Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Walter Mzembi (WM) this week opened the nation to debate after suggesting that Zimbabwe should bid to host the 2034 World Cup.
Although the Zimbabwe national team – The warriors – have never made it to the World Cup, theMinister insists, there is no problem in dreaming big and that with the right attitude and willpower Zimbabwe can host the event. Journalist Isdore Guvamombe (IG) talks to the Minister about the issue.
IG: On Tuesday the nation heard you announce that Zimbabwe should in fact, host the World Cup in 2034 when it will become Africa’s next chance. Some asked what you have been smoking?
W M: (laughs…). The best man is the man who plants a tree under whose shed he might never sit. By 2034 I will be 70 years old myself and will certainly not be the Minister of Tourism but that vision I am planting today will benefit generations to come.
In fact, half the players that will represent Zimbabwe in that World Cup are not yet born or are being born. Others are still crawling. All these huge trees under whose shed you sit today were planted by someone, who is long gone. Some visionary planted the trees!
IG: There are people who think you are getting excited and ambitious after President Mugabe pronounced you the best Minister and you are now using the Soccer World Cup to position yourself politically. Your thoughts?
WM: No, no, no! In fact, you know I am like a child, I am a Minister yes but I equally could also pass for President Mugabe’s child demographically, and I have said it again and again that it is a favour upon me and those of my generation who have been lucky to be chosen to serve under a founding father.
That is a favour that cannot be enjoyed by many, so this is an anointing to be favoured to that extent. If you have been favoured to that extent you should know that you carry the responsibility of other generations to come and don’t fail them. So if you are praised it means your bar has been set. At this level where you can no longer go below that reset bar, you must do better and higher than where you were praised.
And, so it should not surprise anybody if we dream big and bigger as long if we do it in pursuit of the happiness of the people’s prosperity and in pursuit of the President’s corporate vision.
So be it! So the World Cup is a vision but it is not to do with positioning yourself politically because this is a very big vision which resonates well with the general populace and you deliberately choose soccer because people like their soccer.
IG: But honestly Minister, do you believe yourself about the 2034 World Cup?
WM: Oh yes! Very, very, serious! It is a vision I am planting and it will grow to fruition, everyone concerned, willing. This is a legacy project. It is about historical legacy. The Harare International Conference Centre you see today is a legacy building. If it was not for that huge international summit, it would not have been built.
IG: So what prompted the announcement?
WM: What prompted me to express myself in World Cup 2034 vision is a visit by Chief Mutoko. He came here to congratulate this minister on rebranding the country successfully through three events. He cited firstly the successful hosting of the UNWTO, secondly the Harare International Carnival and thirdly the instalment on the country of the European Council of Trade and Tourism awards on Zimbabwe but his second message was an indication to that there is time to come out to rural areas and develop tourism and then there was Edward Sadomba, who wants to help us build a stadium for Victoria Falls to complement tourism.
IG: Let us go back the World Cup dream…
WM: Yes, the dream is there and the infrastructure is there. We can do regional hosting with Mozambique and Zambia, for example, and the stadiums are there, the hotels are there, the flights are all within two hours from Harare, so all we need to do is co-ordinate.
There is nothing difficult. Brazil is currently using six stadiums and how many do we have? Did we not spruce up our stadiums for South Africa 2010?
Of course, things changed thereafter but it had initially been a regional bid.
IG: So you learnt this from South Africa?
WM: Yes! So this dream, going forward, is inspired by what we should have done in 2010 because it was possible to spread the benefits as had originally been envisaged in this vision by the then president Thabo Mbeki.
But when there was change of guard in South Africa everything shifted from the regional vision to the more home vision and everyone in the region lost.
So we seek to reinstate that it’s possible on the back of the regional configuration to host the Soccer World Cup 2034 which will come 20 years from now and our optimism story is born out of little successes that we have achieved with the tourism sector just under five years to the extent were we have world designations.
