HARARE - There is nothing fancy about the man.
He’s not famous.
You probably never heard of him – and even if you have, his name didn’t ring a bell.
It begs the question, why? Is it because Lazarus Zizhou is the ultimate epitome of modesty, or a victim of a system that forgets, discards and outgrows true icons? The answer probably lies someplace in-between.
Mudhara Zizh – as he is fondly called – does not live his life in a manner befitting his iconic status in Zimbabwean cricket, a living legend of the game in this country.
There’s a certain tiredness etched onto his face, which you’d come to expect from a man who has dedicated nearly three decades of his life to the service of cricket in Zimbabwe – only to be rendered jobless by a senseless retrenchment exercise, thrown onto the streets with all that knowledge, that burning passion which has produced some of this country’s leading cricket personalities.
But if you look closer, there is unmistakable joy inside this 52-year-old.
You can see it in the twinkle of his eye, the laugh that seems to come from the heart, and the wittiness that only men like Zizh can manage to retain in spite of everything.
You don’t often see him watching international cricket at Harare Sports Club or Queens Sports Club, closely following the progress of his protégée, Stephen Mangongo, who is the Zimbabwe national team coach.
You don’t you see him sharing a drink with the convenor of selectors, Givemore Makoni, another prominent product of his, trying to influence a decision or two.
Neither do you see him in the jacket-and-tie walls of the Harare Sports Club chairman’s enclosure, wining and dining with the most influential people in Zimbabwean sport.
Nor do you see him working out of the modernly-furnished and spacious ZC head office in Harare, guiding the organisation on how to produce the next Stephen Mangongos, Walter Chawagutas or Tatenda Taibus.
Instead, you would to see Zizhou in a derelict, corrugated iron-roofed provincial office in Masvingo – or taking some budding cricketers through their paces at some rural school out there – a far cry from the bright lights of the big cities, the airports, the hotels and the hallowed cricket stadiums around the world often the playground of the several Zimbabwean cricket personalities who have passed through his magic hands.
Young turks and new methods are essential for growth, but the sheer number of successful black cricketers and coaches mentored by Zizhou is a reminder to all that if sports is to prosper, it has to stay clean and guided by the old-school type, whose purity of intent is unwavering and irreplaceable, uncontaminated by the passage of time.
Zizhou was first employed by the then Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) in 1986 after the Alwyn Pichanick administration realised that the future of the game lay with the participation of the country’s majority blacks.
The man in charge of development at ZCU, David Levy, recruited Zizhou, who would go on to identify and groom several black boys who in their adult lives wield influence in how the game is run.
“I was engaged by ZCU in1986 as grassroots as development coach on fulltime basis,” Zizhou tells the Daily News.
“Basically, I was active in Highfield, Glen View and Glen Norah. Tangible results are there to now. Stephen Mangongo, Walter Chawaguta (who also coached Zimbabwe), Givemore Makoni, Shepherd Makunura, Admire Marodza, Francis Rasikai, to mention but a few.
“When I started contributing, cricket was an amateur sport in this country before we got elevated to Test status in 1992.
“It was under very difficult conditions, facilities and resources was a challenge. Being involved in three areas, at some point having to walk between Highfield, Glen View and Glen Norah, was the greatest challenge. ZCU would later on acquire bikes for me and the three other coaches I had recruited. These were Richard Munjoma, Karikoga Motsi, who didn’t stay long, and Stanley Timoni, who I recruited much later.
“It was after ZCU got sponsorship from Willards Chips that we came up with a central venue in each of the three suburbs, complete with a concrete pitch and nets. All schools in these areas came to this centre on different times. I would spend a week in Highfield, the next in Glen Norah, and another in Glen View.
“In Highfield, we had Chengu. That’s where we got Patrick Gada, Shepherd Makunura, (Givemore) Makoni was in high school at Highfield High, but he also came. We also had Mbizi Primary in Highfield.
“Then in Glen Norah, we had Shiriyedenga as the central venue. It had a centre pitch and some nets. That’s where we got George Tandi, David Mutendera ex-international), Moses Chitare, Walter Chawaguta and Procter Saurombe.
“In Glen View, the venue was number 3 primary school. From there came Stephen Mangongo. He instantly impressed me. Instantly, I knew he was head and shoulders above the rest of the boys. He was a promising left-handed cricketer, a top order batsman, and bowled good medium pace.
“History was made, after working with Stephen for three years, ZCU came up with a scholarship scheme for promising, upcoming black boys. We recommended Stephen to go to PE for lower six from Glen View 1 High, thus he became the first beneficiary of the scholarship programme. Walter was the second to receive the scholarship.
“Back then, ZCU would bring foreign coaches, like the former West Indies star Billy Bourne, and former English country players. But I had to be there for better communication with the boys, and to show the boys that one of their own could do it.”
Asked if he would have imagined he was grooming two future Zimbabwe coaches, Zizhou says:
“Initially, I was targeting grooming national team players. It has turned out to be a bonus that two became national team coaches.
“Maybe a few would have played for the national team.
