Rebranding a nation

In many ways, David Coltart is an unlikely hero. He’s certainly a reluctant one. All he does, he will tell you, is stick up for people who can’t stick up for themselves. That’s why he’s been a human rights lawyer for 30 years with a track record that shows, with graphic clarity, that he fights for human rights, not human rights which are influenced by politics, race or privilege.

It hasn’t always been a comfortable journey for the man who was a founder-member of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) just over a decade ago. Imprisonment without charge and various other examples of unpleasantness and victimisation have made life uncomfortable, to say the least.

But when a man has principles and a sense of conviction in what is right and wrong, and they are as strong as Coltart’s, they are not just difficult to compromise. They are unbreakable. That is just one of the reasons he is a hero to so many Zimbabweans.

Can a minister in any government, in any country, ever have had more on his desk than Coltart? Unlikely. He has no less than three portfolios and, although he is passionate about sport, the majority of his time has, rightly, been devoted to Education. An army may march on its stomach but a nation only progresses with its head.

Coltart also oversees the ministry of Arts and Culture but, this week at least, his attention has been very much focussed on sport and the power it has to unite a country which he reminds everybody has endured a decade of political turmoil and economic hardship.

He was at Queen’s Sports Club in Bulawayo on Friday to witness Zimbabwe’s brilliant run chase and ultimately comfortable victory against India and was first into the change room after the players to deliver a rousing, impromptu speech of congratulation: “You have made the whole country proud with your efforts today,” he said, “and you deserve to celebrate. Never forget the power that you have, as sportsmen, to unite the people of our country with your efforts and successes.”

Before the triangular tournament began, Coltart spoke at a reception attended by all three teams: “We are in the process of rebuilding our country and restoring its once proud reputation as the ‘Jewel of Africa’. The last ten years have seen Zimbabwe labelled with a lot of negatives, and sometimes understandably so. But it is our duty and intention to rebrand this beautiful country and change international perceptions about us.”

Coltart will travel to New Zealand later this week to make another presentation to the government of that country following its refusal to sanction the cricket team’s scheduled tour to Zimbabwe earlier this year.

“They have agreed to meet me and hear what I have to say,” Coltart said. “We can’t hope to change perceptions and opinions overnight but I’m hopeful that this is another step along the way to doing that. As I have said on several occasions, shunning us is simply a wasted opportunity to help us facilitate change.”

It will take a long time for opinions to change – but for some influential people in the world, it may be too late. Minds may stay closed and never open. It depends on how strong the desire is to pursue the impossible dream that sport can exist outside politics. Just because it is an impossible dream, it doesn’t mean to say it should be abandoned because sporting autonomy is the right thing.

Coltart has always believed in doing the right thing and, in his own quiet but determined way, he can be very persuasive.

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