This book review for Keeper of Faith is not just about the book itself but about the context surrounding cricket in Zimbabwe, addressing a lot of the questions I had about the Zimbabwe cricket system and what happened behind the scenes.
Being an avid cricket supporter especially the Zimbabwe cricket team, I have been on a roller coaster ride of emotions over the years and we patriotically supported our team, which at times had massive talent and glimpses of true promise as a cricketing nation. But for every three steps forward, we took three steps back. In the process, we lost players from the system. We always seem to be rebuilding. We had people in their early 30s described as “they are learning” until they eventually went away. No one ever retired on their own terms, and some just didn’t retire officially until they were just forgotten. What always perplexed me was the deafening silence of the players on serious injustices under some questionable work conditions. I couldn’t understand how such professionals were treated like trash, treated like children and take it all in and never stand up.
I remember a time when ZC actually had a printed magazine called Powerplay I remember a friend of mine doing the shoot for one of the issues with Taibu as the cover. The players had cars from Croco Motors and everyone wanted to be a cricketer. We called these guys peacocks because they seemed very arrogant and aloof. But over a decade it all fell apart and through these years I had hoped that one of the players would come out and write a book that would make sense of all the stuff that happened behind the scenes. There was a lot said off the record, info we heard about the shenanigans at ZC, but nothing ever official.
So when Taibu announced that he was writing a book I was really excited about it. When he was appointed as convenor of selectors – an odd move as he was to be based in the UK (Kudo’s to him for negotiating such a deal for himself!) – I remember joking with some mates that Taibu had only gone back to ZC so he could write a final chapter in his biography. I have always wanted to hear the nitty-gritty of ZC and always hoped that a player would write a book one day. To give us an insiders perspective of the running of ZC.
When the announcement of the book came ‘all the pieces fell into place’. For me I thought, there is no-one better to tell the ZC story than Taibu. I looked forward to reading it and got it a few months after it came out. I was also going to order Henry Olonga’s book (Blood, Sweat and Treason: My Story) but had to drop it from my cart after the delivery times were beyond the timelines of the person who was coming with the books.
The biography was written by Taibu in collaboration with Jack Gordon Brown. Throughout the book, I can see Taibu speaking and the language sounds like what Taibu would say. I even noticed some words spelt the way they are spoken. I liked that authenticity whether intentional or not. Writing his own biography he determined exactly what he wants to focus on and what he wants to leave out. Andy Flower wrote the foreword and the afterword by Stewart Matsikinyire. One of my favourite cricket documentaries is the one on Stuart Matsikinyire
There is an account of Taibu’s upbringing, his relationship with his father, mother and his siblings, but he doesn’t go into much detail and doesn’t dwell much on it. I got the sense that he doesn’t have a very good relationship with his brothers, only his one sister.
His early years detail how he was introduced to cricket, though he was an avid soccer fan. Having grown up in the ghetto I can relate to a lot of what Taibu went through growing up in the hood, and I raced through these sections.
An account of a trip he went on to Helenic for a match struck a chord with me. Despite being mesmerised by kids having their own kit and the vast green fields, he made an observation of how unorganised they were. They didn’t know where in the line up they were batting. That’s what gave their school the most confidence because they were much more organised and disciplined. It reminded me once after playing against Churchill and we sat chatting with the boys and they said the whole of Thursday afternoon they were practising the square cut!
I envied that level of organisation and intensity towards a cricket practice, just as I envied the likes of Genius Chidzikwe who played tennis all year round and nothing but tennis and we were expected to compete against such when we only played tennis once a week on a Friday afternoon! Such was the effectiveness of that ZC programme, even our coach who played for ENG U19 at some point, was so impressed with Alistair Maregwede’s strokeplay and technique.
Fast forward when Taibu was in high school at Churchill, he mentions a game where him and Stuart batted and each posted a century. Coincidently I was there that day. At lunch, our youngsters were being punished by two openers who they just couldn’t get out! It was Stuart and Taibu! It was against Hillcrest. And I remember watching them bat before they came out to lunch. They were impressive. Little did we know we were looking at Zimbabwe’s youngest captain.
As he discusses the tours they went on as schoolboys to South Africa and the results they achieved, a sad pattern was highlighted, how schoolboy cricket was competitive but immediately after high school it died out, and people dropped it. Many talented players leave the game. When that U19 team that beat Australia at the World Cup, ZC thought they no longer needed the players who were causing trouble. ZC took these boys and ignored a whole first-class system.
They basically destroyed these boys lives and careers as they just were out of depth from the word go and struggled to recover throughout their careers. Never reaching their full potential of which many could have become top world-class players. We would only see glimpses of this class at periods far and between. The players in their naivety and eagerness to represent their country also shot themselves in the foot.
