Some time last November, I was invited to a press conference held by Zimbabwe Women Football (ZWF) board members who included now-suspended chairperson, Miriam Sibanda, her vice-chairperson Elizabeth Langa, (board member for competitions) Cecelia Gambe, Ben Mamoche (development) and Edwin Magosvongwe (finance).
They wanted to bring to light their discontentment about the manner the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) was allegedly sabotaging women’s football through its Chief Executive Officer, Jonathan Mashingaidze. Mashingaidze is on record as having said he did not want to be troubled by “petty women’s issues” prior to the meeting and this triggered emotions among women football stakeholders.
The board was therefore determined to fight issues such as the appointment of national team coaches without any consultation with the ZWF board. According to ZWF, the Mashingaidze-led ZIFA board has selected the technical side of the national women’s team, the Mighty Warriors, without the ZWF board members’ input. The reasoning behind Mashingaidze’s quip, according to ZWF, was to sabotage Sibanda – a former journalist who was introduced into football administration by her late husband, Dr Nkululeko Sibanda, at Twalumba Football Club – and expose her as a ‘poor leader’ who could not match her predecessor, Mavis Gumbo.
If these allegations are anything to go by, the move has so far worked with the Felistas Muzongondi-captained Mighty Warriors dropping from an impressive ninth to 13th on the Coca-Cola Confederation of African Football rankings. But what impressed me during that meeting was the collective voice the men and women were speaking with that day. Most vocal of all was Gambe who was literary declaring war with Mashingaidze whom she challenged to stop being personal with Sibanda.
Shaking with anger, Gambe assured Mashingaidze that taking the board’s words lightly would be a big mistake. “He (Mashingaidze) has for long been treated with baby gloves by Madam Sibanda and this time, we want to tell him that we are very vicious and we are coming,” Gambe said. “We are ready to explode and he knows us that we are not toothless bulldogs! He tried some tricks some years back and he noticed we are vicious and corrosive. This time we are more than that. We are going to fight till victory is ours.”
Contradictions and a change of opinion
Now, Gambe is a woman who has been in the Zimbabwe football system for some time. She knows the politics and was not ready to watch men elbow a woman out just because she was bold enough not to dance to their tune. But ironically, Gambe and the bulk of the administrators in women’s football have recently ululated Sibanda’s suspension with ZWF administrator, Theresa Maguraushe, circulating a press statement that already referred to the suspended Sibanda as the former ZWF chairperson.
According to the charge sheet, Sibanda was accused of trying to overthrow a legitimately elected ZIFA president, trying to incite government to intervene in the running of football and of being involved in questionable financial transactions. She was suspended alongside Mamoche and Magosvongwe with fellow women Langa and Gambe – who had previously declared war against Mashingaidze whom they claimed was working against Sibanda’s progress – elevated to powerful positions.
It was Mashingaidze they had came together to overthrow last November after they agreed he did not have the interests of women’s football at heart. But the cunning ZIFA Chief has been smart enough to give these women the sweet power they are hungry for, but in short supply, so that they resort to pulling each other down with the belief that the one on top is eating more than the bread crumbs falling from the cracked ZIFA table.
And what is now a mystery is Gumbo’s statement to some of her close companions soon after she lost the leadership position to Sibanda in the 2014 ZIFA elections. Gumbo was alleged to have said, “regai vamboita tione” (let’s see what they will achieve).
Could it be her shadow clinging to power that is haunting any development Sibanda ought to make? Is she paying journalists believed to be in her camp to push agendas to paint Sibanda with a black brush? And has she convinced Gambe to divert her energy in fighting for the demise of Sibanda?
I have always enjoyed sports media because there is no politics involved on the field; at least that is what I thought. I have worked for a newspaper whose policies were extremely anti-government in a country where certain editorial slants can get the editor and journalists in trouble, but I have always loved how there are hardly any sides to pick when reporting sports because it is easy to report events as they are without fear of being victimised.
But politics, as they used to tell me, is in everything.
The dirty politics of our Zimbabwean football has seen the passion of the less powerful women – and footballers on the pitch – being sacrificed. And just like in any patriarchal society, women are sacrificed as pawns in this political chess game where men protect their interests. Mashingaidze has been clever enough to identify powerful characters, like Gambe, determined to uphold oppressive standards. Instead of working on building women’s interests and nurturing the passions of the young women who toil at Rufaro Stadium to prove that they too can play this game that has long been the preserve of men, Gambe and Langa are working with the man who is precisely out to destroy it.
Women have the power to drive women’s football’s success on the field of play in Zimbabwe. They have the energy and leadership skills, but still they continue to let men dictate the terms to them. Not only disappointing is the idea that women in football administration are not united to complement the efforts of the Mighty Warriors on the field, but so too are allegations of match-fixing in the women’s team – where some of the players are alleged to have been paid by the ZIFA CEO to give the match away to Ghana in the All-Africa Games qualifiers last month.
Come on, Zimbabwe. You can do much better than this.
Main photograph taken from www.bulawayo24.com