JINI Ntuta, who was callously murdered during the Gukurahundi genocide, is better remembered as a politician and Zimbabwe’s deputy minister of Mines at Independence in 1980.
Before his death in 1984, Ntuta – who was 60 – had been fired from the government by President Robert Mugabe in a purge of politicians from the opposition Zapu party.
Historians also remember Jini Enock Gwaula Ntuta as a socialite, party animal and gifted sportsman who blazed a trail to captain a non-white cricket “national team” that dared to challenge the status quo of the era.
A player and administrator, Ntuta – also a nationalist and war veteran – was a stalwart figure in the advancement of African cricket in the 1960s and 1970s.
He was the talismanic captain of the Bulawayo Cricket Club, an African club that helped boost the view that not only the black people of the West Indies could play the game.
Other key players in the Bulawayo CC side included the South African expat Charlton Cezani Ngcebetsha, an active member of the African National Congress (ANC) who became heavily involved with Zimbabwe’s liberation movement after settling there.
Eastern Cape-born Ngcebetsha, who died in his adopted hometown of Bulawayo in March 1977 at the age of 68, first arrived in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, as a teacher on a Presbyterian Church programme.
Ngcebetsha grew so much in love with Bulawayo that he decided to make it his permanent home. He started a retail business in Mzilikazi township, mixing it up with his politics as a vibrant member of Zapu.
Some historians have recorded Ngcebetsha as being a founding member of Highlanders FC, Zimbabwe’s oldest football club. But that cannot be ascertained as Ngcebetsha, born in 1909, would only have been aged 17 when Highlanders was established in 1926.
With his strong religious background, and hailing from the Eastern Cape, Ngcebetsha’s interest in cricket isn’t at all surprising. Black cricket in South Africa was first played in black mission schools in the Eastern Cape.
And then when he launched a journalism career in Bulawayo, becoming editor of African Home News between 1953 and 1965, Ngcebetsha rekindled his love for cricket and assigned himself as the cricket writer for his newspaper.
After a good game for Bulawayo CC, even the charismatic but humble Ngcebetsha wouldn’t have avoided highlighting himself in the match report for African Home News!
Some of the other top players for the club included a certain Madlela and Nkala. Then the likes of Elliot Khupe, Peter Mahlangu, Jerry Vera, Memo Khumalo and “Sister” Gumbo.
As for Ntuta and others, their introduction to cricket had been mainly through the all-white Bulawayo City Council’s efforts to curb political activity among young black males, especially the more enlightened ones like Ntuta. Then there are others who had also learnt the game whilst schooling or working in South Africa.
Ntuta, a gifted batsman and wicket-taking seamer for Bulawayo CC, was known to be a fiery character in cricket as he was in politics – ever voicing against discrimination and biased umpiring.
In 1960 Ntuta captained an all-black “national team”, Southern Rhodesian Africa XI, which lost to a Southern Rhodesia Indian side by an innings and 14 runs.
He also strongly advocated – during regular trips between Bulawayo and Salisbury – for the formation of a non-white Rhodesian national team consisting of black, Indian and coloured players.–STAFF WRITER.
*This article is part of excerpts from a forthcoming book on notable black cricket figures in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe, co-written by Enock Muchinjo and Brian Goredema.