A shadowy plot that stinks

Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
MIRIAM Sibanda has had a rocky relationship with ZIFA chief executive Jonathan Mashingaidze in the year she has been in charge of women football in this country. She has fought a number of boardroom battles with Mashingaidze and, in February this year, survived a technical knock-out from the ZIFA Board after Councillors rejected a shadowy move to recall her — and two other officials, vice-president Omega Sibanda and Ben Gwarada — from the Board.

The stage had been set, for the three to be kicked out, but some Councillors, especially those from Matabeleland, fiercely resisted the move.

One Councillor argued that a lot of Board Members had either been suspended, or kicked out, since 2011 but the game continued to suffer from one crisis to another.

Maybe, said the Councillor, the time had come for those who had remained on the ZIFA Board, since 2010, to look at where they were coming short rather than just eliminating those they believed were stifling the growth of the game.

ZIFA Councillor, Joseph Musariri, told The Herald of the shock that hit him, during a conversation with Mashingaidze, when he arrived for that extra-ordinary assembly meeting, hearing the ZIFA chief executive telling him that the heads of the three officials were set to roll that day.

Musariri said he found it disgusting that the most powerful organ of the association could be summoned, to just settle personal wars rather than discuss issues that could discuss the game, he quit his post on the ZIFA Finance Committee a month later.

But while Miriam Sibanda and her colleagues might have survived the knock-out blow in February, it didn’t stop those who wanted them out, from plotting how best to get them out of the ZIFA Board.

Sources have revealed that in the past two months, some women football leaders have been camped in Harare, working on this scheme — at first being housed at a hotel in the capital before it was shut down recently.

Once powerful allies of Sibanda, when they came on board in March last year, they were split from their leader, in a classic divide-and-rule tactic, after she fell out with ZIFA president, Cuthbert Dube, when she had the courage to tell an indaba, called by the Sports Commission, that she was one of the people who authored a memo that painted a graphic picture of the sorry state of the game in the country.

While other board members, who were part of that memo, developed cold feet at that indaba, Sibanda raised her hand and told her boss that she was part of the officials who had authored that memo and was even willing to sign it.

Interestingly, one of the charges that she faced at a meeting held yesterday, where her suspension was announced, related to his frosty relationship with Dube and Mashingaidze.

“Miriam Sibanda also failed to follow communication protocol as outlined in the ZIFA rules and regulations when she communicated directly with the Sport and Recreation Commission,” the charge sheet read.

“She breached not only our codes but the Sports and Recreation Act. As an affiliate and a member of ZIFA that was unbecoming as she was fanning factionalism in our beautiful game.

“In the letter she accused both the President (Dube) and CEO (Mashingaidze) of acting in bad faith and the association has an internal grievance procedure which she did not exhaust before approaching the SRC.

“Her motive was to incite government intervention so as to have our Association banned by FIFA. She sought to ‘wash dirty linen’ in public so as incite the public to see only the bad about ZIFA.

“She incited for the petitioning of the duly-elected Association President Dr Dube and attacked CEO Mashingaidze, who is the Secretary General, of all forms of Football in Zimbabwe (the attacks which are here presented in newspapers cuttings and also radio recordings).

“This was a breach of the communication protocol as outlined in the Rules and Regulation.”

Sibanda also stands accused by the women football constituency of not acting above board in securing sponsorship for the Mighty Warriors to travel to Ghana for an African Games qualifier and there are accusations that $60 000 could not be accounted for.

The sponsorship for the air-tickets, this newspaper was told, was secured by Sport, Arts and Culture Deputy Minister, Tabetha Kanengoni-Malinga, who is fiercely passionate about the Mighty Warriors, and has been a harsh critic of both Dube and Mashingaidze in the past.

While the women football chiefs have a right to demand accountability for whatever sponsorship comes into their coffers, it’s interesting that — as part of the ZIFA Council — they have been quiet in the past six months while the issue of the more than $700 000 that could not be accounted by the ZIFA auditors remains unresolved.

But, even more worrying, is the way yesterday’s so-called extra-ordinary meeting received the blessing of the ZIFA secretariat to go ahead amid questions that it violates the association’s constitution.

The same ZIFA secretariat that cancelled a Board Meeting, which the association had promised Sports Minister, Andrew Langa, would be held in two weeks, on the basis that it violated the constitution, suddenly did not find issues with a key branch of its membership sending notices on Friday and holding a meeting on Monday.

The same ZIFA secretariat that turned down a request, which was constitutionally prepared, by some Councillors for them to hold an extra-ordinary assembly meeting to discuss the state of the game in the country, suddenly decided to give the greenlight to a section of the women’s game to hold a meeting yesterday.

“The Zimbabwe Football Association is in receipt of your letter dated 16th March 2015 pertaining to the above and hereby acknowledges its contents,” Mashingaidze wrote in his reply to the Councillors who had called for the urgent indaba.

“The Association would like to inform you that items raised have been noted and they will be discussed at the Annual General Meeting set for the 25th of April under the President’s Activity Report. Besides, it would not be possible to hold two Extraordinary General Meetings inside 60 days.”

Constitutionally, the chief executive doesn’t have the power to veto a petition from more than a third of the assembly once they ask for an extra-ordinary meeting but Mashingaidze did that and, of course, the President’s Report is prepared in his office, which means he can set the tempo for what should be discussed.

Maybe, yesterday’s meeting had to go on at all costs, to try and eliminate Sibanda from the annual meeting, because that means eliminating one big critical voice at that indaba.

The other Sibanda, Omega, is conveniently being flown to Jordan to represent the association at the Football Expo there, which means they would have eliminated another critical voice, while Gwarada — who has been frustrated by the system — missed the last big meeting and the bargain could be that he will miss this one, too.

But if there is one charge that really makes yesterday’s meeting a mockery, and appears to show the hidden hand behind it, then it’s the one accusing Sibanda of inviting “enemies of football”, like Chris Sambo, Francis Zimunya and Tinashe Mapuranga, to the Mighty Warriors’ game against Ghana recently.

The three have earned pariah status with Mashingaidze simply because they have been bold enough to criticise him in public and Sambo last night revealed that he paid to watch that game.

If someone can be charged for coming to cheer their national team, what about those — in leadership positions — who don’t even care to come and do so? Surely, has Zimbabwean football been reduced to such a private entity, which belongs to Mashingaidze, that whoever criticises him has to be outlawed from the game?