Zimbabwean politics has a lot of balls – soccer balls, to be exact.
This week, the government-owned Herald newspaper featured a crude cartoon showing how Robert Mugabe kicked Morgan Tsvangirai’s butt at the polls, using soccer as an analogy.
The cartoon showed Mugabe kicking a scorching penalty past a goalpost manned by a hapless Tsvangirai. “The ball is through the net” was also a popular chant with Zanu-PF supporters right after voting took place.
Soccer didn’t just feature on the pages of newspapers: It was big on the streets, too.
On Thursday morning, Zanu-PF supporters – clad in colourful soccer kits – stormed a field in Mbare outside Harare to prematurely celebrate their party’s victory against Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T.
One told City Press that the party uses the scoring of a goal as its unofficial symbol and emblem.
And Tsvangirai’s party isn’t immune to using the beautiful game in its campaign either.
Last Monday on the campaign trail, Tsvangirai himself kicked a number of balls into the air, almost causing a stampede as supporters tried to get their hands on one.
In South African politics, the soccer imagery is mostly associated with one party – the ANC – and then only in its internal battles. Here, it’s gestures rather than balls that loom large.
ANC supporters enjoy lifting their hands to the sky and rolling them, signalling that they want a candidate substituted.
This symbol is widely used by soccer fans when they want a poorly performing player to be replaced mid-game.
Last year, ahead of the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung, those backing President Jacob Zuma popularised the lifting of the index and middle fingers together to symbolise a second term.
The same gesture is also widely recognised as a symbol for Kaizer Chiefs.
Soccer and politics have a lot in common. Left unchecked, both can lead to disastrous and unprecedented tragedies.
In soccer, think of the 2001 Ellis Park tragedy where 43 people were killed in a stampede during a match between Soweto rivals Orlando Pirates and Chiefs.
In politics, the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which more than 800 000 people perished in political violence comes to mind.
The relationship between the two can go much deeper, with politicians actually owning soccer teams: Controversial former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi owns Italian giants AC Milan,
The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s TP Mazembe is owned by influential Congolese politician Moise Katumbi Chapwe.
English giants Manchester City are owned by United Arab Emirates Deputy Prime Minister Sheik Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Some former football players have actually gone as far as using their popularity to launch careers in politics. Ukranian star Andriy Shevchenko is one such example.
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