Enter Mangongo! I was interested to see how Taibu would present Mangongo. I found his dealing with Mangongo to be endearing and full of respect. Despite acknowledging his unorthodox approach some of it which was clearly abuse, I still see him appreciate the positive effect it had on him, especially during the school days. He doesn’t delve much deeper about him as the coach of the national team. I still have a soft spot for Mangongo and this account by Taibu made my respect for him even deeper. Regardless of how people may view him and his tactics he still has a solid place in the history of Black cricket in Zimbabwe.
When Taibu and Stewy made it into the Zim Schools team they were batting at 7 and 8. Despite the fact that they made the team from opening positions. What a future we had with these two prodigies coming in at 7 and 8. Not so. This was just a clear sign of the lack of meritocracy in the cricket set up in Zim from schoolboy level. They couldn’t ignore the talent and were eventually promoted to open and 3 respectively.
I had a similar issue when I played at the Casuals festival in Mutare. As an opener for my school, I was put at 8, preceded by boys from Falcon, Peterhouse and George’s who were inferior openers than I was. But the rotational system of the festival ensured that since I wasn’t out in the first game I got to open. I carried the bat in three innings on the trot and we won all three, only to be dismissed in the Casuals vs Stragglers final match. I first picked up this anomaly in grade 7 when a boy made the provincial team because his father donated the kit. How could he be left behind?
Taibu also narrates the conditions under which he made it into the national team. There were camps about whether he should play or not. But the person I actually felt the worst for was Donald Campbell who was supposed to make his debut and he never did and was never heard of again. Taibu details his exploits with the national team, the change room, and how he was basically an outcast of sorts because he was not a reveller like the other players. He basically dropped a bombshell without naming anyone that on these tours guys got up to no good with the local girls and any wives reading this book will certainly have some doubts and concerns.
That was a side I never heard much about from the players I had talked to. But he felt it affected many a game. Taibu talks about sledging and how it affected him, he quotes some of his favourite sledges and how he also started doing it but then was reprimanded by one of his coaches who encouraged him to speak with the bat.
Based on what he discusses about the games they played, of which some they came agonisingly close to winning, but did the proverbial “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory”, it’s clear that there really wasn’t much difference between the teams of old and the current teams. They were mediocre mostly and I can argue the current crop of players are much more talented than the previous bunch.
The culture of mediocrity continued and we always lacked a certain hunger and Taibu points to that in a way. One such game he mentions, I remember we came from church and heard the score was 115/5 and we naturally assumed it was Zim failing as usually. The joy we felt when we walked into Harare Sports Club to find we had New Zealand 115/5! But we seemed to bring all the bad luck as NZ went on to score a massive 400 runs on the first day!
I was touched by Taibu’s concern for his fellow mates, though I wonder how many have bought this book and know what’s written in it. He mentored and helped fellow players even beyond what was required or expected of him. And some of the stands he made were out of a desire to see that his teammates are taken care of. One incident that touched me was when he approached Vusi who had quit cricket. Vusi had quit cricket before his international debut cos of admin squabbles with the Takashinga admin.
Taibu talked to him and encouraged him to approach the board and even helped him write a letter. We would never have seen Vusi! But I always got the sense watching Vusi, that he didn’t truly believe in his own talent and ability. But I am glad he had that chat and he came back to show us just how talented he was. He is still not surpassed in terms of the players I enjoyed watching.
Race dynamics will sadly always be a feature of Zimbabwe Cricket, at least for a while to come, in fact so long as ZANU is still there. Andy needed a black protestor to add weight, Heath needed the same in Taibu and he goes on to tell us just how he felt about being called the night before the protest for his endorsement. He refused to be party to it and he explains why. We then saw it play out with the players union which died a stillbirth in 2019 as black players once again seemed to only come on board to rubber-stamp decisions and add colour. There is a lot of suspicion of motives and things which could have helped the players were shot down because of bad timing and bad handling.
Taibu also discusses how he met his wife Loveness and his obvious love for her. She features a lot and was a guiding voice for him though his stubbornness comes through well. She went through a lot with him and she is definitely his pillar of strength.
In his fight with the board, one thing has always been clear even before him with the Rebel players. Zimbabwe Cricket players have never been valued by the board, and that has been consistent throughout all eras under ZC. Taibu stood up for the players when it was not in his best interest to do so. He could have easily accepted the many carrots that were dangled in front of him. And after reading this book I can look at the past captains, some of the coaches, admin and journey and see that they were clearly bought. Something that seemed to hurt Taibu deeply especially when he was betrayed by players who said they would stick by him. That’s why the players have always been treated so badly, because they were not united.
