'Minority sports need funding, too'

HARARE - Zimbabweans are predominantly soccer lovers, a situation that might have eclipsed certain minority sporting disciplines — handball, table tennis, volleyball, squash among others — that are, none the less, also important.

Having been born at Bengo in the Zindi area, Honde Valley, in Nyanga Honde Valley, Justin Nyakunhuwa never imagined himself playing squash until he grew to the age of 24.

Some may want to call it child labour but like many others of his generation, Nyakunhuwa, now 56, worked from about the age of seven, toiling for his education at Eastern Highlands Tea Estates (EHTE) in the Eastern Highlands.

“My father used to work at Admiral Tait School as a cook and gave me oversized khakhi uniform which led to my expulsion from school by some teacher, one Mandikiyana, only going back in 1967 after buying my own set uniform.

“While working for the squash section of Harare Sports Club, my interest in the sport began to emerge,” Nyakunhuwa recalls as he downs his favourite drink in Chitungwiza where he lives today.

It was in 1984 when world champions Joff Hunt (Australia) and Bruce Brown (New Zealand) among others toured Zimbabwe and Nyakunhuwa was serving them when he finally decided to have a go at it.

“I felt I could also become a champion and started working hard trying to learn the sport. I would wake up in the morning being coached by Bill Clemence, a white Zimbabwean who is now late. HM Babour, who had seen potential in me, sponsored seven lessons but only went for about four of these. I was already in it,” Nyakunhuwa said.

He immediately joined the national squash league, playing for Harare B then went to Harare A after which he joined the national team.

“With the national team I toured Kenya, Mauritius, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana among others. In Mauritius, where we toured for the East and Central African Squash Championship I was the only black among white players. A number of them used to taunt me but I did not care a bit about that.

“I remember at some point businessman Shingai Mutasa was also playing and he even toured Europe with Harare Sports Club.

“One of the highlights of my career was winning the Namibian Independence Squash Trophy in 1991.  In 2003, I went with the national team to Nigeria for the All Africa Games. Zimbabwe came third with a bronze medal while the gold went to Egypt and Zambia got the silver.

“I was a left hander but people I would play with the right hand were afraid of me.

“I would want to continue imparting knowledge to youngsters. Right now I am planning an academy, which will house a number of sporting disciplines; golf, soccer, squash, tennis among others. I have about 8 000 square metres of land at Ziko in Seke. However, funding is the major hindrance,” said Nyakunhuwa, who suffered a stroke on October 22, 2009.

“Squash is one of the most strenuous games. It needs someone with agility, something I may not be able to do as perfectly as I used to. There are many twists and turns which my current age and state of health may not allow. The future of the game could have been better in this country but people are greedy. They want money a lot.”

Nyakunhuwa has previously coached squash at Roosevelt Girls High, Churchill, Prince Edward, Oriel Boys and Girls among other Harare schools.

Nyakunhuwa currently lives on his 2 300-square metres stand in Manyame Park, Chitungwiza, where he is into rearing rabbits, road runners, ducks and doing fish farming and horticulture, growing vegetables like beans peas which he sells for a living.

“If you want to get something, you have to work hard to achieve it,” the former squash star said, apparently giving advice to those wishing to take up anything in life.

In the past years, the sport of squash — a minority sport — used to enjoy a lot of corporate support in the country, which saw Zimbabwe producing world-class players in Julie Smith, Ian Sheppey, Terry Elliot, Dave de Beer, Nyakunhuwa, Oliver Lawton, Jo Holcroft, Viv Crocker and Mike Sherren.

Although the sport was once dominated by whites, Zimbabwe has been steady progression of the game lately with a number of black players: Ishmael (who is the country’s current number 1 and is now in Sweden) and Malvin Mubure, Admire Magwaza, Tanya and Takunda Maswi, Talent Mushunje, Joseph Matambanadzo and George Nkonjera going on to play for the country.

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