We in England have been neglecting Zimbabwe. There have been very few postings on the subject here lately, just this from me since the Iraq war, unless I missed something in my backtracking.
That is now changing. Today is day one of the test match cricket series between England and Zimbabwe. The first test is a Lords, the St Peter’s Rome of cricket, and frankly the cricket has been fairly dreary. In a rain interrupted first session England, in the persons of Trescothick and Vaughan, managed 28 without loss. While I wrote what follows, England got to about 100 for the loss of Vaughan. (I could explain, but if you don’t know what that means, you almost certainly don’t care.)
But of course the real story is off the pitch, and frankly this aspect of the situation is proving a whole lot more satisfactory and less embarrassing than I for one had dared to hope.
Take the TV coverage so far, on Channel 4 TV. There has been some play, so that has focussed some attention on the situation. But the rain interruptions mean that Channel 4 have been wheeling out all their if-it-rains plans, and one of them concerns the matter of the, er, regime in Zimbabwe, and any demonstrations against and reactions to that regime.
There have already been demonstrations, both inside (one gutsy demonstrator made her point and got herself shepherded out) and outside the ground. And more to the point, much more to the point, Channel 4 have pointed their cameras at some of this.
If you know anything about TV sports coverage, you’ll know that it can be very misleading when a real world news item erupts in its midst. The tiresome habit of certain English exhibitionists invading sports events in the nude was inflamed by the promise of TV coverage, and is now being suppressed by TV coverage of these idiots also being suppressed. When British soccer fans behave really, really badly, they don’t always make it to the TV shows either. What actually happens between rival fans at Celtic v Rangers soccer matches in Glasgow, for example, is nobody’s business, and certainly never gets to be the business of TV viewers in anything like its full lack of glory. All of which means that the Channel 4 recognition of the “regime problem” is very significant. An enthusiastic pro-Mugabe-ite watching the TV coverage here today would not be a happy bunny.
Pitch invader, demos outside the ground, mainstream news coverage of demos outside the ground, above all the prospect of this relentless drizzle of media focus going on and on throughout the tour, destroying all attempts to suggest that things out there are in any way normal – it’s looking a lot worse than such a person would have been hoping for.
It may even be that the tour going ahead, but surrounded by the ever louder claim that it shouldn’t have, is the worst possible media outcome for the “regime”. I surely hope so.
Above all, there is Henry Olonga. Olonga it was who, along with Andy Flower, wore a black armband in protest at the policies of his country’s government in the first Zimbabwe game of the cricket World Cup, recently concluded in South Africa. It cost both of them their international cricket careers, certainly for the time being.
Olonga has just himself been interviewed on Channel 4, by TV pinup boy and cricket commentator Mark Nicholas, and he came across both as a formidably articulate critic and as a shrewd media operator. He thinks the tour shouldn’t be happening at all, but now that it is, he is going to make as much media fuss around it as he can.
It turns out that Olonga is very British educated, having been born middle class in Zambia, brought up middle class in Kenya, and only arriving in Zimbabwe in the mid nineties. He is going to make an impact in England, I’m sure of it, if only because he’s a character, his hair being African street but his voice being English posh.
Olonga is also a musician, which will add to whatever media fusshe manages to stir up. I really, really don’t want this to be embarrassing. Embarrassing or not, if we want to piss off Robert Mugabe, we can all buy Henry Olonga’s CDs. We don’t have to listen to them, any more than we had to read The Satanic Verses.