Muchinjo: Zim’s $18m youth games con

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MY first 2010 World Cup assignment for The Associated Press was covering a function where the Australian team was donating football equipment to a township primary school in Randfontein just outside Johannesburg, as part of the Australians’ charm offense to host the 2018 edition.  
I’d been told that Australia’s Sports Minister would officiate at the charity event alongside their football federation boss Frank Lowy – and there strode in the minister; tall, slender, blonde and charming Kate Ellis, all the desired Caucasian good looks combined together, and at 33, one of her country’s youngest ministers in history.
Ambassador and first ever female number-one ticket holder of Adelaide Football Club, her favourite Aussie rules football team, Ellis clearly had everything going for her and as she rose to deliver her unprepared speech, it was also obvious she knew her stuff.
For example, she spoke about the impact it would make on football’s global reach, the several millions of new fans captured, if football’s World Cup was to be given to a sport-mad country whose own unique national pastime, Aussie Rules, is a massive crowd-puller.
She spoke about how time had come to stage world sport’s greatest event in a country with a rich sporting heritage and at one time was world champions in quick succession in three different major codes– rugby, cricket and tennis.
She spoke about overdue recognition for a country that has given the world some of her finest sportsmen; Don Bradman, beyond argument – in the opinion of many lovers of the game – the greatest cricket batsman who ever lived, and Shane Warne, one of the game’s truly superstars of the modern era.
And she also spoke about a champion 400m runner called Cathy Freeman, the indigenous Australian girl who went on to create one of the most indelible moments in Olympic history on her way to become a genuine national superstar and icon.
Kate Ellis, that day, succeeded in fostering a long-standing conviction of mine that a sports ministry should be headed by a person who understands the field well, someone with passion and lifelong interest in sport, not someone who simply needs to be put somewhere in a job, like Andrew Langa.
Langa, for those who might not be aware, was fired as Zimbabwe’s Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture last September and the ministry was remodeled as the Ministry of Sports and Recreation.Advertisement

And then, as we were glad to see the back of Langa, came Makhosini Hlongwane, again seemingly out of nowhere, with no recognised sporting credentials. Need I say more; I was one of that appointment’s strongest critics.
But unlike Langa, who did absolutely nothing to shame his detractors, only proving us correct each passing day, Hlongwane has fitted in commendably well, and has been making all the right noises about the direction Zimbabwean sport ought to take.
People must give him a chance.
To me, what has stood out most is Hlongwane’s speech in Parliament three weeks ago in which he appeared to make the first step to take long overdue action, questioning how the $18 million availed by treasury for the hosting of an unfashionable sporting event called the African Union Sports Council Region 5 Under-20 Youth Games in Bulawayo in 2014, was spent.
Shocking revelation
Hlongwane also revealed that Government still actually owes service providers some $6 million, in addition to the $18 million which was released, bringing the total to $24 million.
He revealed, too, how the poor workmanship on some of the facilities has raised eyebrows. A forensic audit to account for every cent used to host the event has been launched, he said.
“I did visit the facilities immediately after my appointment last year. The physical infrastructure and you will agree with me if you have visited these installations, they leave a lot to be desired,” Hlongwane is quoted as saying.
“In fact, I was shocked to believe we spent $18 million on those facilities. I want the (parliamentary) committee (on sport) to give us support by visiting those installations.
“If you go to Bulawayo Swimming Pool, Luveve Stadium, White City Stadium and many others. The type of quality of work that was done in those places – it’s unbelievable to the eye.
“The Bulawayo Swimming Pool, when the Games came we sent in engineers, they extended the swimming pool, changed the piping and did a lot of civil work.
“I’m disappointed to tell you that since the Games ended in 2014 that swimming pool is not working.
“When I visited the Bulawayo Swimming Pool I spoke to the contractors and asked why they were still working on this since the Games had been held in December 2014.
“He told me: ‘The problem is when we paid the contractor he ran away with the money to South Africa.’
“So I asked: ‘now that you are here do you get the money to continue what you are doing?’. They couldn’t answer that.
“It was clear to me that these people were brought on site because they got knowledge that I was visiting.”
