Zimbabwe’s, senior soccer team, nicknamed the Warriors, will be making an appearance at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON 2017) tournament in Gabon. The tournament runs from 14 January – 5 February. Whilst there are reports that lots of people form within and without the African continent are writing them off, the Warriors have already won a significant victory; that of staging a brave fight and strike action for bonuses and match allowances. The action saw them standing up and facing down the Acting President of Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa as well as an arrogant Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) body in the first weeks of January 2017.
For that reason alone, anyone who is concerned about the relevance of sport actions in
advancing social justice struggles must take some time to support the Zimbabwean soccer team. It has nothing to do with patriotism, because all people are one regardless of artificial national divisions. It has everything to do with their single, seemingly selfish strike, giving confidence to voiceless masses in Zimbabwe and beyond.
In the world of sport, there has been some historical incidents of sportspeople standing up
to oppression and exploitation. As an example, during the 1968 Olympics, Peter Norman of Australia and Paul Carlos of the United States raised their fists in the Black Power salute at a time when blacks were experiencing racial injustice in most parts of the world. They did this whilst receiving their medals.
In boxing, Muhammad Ali was known for his activism. In the late 1960s, Ali flatly refused to fight in the Vietnam War, rightfully saying that he had nothing against the Vietnamese people. In his own words: “My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. … Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.” He received a five-year prison sentence, a fine of $10000 and a three-year ban from boxing for his pains.
In Zimbabwe, the Warriors actions were not the first. During the 2003 Cricket World Cup, Henry Olonga and Andy Flower of the Zimbabwean cricket team went onto a match whilst wearing black bands, ostensibly to “mourn the death of democracy in Zimbabwe”. Olonga was victimised after the incident, including being dropped from cricket matches and then had to go into exile.
Granted, the Warriors will be facing tough opponents in the AFCON 2017 Group B, with all their fellow teams being among the top 5 best soccer teams in Africa. The teams are currently ranked by FIFA as follows: Senegal (No. 1), Tunisia (No. 4) and Algeria (No. 5). But despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges to their dream of lifting the cup, The Warriors have already trumped outside the pitch. History must remember their names.
Every person should take time to support the Warriors, not just out of love for soccer, but as homage to the team. That was an act of bravery that once would not have really expected from sportsmen. Their actions will surely inspire the majority of the Zimbabwean working class and peasantry who are being abused not unlike pawns in the Zimbabwean economic set-up; from civil servants being denied bonuses, students being forced to pay ridiculous fees in such a poor country, to the whole nation being robbed of its right to derive benefits from the utilisation of natural resources such as diamonds, wildlife and farmland.
We will support the Warriors in their games because of that show of strength, resoluteness and solidarity. Go Warriors Go! Solidarity Forever!
[Lenin Tinashe Chisaira is an activist and lawyer based in Harare, Zimbabwe. He tweets at @LeninChisaira and is interested in Economic Justice, Human Rights, Leftist Politics and Environmental Justice. He blogs at cdetinashe.blogspot.com ]