Leave the club, get a whip

Dr Don Gwashu, taking the Sociology class of Mass Communication students at Harare Polytechnic at the turn of the millennium, expressed some scepticism about the Fast-Track Land Reform Programme.

He said something to the effect that: “Until (Cde Hitler) Hunzvi and Cde (Joseph) Chinotimba take over Chapman Golf Club or Royal Harare and resettle people there, I don’t think we are serious about creating a new society and a new economy founded on people power.”

Most of the class took it as a joke. Most of those who didn’t laugh either didn’t appreciate what Dr Gwashu – now lecturing at Africa University – implied in the manifest humour or the latent insight into power relations in Zimbabwe as a so-called post-colonial state.

Golf is more than a mere pastime or sport.

Which is why journalist John Kelley, in his history of golf in Zimbabwe titled “Staying the Course”, says Cecil John Rhodes deliberately included golfers in his Pioneer Column as he gave effect to the Royal Charter.

(Kelley wrote another book on golf in Zimbabwe – “The Way We Were” – which looked intimately at no less than 46 golf clubs and courses in the country. Kelley himself said of that book: “These country districts clubs with their golf courses were centres of self-created and self-sustained communities that ultimately developed from the original pioneer columns. They just couldn’t be allowed to fade from memory and they are indeed the world’s greatest golf story.”)

The land between the Zambezi and the Limpopo got its first golf club in Bulawayo a mere four or so years after the Pioneer Column entered.

Between then and independence in 1980, more than 85 golf clubs and an almost equal number of courses were established across the country.

One of the most iconic of those was Royal Harare, founded in 1898 and established at its present location in 1901 as the Salisbury Golf Club. It was to get Royal Patronage in 1929, subsequently changing its name to Royal Harare Golf Club in 1980.

Golf Digest, a global authority on all things golf, in 1979 voted Royal Harare one of the 50 best courses in the world outside of the United States.

A Rhodesian government booklet from around 1970, encouraging immigration and titled “The Good Life”, has a telling picture of a white couple playing golf with their black caddies in tow.

Come 1980, there were real fears that golf would collapse.

This was because the few elite blacks who had been allowed near a golf course before Independence simply were not enough to sustain this very symbolic of games.

Which is why John Kelley and company were more than delighted when the nouveau elite and riche of recently Independent Zimbabwe flocked to the clubs and courses to keep the symbolism of golf alive.

The Nick Prices and Mark McNultys, whose golf careers started before 1980, were soon to be joined not only by semi-sophisticated black executives paying homage to the greens and bunkers, but also by keen professionals like Lewis Muridzo Chitengwa.

For those not in the know, Chitengwa in 1992 defeated Tiger Woods head-to-head in the final round of the Orange Bowl Junior Championship, and a year later he was to become the first black golfer to win the South African Amateur Championship.

He died in 2001 at the tender age of 26 after succumbing to a rare form of meningitis that plunged him into a coma as he played in Canada.

Nonetheless, most black golfers in Zimbabwe are executives, shysters and political types who may not appreciate the symbolism of the game, but worship at the altar of the club house religiously every weekend and on the odd weekday.

President Xi Jinping understands the sociology of golf, probably taking heed to Chairman Mao’s lesson that it is a “sport for millionaires”.

President Xi detests the sport.

He barred the 88 million members of the Chinese Communist Party from getting club membership gifts, with supporters of his move saying the sport is associated with corruption and illegal deals are made on the fairways.

Says Dan Washburn, author of “The Forbidden Dream: Golf and the Chinese Dream”, golf is “a symbol of the corruption Xi has been railing against”.

President Xi’s Government shut down more than 100 golf courses because they were wasting water and land, many of them operating illegally.

The thing is this: it is very costly to be a golf club member. Annual subscriptions, green fees, equipment and time to play the game are all at a premium.

So how does Zimbabwe, economic challenges and all, still maintain a good number of golf clubs with healthy membership lists?

And why are we not inquisitive as to where so many Zimbabweans are getting the money to play a “sport for millionaires”?

Do we ever ask why so many mansions are going up in nothern Harare, decimating mountains and draining wetlands?

Do we ever ask why so many luxury cars are cruising on our potholed, unlit streets?

These are the questions that we hope the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority’s ongoing lifestyle audit will answer.

We need to set aside the golf club and grab a whip.

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