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Rebel saga takes new twist

Darlington Majonga

A JOURNALIST attached to Zimbabwe Cricket has been fired for allegedly buttressing a white player rebellion by secretly filing with foreign publications articles deemed derogatory of his e

mployer.


John Ward, a veteran cricket reporter and biographer, was this week relieved of his duties only a fortnight after Zimbabwe Cricket gleefully listened as some rebels inadvertently exposed the man the union had always suspected goaded the players to revolt.


Although Zimbabwe Cricket still falls short of publicly revealing the “third force” it claims was behind the mutiny sparked by the dismissal of Heath Streak as captain last April, reliable insiders claim former national team player Ray Gripper’s behind-the-scenes role in the standoff had been discussed.


“The rebels (names supplied) decided to return to national duty because they said they could not let Ray Gripper decide their cricket future,” a source privy to the business at Zimbabwe Cricket claimed last week.


Ward got into trouble when e-mails he sent to a cricket website were forwarded to Zimbabwe Cricket management by a fellow employee who had been “pissed off” by the way the journalist described the board as a “Taliban force” and the Tatenda Taibu-led national team as “purporting to represent Zimbabwe”.


“I urged the rebels to play club cricket and really excel, as this will embarrass ZCU and also keep them in the public eye and the public on their (rebels) side,” Ward wrote in one of his e-mails seen by IndependentSport.


When Streak issued an ultimatum that culminated in his dismissal, he is said to have mentioned that the international media would round up on Zimbabwe Cricket for not giving in to the white players’ demands.


Zimbabwe Cricket believes Ward was one of the people the rebels banked on, while the union also claims many other journalists — including a Bulawayo-based black reporter — could have been rewarded in hard currency to tarnish its image.


It appears Ward — who sometimes preferred the pseudonym Andrew Watt when moonlighting for foreign media — might also have incensed Zimbabwe Cricket with the racist remarks he made in some of his e-mails, the sources claim.


Zimbabwe Cricket chairman Peter Chingoka had always insisted a “third force” was behind the revolt by the white players, but he is still not keen to expose the people involved.


He however claimed he had been reliably informed “some white parents were badly influencing” their sons who were cricketers, without naming them.


“There was a force and one doesn’t need to pick out on personalities, but the whole issue has now come to light and is there for all to see,” Chingoka told IndependentSport from South Africa last week. “The good thing is we have moved on.”


So far four of the 15 rebels, notably Streak and Andy Blignaut, have returned to national duty while the remainder are yet to accept new contracts they were offered by Zimbabwe Cricket.


Gripper — whose son Trevor is among the rebels — is also accused of playing a key role in the upheavals that rocked the Mashonaland Cricket Association (MCA) late last year.


“Gripper has been influential in the upheavals in Mashonaland, which is why he is suspected of providing transport and legal costs for (former MCA board member) Elvis Sembezeya,” an executive within the MCA board charged.

Efforts to get a comment from Gripper yesterday proved fruitless.


In a related issue, it emerged last week that the return of Tavengwa Mukuhlani to the helm of the MCA had touched off a row between Cyprian Mandenge and Sembezeya, former bedfellows in a shortlived rebel executive.


Mandenge blasted Sembezeya, accusing the Takashinga official of having ulterior motives other than promoting cricket.


“When Doc (Mukuhlani) was booted out, we said the clubs had spoken. Then when the same clubs told us to go, the clubs had spoken too. I then have a problem when someone tries to defy the stakeholders,” Mandenge said last week.


Sembezeya has refused to recognise the retained MCA board.

Mukuhlani told IndependentSport he had “received calls from a number of club officials” who wanted him back on the influential board, from which he was removed following a vote of no-confidence passed by clubs in December last year.


He said the MCA clubs, who wrote a petition to stakeholders last month saying they wanted the old board back, had done so in realisation that they had been misled by some individuals into believing that his administration was not representing the interest of the clubs.


“No executive committees of the bigger clubs were involved in decisions made on that special general meeting on December 22. The letter demanding explanation regarding the Zimbabwe Cricket change of name and re-branding was only written by two minor clubs in the province,” claimed Mukuhlani, suggesting an ulterior motive was behind his overthrow.

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