Education was Mashonganyika's saviour

HARARE - Growing up in the impoverished dormitory town of Chitungwiza, Tendai Mashonganyika thought his only ticket out of squalor was going to be cricket.

With rising unemployment, crime and drug abuse rampant across most of Zimbabwe’s poor communities, cricket became the only hope for many young men.

Mashonganyika, a right-handed batsman, decided to follow the footsteps of the likes of Tatenda Taibu and Hamilton Masakadza, who used the sport to make a living and escape the pressures of ghetto life.

By his 18th birthday, Mashonganyika’s career path in cricket was clearly defined as he had already earned five List A matches for Mashonaland, represented Zimbabwe at Under-16 and Under-19 level and scored a glut of runs for Uprising Cricket Club in the Vigne Cup.

In 2008 he had also represented Zimbabwe at the ICC Under-19 World Cup in Malaysia where the local team finished bottom of their group.

Some of Mashonganyika’s teammates in the Zimbabwe squad of 2008 include seamer Kyle Jarvis, allrounders Solomon Mire and Tino Mutombodzi and batsman PJ Moor.

With the way his career was progressing he was destined to be one of Zimbabwe’s top cricketers.

But unbeknown to Mashonganyika, his future lay elsewhere after he accepted a bursary to study for a Business Law degree at University of Western Cape in South Africa.

The plan was for him to study while playing cricket in the Varsity Cup. It was a win-win situation as he would get the opportunity to sharpen his game by working with specialist coaches and train at top-of-the-range facilities in the Western Cape.

At the same time he would also prepare for life after cricket by earning a degree he would use to seek employment in the later stages.

But changing priorities in life is all part of growing up and Mashonganyika is a living testimony.

Now 26, Mashonganyika no longer envisages himself returning back to Zimbabwe to pursue a career in cricket.

Watching from a distance the strife often rocking cricket in Zimbabwe with contractual disputes and non-payment of cricketers, it has shaped his decision to turn his back on the game and concentrate on his education.

Mashonganyika is currently completing his studies while also working part time.

“When we came here we thought it was just to get an education as a fall back plan,” Mashonganyika tells this writer while watching a schoolboy rugby match at the Cola-Cola Craven Week in Stellenbosch, South Africa last month.

“We thought we would go back when all this was over. But with the current happenings in cricket back home; education has become the only way out.

“Personally, I don’t see myself coming back to play franchise cricket. There is nothing there for me. Honestly, I would love to be out there in the sun but sometimes you weigh your options and you see it’s better to play varsity cricket here whilst also working part time.

“You know there isn’t much politics here. Well, politics is everywhere but at least here its politics with progress. There aren’t allegations of players having to pay some of their match fees to administrators to get a spot in the team.

“I don’t want to sound racial but one thing about a white person is that they give you a chance on merit. There is no preferential treatment.”

At University of Western Cape, Mashonganyika was joined by fellow Zimbabwean budding cricketers Tinashe Chimbambo and Victor Chaitezvi.

The latter is a former prefect at Prince Edward School, where Mashonganyika also received rudimentary training as a schoolboy.

The trio are part of an estimated 42 African youths whose education was financially supported by the late controversial cricket journalist Peter Roebuck — who particularly had a great affinity with Zimbabwe.

The esteemed English-born Australian journalist — a stern critic of both Zimbabwe Cricket and the Zimbabwean government helped establish the Learning for a Better World Trust on the sidelines of Australia’s cricket team tour he was covering in Harare in 1998.

Roebuck visited an orphanage in Harare and spent more than $100 000 of his personal funds educating some of the children he had met there.

However, Roebuck passed on in an inglorious death in 2011 when he committed suicide by plunging six storeys from a Cape Town hotel after being questioned by police over the alleged sexual assault of 26-year-old Zimbabwean man Itai Gondo.

But for Mashonganyika, the fairest way to judge Roebuck would not be for his political beliefs and sexuality, but for the humanitarian he was.

“He was one of the finest men I have ever known,” Mashonganyika says of Roebuck. “A brilliant writer who stood for the truth and exposed the many ills in Zimbabwe cricket.”

He says one former top ZC official (name supplied) once flew to Pietermaritzburg to beg Roebuck to stop writing stories centering on him.

Roebuck owned a property in the KwaZulu Natal town of Pietermaritzburg, which also housed some of his education trust beneficiaries.

One of the beneficiaries of Roebuck’s trust is Zanu PF junior spokesperson and Highfield West legislator Psychology Maziwisa, who studied for a Law degree at the University of KwaZulu Natal.

Asked if he ever spoke to Roebuck about his sexuality, Mashonganyika says:

“No, I never discussed it with him. He had his personal issues, but he never on any occasion ever took advantage of me.

“It’s sad some people remember him for his sexuality and the tragic events of his death, but as for me the impact he had in assisting me to have a better life I will never forget.”

Mashonganyika is not the only cricketer to cut short his cricket dream in pursuit of a more rewarding and stable career.

His former UWC cricket club teammate, Chaitezvi, who smashed a century on debut for the university, has also taken the same route.

Chaitezvi, who made his first-class debut for Mashonaland as a schoolboy in the 2004-5 season, is currently working for Microsoft South Africa as an ISV Business Development Manager.

As for Chimbambo, he has not played representative cricket in Zimbabwe since the 2008–9 season.

This is despite that he starred for clubs in South Africa’s Western Province Cricket Association, and has also played league cricket in England in the Middlesex county club set-up.

Former Zimbabwe Tests bowler Blessing Mahwire is also another cricketer, who has turned his back on the game.

At the age of 32 and with 10 Test under his belt, Mahwire now works in South Africa as an accountant to support his young family.

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