THE contrast couldn’t be any sharper.
In the process of producing a story on the milestone of Takashinga Cricket Club becoming an international venue for the first time, curiosity couldn’t let us go without a quick visit to Takaz’s grand old neighbour next door.
Gwanzura Stadium, Harare’s first premier football ground established over half-a-century ago, resembled a graveyard planning site.
A street away in the neighbourhood, Takashinga – with its lush green lawn and a new clubhouse – was receiving plaudits from all the international teams that played there during the ended World Cup qualifiers.
Takashinga was still an idea unborn when Gwanzura next door was in its prime.
The Gwanzura pitch is currently in ruin – more derelict than when the determined players and officials of Takashinga began shaping their own field in the early 2000s.
A self-proclaimed prophet who pledged to refurbish Gwanzura reneged on his promise long before a secretly-filmed exposé implicated him in a gold-smuggling scandal.
While a wealthy clergyman loudly promised to revive an already existing facility – and never did so – the modest men of Highfield quietly built the facility themselves from the base, their sweat and unbreakable spirit making up for the little resources they had.
The entrepreneur brothers Eric and Phanuel Gwanzura did not seek cheap publicity before the Highfield stadium, their very ambitious project, was opened to the public.
It was not a publicity stunt, just a strong desire to serve their community – as pure an intent as they come – to provide a quality sporting facility to black Africans in times of discriminatory white minority rule.
Eric Gwanzura died 10 years ago and surely at that time his heart would have been bleeding at how the local authority is destroying his legacy.
But then the neglect did not start in 2013 when good old Eric departed. Even when we all thought Gawanzura was still okay, no less a far-sighted administrator than Ndumiso Gumede had seen the decay as far back as 1991.
In conducting research for a forthcoming literature project I am working on, Gumede – then secretary-general of Zifa – issued a stern warning against the City of Harare, that the national federation would stop using Gwanzura if council did not refurnish it.
“The stadium is in bad shape and very dangerous to use,” Gumede told The Herald in October 1991. “In fact, if nothing is done soon, we will stop using the stadium.”
Some of the concerns raised by Gumede included a missing perimetre fence, which had resulted in pitch invasion from crowds coming from outside the stadium.
The article was accompanied by a tour of the ground by reporters and showed that toilets did not flush, water tap handles were missing, light bulbs and electric switches had been stolen or vandalised, and all toilets did not have seats.
Power outlets for television and radio Press facilities had also been removed and window panes broken. Then, the bumpy pitch, which did not allow free-flowing football.
This, 11 years into majority rule, was an early sign of where we were headed as a nation and it frightened the hell out of people like Gumede, who knew standards and had experienced better in a past era.
Last week, Zimbabwe was readmitted to international football by world governing body Fifa in time for the beginning of a World Cup qualification competition in November.
But if nothing is done urgently to save the situation, we could face the ultimate humiliation of being forced to play our home games in a neighbouring country because all of Zimbabwe’s stadiums are banned by Fifa at the moment for failing to meet required standards.
Good leaders are indeed in short supply today in our country, a far cry from the days of the Gwanzuras and Gumedes.
After crying for readmission for 16 months, somebody forgot that there was nowhere to play on if the cries of distress were finally heard.
Ndumiso Gumede passed on in December 2021. Had he still been with us, he would been 78. Eric Gwanzura would have been 99.
At a time we have been mostly clamouring for fresh ideas and young blood in this country, that we still look back nostalgically at the deeds of the old guard is a sad indictment of our leadership today.
It leaves a bad taste in the mouth.