Zimbabweans, take a bow for Benji support
I hope to one day sit down my four-month-old grandson when he is old enough to understand, and then regale him about last week. I was privileged to have celebrated Afrika Day in Harare with a galaxy of African football Stars during the occasion of Benjani Mwaruwari’s testimonial and launch of Charity Foundation.
Yes, I contacted the flu bug and have been miserable since Saturday. But arriving in Harare around lunch on Friday, I was met at the airport by Benjani Mwaruwari and his entourage and whisked past customs in a manner that made me feel like, well…..a VIP.
Later the same day, we attended a glittering gala dinner at some posh private lodge attended by the Minister of Tourism as well as some of Africa’s finest footballers. Aaron Mokoena, Lucas Radebe, El Hadji Diouf, Khalilou Fadiga, John Pantsil, Chris Samba, Emmanuel Eboue, Pascal Chimbonda….you name them, they came.
Yes, Former African Footballer of the Year Nwankwo Kanu, Lomana Lua Lua, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, the latter sacrificing to undertake long journeys to come and support one of his own on his retirement was really heart-warming. They all pledged their support and said the time had come for Africans to hold each other’s hand.
An auction was held to raise funds for Benji’s Charity Foundation. Didier Drogba’s shirt fetched US$8 490! In all, shirts of some of Africa’s best players were auctioned and more than US$40 000 was raised to kickstart Benji’s Academy in his native country.
Benji and his friends were invited to the State House where President Robert Mugabe urged Benji to continue investing and uplifting his country. The Minister of Tourism revealed that Benji would be given a diplomatic passport as the country’s new Tourism Ambassador.
I had a lump in my throat. It was not because the flu was hammering me, but when I looked at the close to 50 000 spectators, emotions got the better of me. I sincerely felt that the people of Zimbabwe had shown Benji that they loved him in the best way they could.
It did not matter that the cheapest ticket for the match cost US$5 and, considering the financial situation in Zimbabwe, Benji’s compatriots deserved a pat on the back for the outstanding manner they supported him. For me, it was not just about the match because that was intended to be a fun day to rekindle old friendships.
The day emphasized our Ubuntu, when we could get together from the DR Congo, Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and despite our obvious cultural differences converge to a single venue to celebrate with our Zimbabwean brother on a day he marked his final day as a professional.
There was another heartwarming moment, when yet another Zimbabwean great – Peter Ndlovu – entered the field and played 20 minutes. At the end, he revealed that he had planned his own testimonial but shelved his plans so that it should not take the shine off Benji. “This is Benji’s day and we had to support him.”
Oh, by the way, I was initially a little upset with goalkeeper Tapuwa Kapini when, during an unforgettable moment, seven-year-old Benji Mwaruwari, who had ironically substituted his famous father, was allowed to run through the Warriors defence and as he shot, I expected Tapuwa to allow the goal.
After all, Zimbabwe was leading Benji’s friends 6-2 at the time. Instead Tapuwa stretched every sinew in his body to pull off a save. Hell, this was an exhibition game for heaven’s sake; why not let the youngster score. He went on to stop yet another shot from the child a minute later and I started asking myself what he was trying to prove.
Thank goodness, the referee extended time and eventually Kapini allowed Mwaruwari junior, who was clearly showing all the attributes of the “Undertaker” (his father), was again sportingly allowed to run through the defence to score a brace and brought the score to 6-4 or was it 7-4? Who cared anyway? It was a wonderful, blissful, enjoyable and memorable day of fun.
I guess many South Africans will be proud to know that 50 000 plus spectators gave Jomo Sono a standing ovation when he entered the field. Despite the fact that we enjoy nothing better than to take the Mickey out of Mjomana and hardly ever take him seriously, the truth is that “Makhandakhanda” is a huge personality in that part of the world.