LIKE a raging army of warlords, they exploded into action, united by their identity as proud Congolese, powered by their collective spirits and bonded by a relentless pursuit of justice for their motherland.
The rebellion was as impromptu as it was wild, shattering what is usually the tranquillity of the media tribune of the Alexandria Stadium, as harsh words rang out and accusations were made.
Grown-up men swearing, grown-up women swearing, together constituting what was an angry mob that cared little for decency and the so-called neutrality that they say forms the bedrock of this profession.
In their hour of fury, they charged at the security details, swore at CAF President Ahmad Ahmad, who was sitting in the VVIP arena opposite his country’s President, Andry Rajoelina, accusing the continent’s football boss of undue influence.
They also swore at the referee, accusing him of acting on the instructions of Ahmad by titling the playing field so that Madagascar, the country where Ahmad comes from, would enjoy an unfair advantage from the match official’s decisions.
So that their Congolese Leopards, who were the opponents in the blue corner, would be treated with hostility, with unfairness, with disdain, to ensure their chances of winning this encounter would be minimal.
They shouted in Lingala, hurled abuse in French, and using a little combination of some English words here and there, they swore at the CAF hierarchy in general, and the unfortunate Ahmad in particular.
An army of angry Congolese journalists, men and women, was charging, was swearing, was in a very bad mood and their target was Ahmad, the referee and a conspiracy which they felt was unfolding before their very eyes on that field.
A Ghanaian journalist tried to capture their rebellion and broadcast it live on his social media feed and one of them saw him, confronted him and even threatened to destroy his mobile phone.
It was very intense and while I have seen such outrage from numerous armies of football fans, disappointed that their team was probably being given a rough deal by the referee, this was the first time I had witnessed a group of journalists do this. Admittedly, a number of decisions had gone against their team, some were the usual type of calls that we see in football matches, but others, like the referee turning a blind eye on a tackle on Yannick Bolaise late in the match, was ridiculous.
Lionel Messi had provided them with a template for rebellion, the Argentina captain telling the world this year’s Copa America was fixed to ensure the hosts Brazil would emerge triumphant.
A semi-final match between the two old rivals had been marred by questionable officiating with, at least, two stonewall Argentina penalties being ignored by the referee in a match which ended 2-0 in favour of the Brazilians.
Messi, who was later sent off in the third-place play-off for a crime he didn’t commit in his team’s win over Chile, was so disgusted by it all he even refused to collect his bronze medal.
Some have criticised Messi for being a bad loser, especially given he comes from a country that celebrated a World Cup that was won by the aid of a Hand of God in 1986, and they have a point.
But, what they have failed to see, just like those who have been very critical of the Congolese journalists who transformed themselves into raging warlords in Alexandria, is that when it comes to national issues, the power of reasoning usually makes way to madness.
ALL THIS LEFT ME WONDERING, ASKING MYSELF SOME TOUGH QUESTIONS
It was refreshing to see those Congolese journalists displaying such remarkable unity for the cause of their nation, and showing us that our constituency, dominated by jealous, fractured by egos, split by those who believe all they have to do is to soil the images of others, remains trapped in the past while the world has moved on.
It would never have happened here because there is a group that would have, privately, been celebrating that we are getting a raw deal from the referee because that would suit their agenda.
To them, a Warriors loss opens up the space to poison the landscape with their conspiracy theories, to fight this and that journalist, this and that official, this and that person.
A broken constituency that has a membership that still questions why sports journalists travel a lot, because they don’t travel at all, as if it’s the sports journalists’ fault that it’s the nature of their jobs to cover events in foreign lands, which can even — like the World Cup and AFCON finals — last for a month.
A constituency that sees match-fixing shadows and blame it on this and that journalist, on the occasions the Warriors lose — in a game where even mighty Brazil can be humbled 1-7 at home in a World Cup semi-final by Germany — but somehow keeps quiet when the same journalists cover the Warriors success stories in the qualifiers of the same tournament.
But, that’s not my story today.
My story is about those female Congolese journalists and female fans, joining their male counterparts in fighting so strongly against what they perceived was a conspiracy against their country. Against what they considered an injustice to their nation. I might not have agreed with the sickening words they were using in their protest, but I understood their anger, I understood why they were mad and understood why they had transformed themselves into such raging bulls.
Lucky them, these Congolese women, pictures of their protests being splashed in their country’s newspapers the following day, their act being praised for heroism because they dared challenge the establishment and fought for their nation.
They are lucky because they aren’t Zimbabweans. Because, had they been from here, they would have spent the next few weeks having to deal with the criticism of being either prostitutes, or when they choose friendlier language which, however, doesn’t dilute the insult, being labelled girlfriends of the players or the officials on tour.
No country ill-treats its women, in terms of banding them together under the stinking stereotypical brackets of labelling them either as prostitutes or of loose morals, especially when it comes to football, like Zimbabwe.
How people who do that, somehow keep getting away with it, and in some instances are even celebrated as heroes, defies logic in a world today where powerful men, from Hollywood to politics, have been toppled for having done half such crimes, way back in the years, in abusing women.