It is also strengthened by similar achievements in different sectors for example the hosting of the UNWTO which we did against all advice and against the assessment of many who thought it would never happen. The resistance initially was even internal some staff members could not dream us pulling through. It came and happened in the fullness of the contradictions of the Inclusive Government. So I am saying if we are speaking as team Zanu-PF, we can refocus our vision to long term and host this edition of the soccer tournament.
IG: Minister 2034 is 20 years from now what does Zimbabwe need to do?
WM: The first is the brand Zimbabwe project there is only one pillar out of the brand matrix that has been successfully branded during the Inclusive Government and it is the tourism pillar. It’s not by coincidence that we appear to be the most visible sector. It is just a product of the branding work that we have done.
IG: But people argue that southern Africa hosted the 2010 and it should be the other parts of Africa, next time?
WM: I don’t think that precisely follows! It is the language of people that are defeatists. I think Brazil is hosting it for the umpteenth time even if you look at the Olympics it is the same countries that continued to host. We should believe and early birds catch the worm in any case it is not the excuse for Southern Africa in any event if you look at the peace and stability in Southern Africa, it lands itself to any bidding committee as a the natural choice for a world cup given the insecurities that normally accompany those kinds of gatherings.
I am sure you would not want to put it to north Africa at this stage nobody would look at it notwithstanding the fact that we are brothers but Southern Africa is a natural seller because of its peace and stability. Our infrastructure does not need much additional stadiums.
We can take stock of Fifa approved world cup standard stadiums and now we have five.
That can pass the test.
How many passed in Mozambique in 2010 that quick audit of the countries bordering Zimbabwe and you can put your bid very easily and you can actually believe what happened in SA when Jo’burg was the heartbeat of the 2010 World Cup but matches were played in areas 200 km outside Jo’burg. By similar logic Harare as the heartbeat, wherever your go in Mozambique or Zambia you would live within the two hours-travel threshold which is needed by Fifa. In terms of infrastructure we are not short whether from soccer stadia to accommodation and connectivity.
IG: But people are asking why the Ministry of Tourism and not the Ministry of Sport? Why Walter Mzembi and not Andrew Langa?
WM: Because I have that mandate under the Conventions Bureau so what we are simply doing, as a ministry, is planting an idea technically when it comes to issues of tackling it and compliance Minister Langa would be roped in and I have since spoken to him and said lets cast a 20 year vision for Zimbabwe and I don’t apologise for it because today when we sit under trees they were planted by others more than 100 years ago but whoever planted was not selfish. Like I said it is wisdom to plant a tree today whose shed you definitely know that you are not going to enjoy.
Q Have you started sharing this vision with colleagues in Government?
WM: Yes, with Minister Langa and one or two ministers but when you want something to be guaranteed and securitised, talk to the public first and allow them to debate, rubble rouse and interrogate. What I benefit from the public is superior from what I will get from Cabinet where there are politicians.
IG: Suppose your dream comes true, what will Zimbabwe benefit?
WM: It is in the inspiring of legacy projects if you look at SA today, from the day when they won that bid to host 2010 World Cup it was transformed overnight in 10 years the SA that you know now and that you knew before became a completely different picture so OR Thambo International airport today is almost like the capital city of one African country.
It is a product of World Cup 2010 the road network the stadia themselves are a product of the 2010 but more importantly it has never been the same after 2010. Their tourism earnings shot from 8 billion to 12 billion. It’s at 12 billion today the tangible brand value. The brand equity has grown up. Before the talk of World Cup, SA was all about crime and today its investment and brand perception is what we are still struggling to sort out in Zimbabwe.
IG: What is your last comment?
WM: You know we won the UNWTO bid when people said it cannot happen. We will continue to do projects that inspire our people to be more proudly Zimbabwean. If I do something that deflates the people’s ego I should not be where I am.
This is my advice to my colleagues, do not do projects that deflate people do something that takes them to the next level that gives them hope that tomorrow will be better.
My dream can be done.
Let us start living the dream. You must convince yourself that I can do it. The Herald