginning to win people over by grifting online.
“What’s more, they are leading #FakeNews charges against the mainstream media — declaring their football news false in favour of the parroted reports of faceless ITK accounts in a stunning microcosm of the current world attitude towards reported news.
“Some refused to listen when the news was announced, then refused to listen when a ‘strike’ was reported on, then refused to listen when Nakamba’s reps said that a move was underway.
“The lesson to learn from Nakamba’s transfer? That we must listen — we go to great lengths to sniff out lies online, while taking random information at face value. It’s a paradox. We should trust in journalists like Robson — people who truly know the subjects we discuss at length because we scanned Wikipedia.
“In an age where everyone is an expert, it’d do well to seek one out from time to time. Robson Sharuko’s conversation about the next great hope of football in Zimbabwe has shook me.
“The beating heart of Zimbabwe’s footballing hope has moved to the Villa, and regardless of the outcome — it’s a big deal.
“We’d have known that a long time ago if we decided to open our ears.’’
Thanks James for that, at least we know that, even after the loss of both Willard and Stephen, there are still some good men out there who refuse to be lured by the dark arts of the world of hostile merchants where many thrive.
Bob Marley had already seen it back in 1975 when he wrote his classic song, “No Woman No Cry”.
“I remember when a we used to sit
In a Government yard in Trenchtown,
Ob—observing the hypocrites.
Mingle with the good people we meet.
Good friends we have. Oh.
Good friends we have lost along the way. Yeah!
In this great future you can’t forget your past.
So dry your tears, I say.
To God Be The Glory!
Peace to the GEPA Chief, the Big Fish and all the Chakariboys in the struggle.
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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