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Mashumba Mukumba: Zimbabwe, COVID, ZEST & Squash

Mashumba Mukumba provides certificate
Mashumba Mukumba provides a certificate (Source: Supplied)

Zushan Hashmi: When one thinks of Zimbabwean sport, cricket and football come to mind. Can you tell me a little bit about the history of squash in the country?

Mashumba Mukumba: Zimbabwean Squash was very strong in the ’80s and mid-’90s. The other half of the 90’s Squash gradually began to die out.

During the early days, our players were participating in different tournaments that included Masters, World Championships, All Africa Squash Championships and Junior World Championships, these tournaments were for men, women, boys and girls.

After 2000 there were a few player taking part in some of these tournaments due to budgetary constraints and the players weren’t good enough to play and some had no idea whether those tournaments exist or not?

Squash has been on a decline and now we are trying our best to get it back.

However, the issue of budgetary constraints, a lack of qualified coaches, low wages paid to coaches in schools and clubs are quite problematic. No incentives exist either to lure juniors to the sport, who can potentially be future champions.

Squash has been regarded as an elite sport that is only played in Group A schools and in private clubs where the poorer people cannot enter, or be given an opportunity to try out, even if they are talented.

The teams that we send on tour do not go on merit either, but who can afford it?

I formed the Zimbabwe Education Squash Trust (ZEST) in 2009. It is fueling the development of squash and helping promote the sport to young men and women in Zimbabwe.

ZEST is recruiting youth that will be future stars who are like rough diamonds waiting to be polished to shine for the rest of their humanity.

ZEST has been a life-changer for the youth through its squash and Educational help programs. There are several young players who came out of ZEST and are in college due to the game, some have graduated and some have decent jobs too, therefore, the game has provided them with their livelihoods.

Read: Simply Squash: mentorship and education for women with Maya Mibenge

Are there a lot of squash courts/facilities in Zimbabwe?

We have over 200 squash courts and one-third of the squash courts are in use. Most squash courts in schools are underutilised because most of the authorities have no idea about squash. Some will be used as storage and some for raising chickens.

Some are locked up and the floors are full of rubbish and the rooves are leaking. Some can be used as dumping area, especially with boarding schools.

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In some areas, they use them as gym, church service, karate classes, aerobics training, housing for some people etc. No one is willing to repair the courts especially the cost of the floor but the wall and lighting are a bit cheaper.

Broken squash court in Zimbabwe with rubbish all over it
A damaged squash court in Zimbabwe (Source: Supplied)

And how did you get involved in the sport?

I used to work at my club as a court attendant and that’s when I was encouraged into playing and coaching.

Only a few people know the game and play it here. It’s not like it was in the past where people used to get club membership, pay court fees, leagues were paid for by the employer, and some players were sponsored before the economical crunch.

Squash is expensive to play here and you either play it from school or you have someone paying for your fees. People can’t afford to pay for membership or lessons.

I did not earn any income for 8 months of the year in 2020 and as a coach, I was not only looking at feeding my family but there are other responsibilities too such as school fees, and bills that need to be paid. It was very tough and that has been my experience.

What has it been like coaching and playing the game there?

Squash coaching has never been cheap because of the costs involved, especially to someone who is poor.

The cost of rackets, shoes, racket restringing, court fees, maintaining your diet, gym training and transport is beyond reach. Coaching, the problem with it is regardless of where you are coaching they just pay peanut, either it’s a private school, government school is worse, club, cooperates and individuals same thing.

I charge what I deserve to be paid but no one is willing to pay. Squash is an elite sport. There are lots of potential players but we can not accomplish anything because the player might not complete the training or might not be able to travel and play due to financial constraints.

With COVID-19 and no squash opportunities, I would imagine it has been quite challenging on your end. If so, how?

Covid-19 has affected the sport big time because as full-time coaches we only earn money after coaching or playing. We exhausted all the savings and times were very tough.

I did not earn any income for 8 months of the year in 2020 and as a coach, I was not only looking at feeding my family but there are other responsibilities too such as school fees, and bills that need to be paid. It was very tough and that has been my experience.

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Kuzivakwashe Madungwe
Kuzivakwashe Madungwe (A student of Mashumba Mukumba).

How are you biding your time currently, with no opportunity to coach the game?

Currently, with the lockdown and courts closed, I had been doing some physical fitness training just to keep in shape.

I also end up engaging with parents, so I visit their homes and train their kids since the situation is not too bad for now.

I have applied for a coaching job in the US and I had been getting a good response from there, but the challenge has been acquiring a work visa.

Most employers need someone with a work visa. I am very experienced and have coached different levels and abilities but unfortunately people overseas often do not know how serious we are about the game. 

With Dr Lucky Mlilo becoming the president of the Squash Federation of Africa things will change for the good [in Africa] because we will use his connections to bring out the best we can in squash growth.

And how has this impacted you and your wellbeing?

This has affected me in a very big way and I am trying my best to be more prepared and set all things right. If I can get a job overseas, it’ll be great for me as it pays much better than here and at least I can invest in some projects that will help sustain my income.

The situation has also affected my health, I used to play squash every day and because of that, I had developed some sickness too and ended up hospitalised.

My bills have been paid by former students and friends. It has given me mental strength and but it has also provided me with an alternative outlook on life.

Mashumba Mukumba and kids
Mashumba Mukumba poses withs kids who received small parcels of COVID relief from a squash player

With Lucky Mlilo, a fellow Zimbabwean, becoming president of the African Squash Federation, do you think this can bring about a positive change in the game there?

With Dr Lucky Mlilo becoming the president of the Squash Federation of Africa things will change for the good because we will use his connections to bring out the best we can in squash growth.

He is well connected as well.

Read: Nadine Shahin: Egypt’s new squash star

What are you working towards in the future?

I am working towards reviving Zimbabwean squash and trying to grow the game beyond the region to participate in big tournaments like the early days, where we can send junior and senior teams to regional and international tours.

I also want to raise squash awareness, renovate existing squash courts and construct more squash courts, be it open-air, standard and elite centre.


You can follow Mashumba Mukumba on Linkedin
For more Squash related content, visit Sportageous.

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