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Breakfast with Frost
Henry Olonga
We didn't want the leadership of Zimbabwe to exploit the World Cup
Interview with Henry Olonga, former Zimbabwe cricketer May 4th, 2003

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: Well earlier this year, a huge row erupted over whether the England cricket team - you'll doubtless remember this - should play Zimbabwe in the World Cup in Zimbabwe. The controversy was fuelled when one of Zimbabwe's star players, well there were two because there was Andy Flowers as well, but the fast bowler was Henry Olonga, who was the first black cricketer to represent his country at international, took to the field wearing a black armband. A protest, he said, at the death of democracy in his country under the regime of Robert Mugabe. His action led to him being dropped from the team and he has now left the country, perhaps believing he is safer abroad. The Zimbabwe national cricket team have just arrived in the UK, they're due to play a Test and a series of one day games against England over the summer, though the controversy over whether England should play against Zimbabwe continues. Henry Olonga is in the UK, but he remains excluded from his own national team. Henry, good morning.

HENRY OLONGA: Good morning David.

DAVID FROST: That was a, a protest that, which the two of you in fact made, that really the world admired so much. You just decided what? That you couldn't remain silent, as it where?

HENRY OLONGA: I can't remember the exact wording of our statement but in essence what we were trying to get across was the fact that there are a lot of human rights abuses that have occurred in Zimbabwe - many stories that are too horrific to even record - and no one was hearing about this. Obviously everyone was hearing about all the other issues that are prevalent in the world at this time but no one was hearing these stories, and, and obviously with the World Cup coming up, we didn't want, one of the reasons we didn't want the leadership of Zimbabwe to exploit the World Cup and try to show a picture that wasn't true.

DAVID FROST: And in fact when you made that protest, reaction from the government, or the authorities, was swift, and there were stories about that the secret police or whatever were after you and so on, did you experience that, did you experience a threat - either perceived or actually stated threat to your safety?

HENRY OLONGA: I did receive threats via emails. I was warned that a particularly prominent minister had been quoted as saying that I thought I was very clever and that after the World Cup they were going to sort me out. With regards to the secret police, that was a story that I never perpetuated, that didn't come from me, however there were police in East London that came from Zimbabwe, on the invitation of the South African police, as far as I have been informed. So there were police, but whether they were secret police and they had an agenda that was ...

DAVID FROST: Where they - do you think they were trying to get you back to Zimbabwe in order to put you in jail?

HENRY OLONGA: That's open to speculation - I'm not going to try and speculate as to whether they had ulterior motives.

DAVID FROST: But you came here, one of the reasons you came here was you felt you'd be safer here?

HENRY OLONGA: That's possibly one of the reasons, the other reason of course was the fact that I had opportunities open up for me here, due to the kindness of David Fold who is the chairman of Lashings Cricket Club, and many efforts of many good people in England who made the path smooth for me to come, I finally got here and obviously I'm going to play cricket and I have the opportunity to do some commentary with Channel 4 and the BBC so I am excited about that.

DAVID FROST: So you'll do that and you'll play for Lashings CC as well. Would you, I mean obviously most of the county clubs have got their allowed quota of overseas players but would you see yourself going on to play county cricket here as well.

HENRY OLONGA: It's very possible but at the moment I, I've had a long term injury, I tore some cartilage early in the season and until I've had that looked at and dealt with properly, I don't think I'll be able to play competitively for any length of time.

DAVID FROST: What do you feel, you must have mixed feelings about this tour, this current tour?

HENRY OLONGA: It, I've been oscillating between two views. One of the views of course is the fact that the tour should go ahead for cricketing reasons and I think that most of the people who love the Zimbabwe cricket team - because they are a popular side - will agree with that. The tour ought to go ahead, people want to watch cricket and cricket must be the winner is a cliché that people always use. On the other hand, of course, there is a moral dilemma, should the Zimbabweans be allowed to tour in principle. And, to that effect I'd probably say well the biggest part of me thinks that they shouldn't come here, however the tour going ahead allows many protest groups and pressure groups that don't agree with what's happening in Zimbabwe to be heard. They certainly don't have the voice back home in Zimbabwe because freedom of speech isn't as highly regarded as it is here.

DAVID FROST: Yes.

HENRY OLONGA: So I'd like to believe that the tour should go ahead for that reason as well.

DAVID FROST: What more could Britain do about, about Zimbabwe? There is a story that - in the papers today - that you were advocating perhaps military action, is that your view? Should we do more?

HENRY OLONGA: Well, well that's what I said. I said - I - I believe that more can be done. I challenge anyone to prove that I said that Tony Blair should invade Zimbabwe, I didn't actually say that. But what I did say, and I'll stress it again, is the fact that there are ways of putting pressure on this regime that need not be military intervention, and the, one of the arguments that was used to go into Iraq was the fact that the people of Iraq were suffering. I know the biggest argument, of course, and the bulk of the argument, was that they harboured weapons of mass destruction but the other, the flip side of that coin was, and I know this argument was bandied around in trying to convince a lot of people, especially a lot of English people, was the fact that the people of Iraq needed to be liberated from a very oppressive regime under the dictatorial leadership of Saddam Hussein. And it's a valid argument I thought. And if that was happening in Iraq, well the same things are happening in Zimbabwe. So whatever it would take.

DAVID FROST: Well thank you for being here, we wish you well. We admire what you did to stand up to this and we hope your cricket career, albeit not in Zimbabwe, prospers

HENRY OLONGA: Thank you very much sir.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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