What I found really sad was the bullying role that our Government played in the whole saga to intimidate Taibu. It’s embarrassing the levels that ZANU PF can go. Threats of violence attempted abductions by a late vice president!! That shocked me! He goes into detail about how it affected his wife and finally leading to their departure from Zimbabwe. After standing against ZANU it also shows the modus operandi of ZANU and anyone who stands up against them.
Taibu was lucky to escape with his life. Some have not been so lucky. During the black armband, he stated that he didn’t agree with it because he felt politics and sports don’t mix. By the end of the book, there was no doubt about his thoughts on the subject. It got so bad that he was making plans to challenge Boucher for the SA wicket keeping job. A plan that was derailed by the then CEO of cricket South Africa when he alerted Ozias Bvute of the plan.
Ozias Bvute felt that it was because of Taibu that he spent a night in jail and he would never forgive him and their enmity would feature in the battles against Taibu and the board. But along the way, Ozias offered to cover the video aspect of Taibu’s wedding. But even after that, the two would not see eye to eye. Taibu was convinced that Ozias Bvute was a bully at school, but I can vouch for Ozias on this one. Ozias was not a bully at school at all. Nice person, a clown character of sorts, so when I started reading stories about ZC I had to go and Google to make sure this was the same person. What I found online was a chubby guy. Ozias was tall and lanky back then. But it definitely was him. I didn’t know how he became such a tyrant.
After all, that happened the true shocker came when Taibu left everything and decided to follow God. He would travel to Bulawayo for a church service. I feared this was a bit cultish and worried about him when I first heard it. And to find out in the book he was following the teachings of William Branham was also a point of concern. But what I admired was he was seeking God! And his journey through his faith was interesting as he grappled with his faith and his current position in life. He went to apologise to his teammates and especially his reconciliation with Robin Brown was touching, a man he didn’t see eye to eye with to the point that he was not speaking to him at all! Honourable stuff! I understand why Taibu was able to leave the game and walk away from it.
Taibu’s account made me sad, angry, laugh, and think, he certainly seemed like an arrogant person but I understand why he would be viewed this way. As I expected it was no holds barred. Throughout the book, I picked up a certain complex that Taibu suffers from but it’s something I will keep to myself and let someone else raise when they read it. I don’t see any more books coming from Zim players because most did not make the type of stands Taibu did and most were highly compromised. I would still like to hear their perspectives in their books too, to understand why they took those routes and what they feel about them now.
Taibu was very frank and honest in the majority of the book and I can see how he may have rubbed people the wrong way through a strong conviction in what he believed, a fearless passion and to some extent his innocent naivety. The book was a roller coaster of emotions for me as I lived through his experiences, from joy, to love, to anger, to vulnerable. He would break down and cry in the toilet and then come outputting on a brave face. To a certain extent, I think Taibu had been robbed of a normal childhood due to circumstances not entirely within his control.
I applaud the great stands he made against the regime and against Zimbabwe Cricket. My view of the ICC went down a couple of notches to about a rating of 15% after hearing their attitude when they had a meeting Taibu with some even sleeping, they were not interested and just part of the system. Together with the ICC, it’s clear that the players face an uphill struggle against ZC. That’s why ZC have always been so arrogant in dealing with the players. It’s understandable why some of the players chose to rather play the game than stand up and fight as Taibu did.
Through this book I have also come to an acceptance that the people who killed cricket in Zimbabwe will never be held to account for it mainly because there will be no real evidence or people to testify. With all that Taibu did, ZANU and ZC scared anyone else to stand, by targeting the strongest most vocal person and shutting him down. Greats like, Streak, Campbell, Whittal, Taylor etc will not be putting out books. I doubt even Kirsty Coventary will put out a book, but It would be interesting. I also read Alan Butcher’s book “The Good Murungu” and I enjoyed it and without getting deep into the politics of ZC he was still able to shed light on some of the shenanigans at ZC.
There seemed to be more glaring grammatical errors towards the end of the book which I could not ignore. But I enjoyed the account and that wasn’t a problem for me as I didn’t pick it up expecting a literary masterpiece. There is no detail into Taibu’s cricket stats. As much as I would have expected stats I realise too that this was Tatenda’s perspective on life now and he didn’t want any focus to be on his stats and playing history. He wanted to focus more on what went on around the cricket.
Over the years it had been difficult supporting the team and at times when I had almost given up I would hear inside details about the player’s condition and I would feel for them. At times I would be angry at them for letting things slide to such a state and wondered why they couldn’t just stand. But my passion had taken a beating and I was no longer as avid as I was cos I had invested a lot emotionally and it took a lot out of me. Keeper of Faith was what I needed to get closure and finally allow myself to let go of ZC and just become a pedestrian supporter. Thank you Tatenda Taibu for putting your heart into print.
Where to buy
Keeper of Faith by Tatenda Taibu –
Blood, Sweat and Treason: My Story by Henry Olonga
The Good Murungu by Alan Butcher