When dog racing replaced soccer at Rufaro

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I HAD not realised how long ago it was since I last went to Rufaro Stadium to watch a football match until two weeks ago on Africa Day when Dynamos were playing against Masvingo United. In the eighties and nineties, I was a passionate soccer fan who never missed a match and the northern and southern grandstands were still huge earth mounds from where we preferred to watch the game standing. Now, those earth mounds have been transformed into concrete grandstands that were constructed for the All Africa Games in the mid-nineties. Before that, the earth mounds had been flattened in the early eighties by the City Council to pave way for greyhound racing. For some crazy two or three years, they had greyhound races in Rufaro, the present home of football in Harare. The races sometimes interfered with football matches. The late Minister of Education Sport and Culture, David Kwidini, possibly in the excitement of independence, agreed to slowly replace soccer with dog racing, a typical British sport. Of course, I have nothing against the British and some of their lovely sport, in fact, football is said to have been born in England, but greyhound racing?, My foot!. When I was a boy, we took our dogs out into the pastures, hunting hare and squirrel. We did a bit of dog racing then against bigger game like the duiker that the dogs were never able to overrun. We watched the furious chases go up a rise in our full view and each boy rooted his hound to take the lead. The dogs, especially the inexperienced ones, loved the chase and there was a cacophony of noises as the futile chases got wilder. It defied logic to watch that at Rufaro Stadium because in the bush it was real. At Rufaro, it was make-believe and that time, many people, including myself, stopped going there. There was an outcry from the soccer, loving public for allowing dog racing to replace soccer. What was more interesting was the decision to replace soccer with greyhound racing or to try to equate the two. It reflected terribly on a mentality that to this day, we are still grappling to subdue, the belief that anything foreign, especially when British, is good and can be forced down people’s throats. It is that mentality that makes us look down upon ourselves, our potential and capabilities. That reminds me of a story in a local daily recently that suggested it was the dozen or so former white commercial farmers who went to Zambia after our land reform programme who have enabled that country to grow enough maize to export. The Zambians must be furious with such kind of grovelling subservience to the white man, reducing all their efforts in agriculture to a dozen former Zimbabwean white commercial farmers. In that frame of thinking, all success is attributed to the white man and all failure, to the black, what a tragedy because those are the effects of having been colonised and being proud of it. The British must love that. Today, even Finance Minister, Tendai Biti, with all his Eurocentric inclinations and gaze permanently fixed at London for redemption and proud that his name is not on the list barred from travelling there, would think twice before allowing dog racing to replace football at Rufaro. Anyway, the people won and soccer returned to Rufaro and we returned to Rufaro. On Africa Day, Rufaro was packed, just as it used in its heyday, but many things have changed. I sat on the terraces in the eastern grandstand and looked around. The vociferous shouting was still the same as the two teams trooped onto the artificial turf, something that never existed those days. During the dry season, the pitch was dry and patchy. If they did not water it sufficiently before the match, there would be bursts of dust during play especially in the 18 yard area where the tussles and action were fiercest. A scuffle broke out on the eastern grandstand and they still call it Vietnam, just as we called it then. Only I was afraid it might beamed on the news across the world the following day as more evidence of political violence in Zimbabwe. In many cases, it is these little incidents that are used to build the holistic picture of the lawlessness and violence that is supposedly said to be gripping the country. In the middle of the little scuffle, a man wearing Masvingo United’s red and gold colours scuttled down the terraces and I wondered how the fellow made the mistake to sit among the Dynamos faithfuls. Perhaps he wanted to dare them and go home at the end of the match bragging to his friends that he rooted for his team in the middle of the Dynamos’ stronghold and they couldn’t do anything about it, the fabled owl’s fake horns. Undeniably there were such people long back. During the half-time break I continued to look around hoping to find a familiar face from the past, but did not find any. Only hardened faces of young men and women wearing T-shirts with one or two with tattoos etched on their bulging muscles of their hands. There was a woman with such muscles and tattoos too! It seems the gym is becoming a popular rendezvous for these young people and I must admit that I felt a bit intimidated and sighed. Then I saw him, Cosmas, puffing up the terraces wearing a blue cap on his head and sweating profusely. I noticed his tummy had grown into a round pouch. We used to stay on the same street in Zengeza, Chitungwiza a long time ago and we were both Dynamos supporters. We embraced heartily like small boys and he bought me an icecream. Having abandoned his position, he sat down beside me as we ‘relived’ the good old days and the indiscretions that we indulged in during those wild drinking sprees at Chikwanha that cost the lives of so many of our dear friends. Remember it was the time when most people still believed HIV and AIDS was a figment of someone’s imagination. Suddenly all those years a long time ago was like yesterday as we reminisced on the good old days. “Imi madhara mauya kuzoona bhora here kana mauya kuzotaura nyaya?” (Are you old men here to watch soccer or simply chat?) a young man sitting next to us quipped. Dynamos won the match by five goals to one and Cosmas and I promised to meet again the following week to watch another match. As I drove home from Rufaro, I wondered whether I would come back as we had promised, but somewhere at the back of my mind, I knew I would not. Perhaps it is what they call getting old. He phoned the following week to say he had not gone to Rufaro either, as if he already knew that I had also forfeited. And then as an afterthought, he asked: “Did you go anyway?” We laughed on both sides of the line. It was as if we both acknowledged that Rufaro Stadium had changed but other things never really change.

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