Kudakwashe Mugari in NIAMEY, Niger
PRESIDENT Mnangagwa took time to discuss football matters on the sidelines of the 12th extraordinary African Union (AU) summit on free trade areas and was involved in a banter with DR Congo President Félix Tshisekedi following the Warriors hammering at the hands of the Congolese Leopards in their last Group A match at the 2019 AFCON tournament in Egypt.
Before the summit, President Mnangagwa said he met other Heads of State, among them the DRC President Tshisekedi, and had time to laugh over the most recent football result involving the two sub-Saharan nations.
Zimbabwe beat DRC 2-1 in their backyard and then played a 1-1 stalemate in the return leg at the National Sports Stadium during the 2019 AFCON qualifiers.
Interestingly, the two teams were paired again at the finals of the tournament in Egypt and apparently Zimbabwe had the bragging rights when they squared up for the decisive Group A tie in Cairo on June 30.
A win could have seen the Warriors through to the last 16, but the Leopards had other ideas this time around as they cruised to a comprehensive 4-0 win which saw them progressing to the next round at the expense of the Warriors, who went on to finish bottom of the group with one point.
“I had discussions with Democratic Republic of Congo President, but it was on football matters. He was enjoying himself laughing at me that (President Mnangagwa pauses and starts laughing) DRC won over the Warriors this time around.
“It’s a compliment that DRC has a new President, so the people and players are enthused by the new President and have awarded him a victory over Zimbabwe Warriors on a big margin (President Mnangagwa laughs).”
The President also attended a dinner banquet with other AU leaders hosted by Niger President Mahammod Issoufu.
The President was joined on the dance floor by his DRC counterpart dancing to the traditional and Afro jazz music.
President Mnangagwa showed his enthusiasm for football when he set up a fund-raising committee and led by example when he poured in US$250 000 as well as 300 000 RTGS as allowances and welfare for the Warriors during a fundraising dinner held before the team’s departure for the AFCON finals last month.
At the dinner, President Mnangagwa said the country should transform itself into a football powerhouse by 2030.
The President commended the fundraising committee for their dedication while also challenging the media to report positively as the Warriors represent the nation in Egypt.
“I would like to commend the fundraising committee, for bringing together all the stakeholders, for this worthy cause. Football, the world over, indeed, occupies a special place in many people’s hearts, but to us, politicians, we wish to appear at football matches so that on voting day you will remember us,’’ the President said.
“It also unites nations and helps bring social cohesion and harmony within countries.
“In our Second Republic, sport in general, and football in particular, as a mass sport, must be a vital instrument for enhancing peace, empowerment and national cohesion,” said the President.
The Warriors opened the 2019 Nations Cup finals with a high-profile showdown against the Pharaohs at the Cairo International Stadium on June 21, in which they lost 1-0. They then drew 1-1 with Uganda before bowing out of the tournament at the group stage for the fourth time in as many attempts following the 4-0 defeat to the DRC.