“John Jamba, Patrick Gada, Walter and Stephen were certainly good enough to play first-class cricket. And George Tandi, I thought, was probably good enough for Zimbabwe.”
Born in Harare in 1962, Zizhou himself was introduced to cricket by the cricket-mad white headmaster of Highfield Community School, a Mr Maple, some years before Independence.
From Highfield Community School, Rhodesia’s first black cricket club was formed, and named Strugglers.
Some of Zizhou’s teammates at Strugglers, who trained and played their games at Glamis Stadium, were Paul Musekiwa, Crispen Pswarayi, Mike Pemhiwa, Dennis Kwande, and a slightly younger Blessing Ngondo.
They were coached by two “good Samaritans,” Spencer Parker and Charles Brockway, who Zizhou credits for his early development as a medium pace bowler.
He joined Harare’s all-Asian Sunrise Sports Club before 1980, a ground-breaking feat for a black player in those days. But then, Indian cricketers, just like their black counterparts, were also overlooked by the predominantly white system.
“After Independence, I toured Kenya with Sunrise. I remember one newspaper headline, I think it was The Herald, which read ‘Sunrise includes black player Zizhou on Kenya tour.’
“At Sunrise, club captain Ali Shah, who would later become the first non-white player to represent Zimbabwe, took me under his wings. Then there was also the Chouhans, Nick and Dilip, who also helped me a lot.
“We played games in Nairobi and Mombasa. Three years later, playing for another Indian club, Universals, I returned to Kenya on another tour.
“Playing for Sunrise, I remember one game playing against the brilliant Duncan Fletcher (Zimbabwe’s captain in the 1983 World Cup), who has coached both England and India, and Jonathan Agnew from England. Agnew was an overseas professional for Alex Sports Club, and these two, him and Fletcher, were two of the best cricketers in the world at that time.”
Zizhou would later have a stint with Harare Sports Club, breaking through from the B side to team up with such players as Grant Patterson, Richie Kaschula, John Traicos, Andy Waller, Andy Pycroft, amongst other fine Zimbabwe national cricketers.
At the inception of Test status in 1992, Zizhou was posted to Masvingo as ZCU sought to spread the game to the black population, leaving his protégée Mangongo to continue spreading the gospel in the townships.
“Before that, cricket was unheard of in Masvingo. At that time, I think Peter Chingoka was just taking over from David Ellman-Brown as ZCU chairman. Alwyn Pichanick had resigned. We had just been granted Test status on condition that cricket had to be taken to all four corners of the country, for it to be a national sport. ICC were concerned. They said ‘we’ve granted you Test status to play with the best in the world, but we want you to widen your selection base.’ Serious cricket was only being played in Harare and Bulawayo.
“When I left for Masvingo, Stephen was leaving school, and I left him in charge of Highfield, Glen Norah and Glen View, working with Bruce Makovah (ex-national selector). They continued the good work, producing the talented youngsters who form the core of the team we have now. The likes of Taibu, Masakadza, Sibanda, Matsikenyeri, I’m their uncle.
“In Masvingo, I produced the likes of Blessing Mahwire, Brian Vitori, Richmond Mutumbami, who I’ve always rated since school as the brightest prospect in the province.
“I produced Mufaro Chiturumani, Robertson Chinyengetere, Jemton Chinyengetere, Takawira Mundure; who all played at first-class level.”
Nearly 30 years of selfless service under his belt, Zizhou’s heart is heavy.
“Sometime in March last year, I held the position of area manager for Masvingo were we were told by ZC to take a break. They said all was not well and we would resume work in due course.
“I stayed at home for more than a year. I went back to ask my fate and at that time Givemore Makoni was the CEO of Southern Rocks, which falls under Masvingo province. I was referred to the MD of Zimbabwe Cricket, Mr (Wilfred) Mukondiwa. He said I would be redeployed to Masvingo. That has not happened. I went the legal route and engaged a lawyer, so presently I’m awaiting arbitration. I want justice to prevail.”
Zizhou describes his treatment at the hands of ZC as “inhuman and criminal.”
“After three decades, this is what I get!”, he says.
“It’s inhuman, the way they treat guys who have done the work. And that is frustrating.
“Non-cricket people are being left to run the affairs of ZC. It’s people who have no passion for the game who are running down the sport. People who have come to help themselves, not the game. They are actually here to frustrate and intimidate people who have sacrificed in order for cricket to be where it is now.
“I’m one of those disgruntled people, people who have been robbed of what they deserve. Right now I’m out of employment. But God is for all people, I am doing okay in whatever I’m doing, but cricket is my life.
“I feel strongly about how I’ve been treated. For the 30 years I’ve worked for ZC, the only benefit, which is an insult to me, is being sold a Mazda 323 vehicle that to me should have been valued under $500. And I only got it after (Givemore) Makoni’s confrontational intervention.”
Tossed him around as they have done, ZC would fittingly honour this iconic figure of Zimbabwean black cricket revolution if they created a Lazarus Zizhou Grassroots Development Award to be given to the person who shows greater will to spread this wonderful sport to all corners of our country.