Today I realized that I am creature of habit. It took one of those seemingly inconsequential discussions to realize that I have a passion in organizing people and maybe things as well. Let me give you a brief insight into my past. I have been involved in organizing people, social events and money literally from the age of eight would you believe it. I grew up in eNtumbane a post war/independence high density/low income area and there were no recreation facilities at all. We had to devise ways of spending our free time.
I can’t remember all the details. But all I remember is that when my parents brought me and my older sister from the rural areas to join them in the city there were no organized activities for us to do after school. You know the way kids of today go swimming, practice karate and all the other nice things that children do. No we didn’t have that. We organized things on our own. We started off by creating a football team. I am sure it had nothing to do with whether we were good at it – that’s how everyone else was spending their social time. We tried to use the only open space that was available but we were constantly chased away by the older guys. We did not give up. We found a new plot of land and cleared it for our own purposes. There was a lot of organizing that had to be done; bargaining with our parents to lend us their tools, improvising around the rocks that could not be moved and of course defending the open space from others. But to be honest the struggle for land was never resolved – we were constantly on the move. The rainy season was worse – the elders claimed most of the open spots for agriculture -and you wonder why my studies are on the land question.
There was also a certain level of complexity within our teams that was probably not visible to the outsider. Although we were all players we also had other roles. For instance, my young brother was always the treasurer. I was definitely not the best on the field but for some strange reason I was always part of the leadership – either as coach or captain. We did not play randomly. We organized our own training sessions and we had established positions. We also had to accommodate others into the team not because they were good at football but either because they owned the actual ball we needed or they could sponsor refreshments. Ours was also a profitable venture – we almost always used to play for money (ukubheja!). Each team would contribute prize money – for us it was usually two bhobo (ZW$0.20) – meaning that if you win usually by scoring the first four goals you would walk away with ZW$0.40. I have always wondered why we settled for such a rule, but I remember now that watches in the 1980s were not as common as they have become today so it was easier to bet on the number of goals. There was usually no referee but the cobbler who used to work under the tree close to our field was always the one who ended up resolving any conflicts such as a contested goal or stopping a game that would have extended well into sunset and organize for a rematch the following day.
Like I said the profit motive was always dominant we would always without fail have a Christmas party or just a party when our savings had reached a certain level. The party was mostly made up of bread, freezits (frozen colored sugar water) and if we could afford it we would have fizzy drinks. Inevitably there were disruptions to our organization, starting with parents who would want to send us to the shops in the middle of the game or taking us to the rural areas for school holidays. That always disrupted the rhythm of the team. I always found myself re-organizing and recruiting others at the end of these holidays. And also inevitably a member of the team would switch sides for all sorts of reasons- recruiting new members took time but was part of the process.
One thing though – we were a family and united even in our petty crimes we would not squeal out on each other. Our solidarity extended into many other arenas – although we did not usually get into fist fights if we did, you would be fighting the whole team. Ours was also multi-cultural – we did not see ourselves as either Shona, Ndebele or Chewa although we had all those nationalities within our team1. When we visited each other our parents saw us their children and they could send us to shops or discipline us just as if they were disciplining their own children. Some from our team have sadly passed on. My best friend from that era Munyaradzi Chiwera is sadly no longer with us. He was a good brother-always willing to share. But if I may brag a little, others have gone onto to do great things – our goal keeper had a promising career at Highlanders until injury cut short his playing days – he is now coaching one of the Division One sides in Bulawayo. One of the most decorated and popular Zimbabweans in the Diaspora – Conrad Mwanza the name behind Zim Achievers Awards was also a key member of our team; and my young brother Masimba (yes the treasurer) is now a Pastor in Canada – all from the dusty streets of Entumbane- we didn’t do badly after all and no-one would have guessed that ours was a leadership academy.
What does this all mean:It’s not as simple as it looks: We have, on several occasions underestimated the complex relationships that exist among people especially the poor. So you can drive by and see some youngsters playing football without their shirts on and assume they are just killing time. They are learning important life lessons – such as having grit, fighting for a cause (in our case it was victory) – no one will give it to you on a silver platter – and loyalty to one’s side. Furthermore, you may miss out on the complex arrangements of informal institutions that make for a gratifying and fulfilling life in what is commonly referred to as the ghetto. The bonds of solidarity we developed at that tender age are stronger than the kind of bond I have say with cousins that I saw once a year- my team was my family.
The poor are not all the same: Let me start off by saying that I didn’t know we were poor. We had our own home and our father provided us with all basics. It was only later in life that I realized that we were poor. So don’t go out there telling people who are happily enjoying their lives that they are poor. But more importantly the poor are not all same. We had a guy named Dingilizwe in our team, he was not gifted in terms of coordinating his feet but he always made it into our team because he had a proper soccer ball – imported from Botswana – and he would also once in while buy us half bread (half a loaf) and freezits. He was amongst the poor but not as poor as us.
Life is not random: I have the privilege of using the lessons I learnt from those dusty streets today as I lead a Pan-African organisation. I learnt early on in life that trust within the team required us to be honest with each other so that even when the chips were down (such as when our money suddenly disappeared of if one of us was hungry to play we would make a plan for him to eat first) we could still re-organize ourselves and play the next game with only one desire to win.
Improvisation: As a youth growing in a context where you would not even bother to ask your parents to buy you a leather soccer ball. Why bother? They would say NO anyways. We learnt to improvise- I tell you we made some of the most fantastic soccer balls from the mealie-meal plastic bags. We improvised on goal posts. We knew how to go into a game without the required ZW$0.20 but instead convince the other team that we had the money and my young brother would even get their ZW$0.20 to keep. I tell you, we would play as if we were possessed knowing that we had no choice but to win. I still have that streak in me – playing to win! But at that time we could only make that revelation after winning – huge gambles pay off.
Context Raises Leaders: When the need arises, a leader is born. We had no choice but to organize for a fulfilling social life. If you ask me I would do it again. What I have learnt however is that once wired this way, there is no undoing it. However, leading an institution with money and a set of rules is a different ball game altogether but still those early challenges and opportunities to lead just make one a different person altogether. For instance, I always tell friends and colleagues that I can sleep through a storm and I always get blank responses. I may have not seen it all but I saw the worst of it too early in my life. I suppose most of my friends who have made the transition from the ghetto into the Executive Suite have the same feeling. It’s not complacency but it’s just something I can’t describe, except maybe just to call it the scars of experience at an early age.
I wrote this piece as I was reminiscing of one of the most fulfilling friendships I have ever had. Munyaradzi was a dear friend. He died too early in life and we will never know what he could have been.
 I might as well state it here, I first learnt that I am Shona and thus different from Ndebele (despite the fact that I spoke Ndebele better than Shona) when I got to the University of Zimbabwe-ah the learned and their identity issues.