The other day we had a young female journalist being savaged on social media for allegedly causing friction in the Warriors camp, including a fight between two players, and her picture being circulated all over the place on the Internet by some people who are so afraid of themselves and their vile acts, they either hide behind anonymous identities or realise it would be an insult to their parents to attach their names to the venom they pour out.
Her crime, it seems, was that she asked for selfies with some of the players, her heroes, her countrymen, her ultimate sports ambassadors and the price she had to pay for that was huge as innuendoes and accusations thrown at her.
Where was the evidence to back such claims, nothing, nowhere, just speculation, a vicious witch-hunt in a sport that has very little respect for women.
And, which has always treated them as low lives, when in reality, they are maybe even better than those savage, chauvinistic and shameless males trying to paint them as prostitutes.
It was so bad that a married female sports journalist, on the same tour of duty, was forced to go on Twitter to dismiss the claims because, she noted, such ridiculous attacks were straining her marriage back home.
I saw some lifelong female Zimbabwean football fans in Cairo, some I have known since I started this job, like Dynamos’ Sissy Judy. And, they were there for the game, which has always been their passion, and it was sad to see them having to deal with the insults coming from back home.
In their last game against the DRC, they were joined by some female Bafana Bafana fans who had been flown to Egypt to support Stuart Baxter’s men.
Together they sang for the Warriors in a losing cause, united by their love for football, but divided by the way their societies back home were labelling them — those from South Africa being hailed as heroines, those from Zimbabwe being labelled as prostitutes.
What is even irritating is the silence among those who say they normally fight for women’s rights and in the age of the #METOO movement, where historical abuses against women have toppled some of the world’s most powerful people, this is disappointing to say the least.
I’m not in any way suggesting that no ZIFA official brought along his girlfriend to Cairo, but in terms of numbers, there could have been no more than four in that category, and in my world, it’s unfair to band the other scores of female fans and journalists as prostitutes.
It’s a reckless and shameless assault on their dignity and on the beauty of womanhood.
THE AGE OF RAPIONE, THE AGE OF TRUMP, TOO BAD WE STILL TRAPPED IN THE PAST
That all this can come from a country that always turns to the spirit of its ultimate heroine, Mbuya Nehanda, in search of salvation and inspiration when times are tough and droughts and cyclones hit, is a shame because more than other nations, we should know the value of women.
That all this nonsense can come from a nation whose greatest sports star is a female swimming legend Kirsty Coventry, who finally showed us — 24 years into our Independence — that an individual athlete from our nation can win an Olympic medal, defies logic, whichever way one looks at it.
If our women are second-rate citizens, as some of us have tried to portray those who went to Egypt, and can only be either girlfriends or prostitutes, why haven’t we seen just one of us, the so-called superior sex of men, fail to win even one Olympic medal in the nearly 30 years of our participation at this level?
That all this can come from a country, whose first success story at the Olympics was written by a group of Golden Girls, who went to Moscow in 1980 and brought home the hockey gold medal, exposes the shame of those who have been peddling this nonsense that the women who went on that AFCON tour of duty could only be either prostitutes or girlfriends.
That all this can come from a country where excellence in journalism has been attained by a woman, Haru Mutasa, who has risen up the ladder to be a correspondent for Al Jazeera, makes a mockery of all those insults, labelling those who were in Cairo as prostitutes, simply because they happen to be women.
That all this can come from a country whose finest football story has been written by a band of women, the Mighty Warriors, who defied the odds to qualify for the Olympics of 2016, makes all these accusations, and ill-treatment of women, simply because they are not men, such a shame.
For goodness’ sake, domestic football falls under a ministry being run by a woman who qualifies for that role because of what she has achieved, and why we should hound her colleagues with all these shameless allegations simply because they happen to be women, is regrettable.
Things have changed around the world, but we want to remain stuck in the past.
Today, the captain of the steam-rolling United States women football team, Megan Rapinoe, can stand up to President Donald Trump and tell him, in no uncertain terms, she won’t attend the White House ceremony to honour them for winning the World Cup because she doesn’t agree with his policies.
Rapinoe, with her colourful hair, is the biggest name in women football in the world today, after winning the Golden Boot and Golden Ball at the recent World Cup in France.
She is also unashamedly gay and speaks her mind, telling Trump, should would not be “going to the f * * *g White House,’’ yet, for all her controversy, she is loved and respected across the United States and thousands came out to cheer her, and her team, when they held their victory parade in New York this week.
And, in typical Rapinoe fashion, she wasn’t holding back when she spoke at that parade.
“This group is so resilient, is so tough, has such a sense of humour, is just so badass,” she told the audience.
“We got tea sipping. We got celebrations. We have pink hair and purple hair. We have tattoos, dreadlocks. We got white girls and black girls and everything in between. Straight girls and gay girls, hey!”
Still New York honoured her in the same fashion it did Nelson Mandela in 1990, the 1969 World Series champion Mets and the New York Giants team that won Super Bowl XLII in 2008.
Imagine, for a moment, if she was a Zimbabwean, with all her controversy, what we would be throwing at her if, as we have been doing in the past few weeks, we have been accusing a female journalist for a crime she never committed and describing a group of fans as prostitutes simply because they are women?
To God Be The Glory!
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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