ZOC, NAAZ pay tribute to Zimbabwe’s Olympic pioneer Tseriwa
Senior Sports Reporter
THE Zimbabwe Olympic Committee president Thabani Gonye yesterday described the death of the country’s pioneering black Olympian, Cyprian Hatidane Tseriwa, as a dark spot in the history of Zimbabwe’s Olympic Movement.
Tseriwa, who spent the latter part of his life away from the spotlight, died in Harare on Monday at the age of 86 years after a battle with an undisclosed illness.
He held the distinction of being the first Olympic Games athlete of African descent from Zimbabwe after representing the country in 5 000m and 10 000m events at the Rome Olympics in 1960.
ZOC president, Gonye, and his counterpart at the National Athletics Association of Zimbabwe, Tendai Tagara, yesterday said the late Tseriwa belonged to a crop of athletes that laid the cornerstone under difficult conditions, during colonial Rhodesia, for future success in Zimbabwe.
“We always feel sad whenever we lose one of the guys that we all know inspired many athletes to pursue their dreams,” said Gonye.
“Indeed, Tseriwa was part of the older generation of athletes that were a great inspiration to athletes in the many generations that followed.
“He represented the country at the international level during the most challenging time when most of the blacks found it difficult because of the existing political situation then. Blacks lacked the privileges and had to struggle with limited resources.
“So we celebrate his legacy,” said Gonye.
Tseriwa was born on January 16, 1937. Although he could not get a medal at the 1960 Olympics, the middle-distance runner left a huge footprint for black Zimbabweans.
He posted a decent time of 15:02 in the 5 000m race at the Rome Olympics and then crossed the finish line in the 10 000m event in 30.47.
Tseriwa hailed from Mashonaland East and was a school teacher by profession. He worked at an Anglican college near Marondera.
He made international headlines after his trailblazing Olympic Games appearance. On his feat as the first black Zimbabwean Olympian, England’s The Coventry Evening Telegraph of July 16, 1960 wrote: “When Cyprian Tseriwa runs for the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland at the Rome Olympic Games he will be the first non-European to represent a country in Southern Africa in the Games.
“Tseriwa, a schoolteacher at an Anglican college near Marandellas, 50 miles from Salisbury, will be competing in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres, and possibly in the marathon. ‘The black flash’ — as he is better known — broke the Rhodesian three and six miles record in the recent Olympic trials with times of 14min 25sec. and 30min 16sec. respectively.”
After his Olympic appearance in 1960, Tseriwa was hired to be an athletic instructor for the Wankie Colliery where he coached other locally well-known Zimbabwean athletes.
He opened the doors for the next lot of black athletes Mathias Kanda and Robson Mrombe who succeeded him as Southern Rhodesian Olympians of black descent when they both ran the marathon at the 1964 Olympics in Rome.
Unfortunately, Kanda died of throat cancer in 2009. Recently, Mrombe was reportedly living a life of a destitute in Binga, as a fish-monger along the shores of Lake Kariba.
The sport of athletics was integrated in Rhodesia from 1960 but the politics of Rhodesia was not integrated and in 1968 the country was banned from the Olympic Games following the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by Ian Smith’s government.
The ban affected athletes like Bernard Dzoma, who was the first Zimbabwean to break 30 minutes in the 10 000m race.
Dzoma was selected to compete for Rhodesia but was denied the right to compete in two successive Olympiads — Mexico, 1968 and Munich, 1972. The country was readmitted in 1980 as Zimbabwe.
All these athletes were following in the footsteps of Tseriwa. Today, many Zimbabwean athletes have participated at the Olympic Games.
NAAZ president Tagara said the association learnt of Tseriwa’s demise with “deep sorrow” and his departure was a dark spot in the history of the sport.
Close family members said Tseriwa had not been well of late and was hospitalised for close to a month.
The late middle-distance runner was buried at the Warren Hills Cemetery yesterday.
A church service was held in his memory at the Methodist Church in Glen Norah.
Tseriwa left behind two sons, three daughters and several grandchildren.
“It’s sad to hear that as a federation,” said Tagara.
“Of course, he belongs to the generation of great athletes we always salute for their perseverance in the backdrop of the racial policies of Rhodesia that worked against the native athletes.
“African athletes normally did not enjoy the privilege and opportunities to represent the nation in international events.
“It was exceptional to get a black African in the Rhodesian team and it was an honour that Tseriwa achieved the feat to run at the Olympics.
“He opened the door for many and as a federation we still cherish the contributions of our yesteryear heroes of the 60s, 70s and 80s.
“We remember very well the impact the athletes of that era had on our sport, especially when the Chamber of Mines was still active,” said Tagara.
The late journalist Saul Gwakuba-Ndlovu said in one of his yester-year articles: “Tseriwa was a self-made athlete who excelled throughout the country against massive odds for him to be selected for the Olympic squad.”
“He joined the Colliery in 1961 and groomed an athletics track sport team that included a former student of Tokwana School, Fanake “Mazowe” Ndlovu.
“His team competed in the famous Chamber of Mines league where it put many of its rivals in the shade, including South African groups.
“Tseriwa was a source of pride for all black people of this country at a time when they were racially despised and trodden underfoot by the laws and socio-economic practices of the white government of the land.’’