A quite shocking revelation. But no, wait. Hlongwane is not exactly the first person to smell a big, fat decomposing rat surrounding these Youth Games.  
When I worked for the Daily News, I persistently attacked the motive behind this unglamorous tournament. I questioned the priorities of those behind it when clearly there were more pressing matters in Zimbabwean sport. I did not hide my misgivings over the cost and I demanded to know how the money was to be used.  I asked for accountability.
The deafening silence, the obvious reluctance to come out clear and clean as well as the noticeable shrug-off whenever the topic was raised, further fueled those misgivings.
Initially, the budget for the games was $46 million. A whopping $46 million! Even the $18 million that was eventually released is still a lot of money. It can refurbish stadia and boost a successful bid for more glamorous events like the Africa Cup of Nations.
We hear now that a deceitful contractor “ran away with the money to South Africa”.
This is a scandal.
But I saw it unfold right in front of the nation. This article (in bold) I co-authored with Farayi Machamire on 14 December 2014 a case in point:
A wall of silence has gone up around the money used towards the hosting of the African Union Sports Council Region 5 Under-20 Youth Games, with questions posed by this paper for three months being blatantly ignored or evaded.
Organises of the games, being held in Bulawayo, have refused divulge information to the Daily News despite numerous requests over the past three months, with this paper seeking to know exactly how much in terms of funding was released by Government and how it has been used.
Figures of between $9 million and $43 million have been thrown around, but organisers have kept a tight lid on actual figures. 
There has been significant refurbishment of facilities in Bulawayo, but authorities’ foot-dragging over disclosure of expenses and budget breakdown had raised eyebrows in the Zimbabwean sporting fraternity.
Attempts to contact key figures of the games have failed to shed light on how much was availed from Government or the African Union (AU). The games are carried out under the auspices of the AU, a union consisting of 54 African states.
The Daily News first sent written questions to Sports Minister Andrew Langa on September 5, long before the games started, requesting to know, among others things, how much had been released for the games.
Langa’s mobile phone has repeatedly been unreachable.
The e-mail was copied to Kenny Ndebele, who we erroneously understood at the time to be Local Organising Committee (LOC)’s chief executive. Ndebele is in fact is the games’ marketing manager.
In our query, we wanted to know the actual figures released for the games, and we also requested the project document Langa presented at a function in Bulawayo before the games.
We wanted to know the breakdown of the figure, and we also wanted to know how much, if any, had come from the AU coffers.
We resent the questions again five days later. Again, it was ignored – this time for three months until we attempted to get answers again on December 5.
The latest query was followed up with a phone call to Ndebele, who clarified his actual role to us. Ndebele, who is also the CEO of the Premier Soccer League, duly directed us to the games’ actual CEO, Elkanah Dube.
Efforts by our Bulawayo bureau to have Dube shed more light were not successful, and yesterday his phone kept being answered by someone else who was unable to help.  
Our inquest then took us to African Union Sports Council Region 5 secretary-general Mvuzo Mbebe, seeking to know how much the continental bloc has poured into the games.
On December 3, we wrote to Mbebe requesting breakdown of budget, and also asked if he was satisfied with Bulawayo’s readiness.
There was no response and we duly re-forwarded on December 9, followed by a phone call to Mbebe to confirm receipt of both queries.
“I’m now back in South Africa, I saw your questions and forwarded to Stanley Mutoya, he should be able to respond to you.”
Mutoya is the games’ general manager, and when he reached him yesterday, he said:
“The government undertook the infrastructural development for these games. On how much they put? I cannot answer on behalf of government. You would have to get hold of the Minister of Sport.
“As for the contribution from the region, the region is not me. If you understand, from the Olympics, you would know that every member country pays a certain fee for every athlete attending.
“In this case every member country from the 10 countries in the region are paying $66 for every athlete. That money meets operational costs.
“I can tell you that there 1417 athletes at the games; 553 male athletes, 440 females, 269 coaches…I am rushing for another meeting, I can respond to you further by e-mail.”
Having given the Ministry of sports and the organisers reasonable time to respond credibly, we decided to run with this story in the hope of getting answers.
Hlongwane must solve this mystery.