IN a stunt that left a rather unflattering impression in our newsroom, one of Zimbabwe’s greatest footballers of all time demanded payment from me in exchange for an interview a couple of months back.
Guessing it was an attempt at humour by this ex-star, I promptly let out a hearty chuckle in reaction to what I made out to be a pure joke.
How wrong I was, for this gentleman, in fact, meant every word he had just said to me in that phone conversation last November.
How much was I offering to pay? He kept insisting, frantically wanting to hear figures.
His argument, in justifying himself, was that we reporters had “used” him for far too long to get nice stories, yet all the time he had not benefited from it at all.
If this well-known footballer from times gone by ever comes back to his senses, which is probably beyond him I am afraid, I would like to hear what kind of financial benefits he had reasonably expected from granting interviews to journalists, or if it has happened before.
We do not have a policy of paying for interviews at this publication, like most media outlets, so sadly we were forced to drop the story and then scramble for an alternative at the last minute.
My biggest disappointment in this whole scenario was that the story I had been assigned to cover was, to all intents and purposes, a feel-good piece, part of a special series of stories on immigration in southern Africa over the past century or so.
As part of the series, journalists on this publication produced captivating and well-researched features on how some prominent Zimbabweans of foreign ancestry have distinguished themselves in every walk of life in this country: business, politics, arts, sports, and many other areas.
While we delved into the intricacies of immigration – often a touchy subject due to social blights like discrimination and xenophobia – the main theme was celebrating success, excellence, human endeavour and, above all, a special relationship between an individual and their country despite the circumstances of origin as well as other types of prejudices.
It was in this respect that this footballing hero was nominated as the natural choice to be featured on the sports side of the series and, as I briefed him on our special project over the phone, I never anticipated the kind of reaction, and request, that awaited me.
At a personal level, why this was such a disheartening experience is due to the fact that in our occasional encounters over the years, the greetings and warmth expressed by both had never revealed any hint of resentment, disrespect or distrust.
Is the grip of despair about the country’s future, which has now been made worse by Covid-19, responsible for the unthinkable levels of desperation that can creep into the minds of even some of our supposed role models in pursuit of some much-needed extra cash?
It could well be the case.
An entire season of domestic football was lost in Zimbabwe last year without a ball being kicked, throwing a great number of players and coaches into hardships due to massive income loss. To many of these people, football is their only source of livelihood.
This brand new year has also started on a depressing note, when we all desperately hoped for a return to normalcy.
Zimbabwe is back to full nationwide lockdown as cases of Covid-19 surge, and mortality rates keep increasing.
It might be a while until players return to the field and fans fill the stands again. How more desperate will the situation become? I shudder to think.