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    Quest for Belonging: The Arduous Journey of a Zimbabwean Athlete in South Africa

    Givemore Mudzinganyama's Struggle for Opportunities and Identity in a Foreign Land

    Harare, Zimbabwe – From the depths of a childhood spent in the outskirts of Harare, Zimbabwe, where his eldest sibling worked in Chikurubi’s correctional facility, Givemore Mudzinganyama emerged as a runner. This indomitable spirit fueled his journey of seeking opportunities and a sense of belonging amidst the challenges faced in South Africa.

    Mudzinganyama’s affinity for running began during his formative years. Every day, he embarked on a 5km (3.1 miles) run to reach school, located in one of Harare’s neighboring districts. As he grew older, his passion blossomed, and he started competing in races, even during his time in primary school.

    In 2005, a turning point arrived when he earned a scholarship to Churchill Boys High School. This renowned institution in Harare boasts illustrious alumni such as the South African rugby sensation Tendai “Beast” Mundawarara, and former Zimbabwean cricketers Tatenda Taibu and Vusi Sibanda. It was during this time that Mudzinganyama’s aspirations of becoming a world-class runner took hold.

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    “I became more determined when I witnessed others receiving scholarships to American colleges for athletics,” Mudzinganyama, now 32, revealed in an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera.

    Hope flickered when he received a scholarship offer from one of the three American colleges he had applied to. However, the constraints of his financial resources abruptly shattered his American dream as he couldn’t afford the flight ticket. Regrettably, the local athletic scene in Zimbabwe was poorly organized, offering meager prize money for races. To this day, the country lacks adequate training facilities and sports infrastructure.

    Al Jazeera spoke with Cliff Chinnasamy, a respected South African coach based in Durban who has worked extensively with top Zimbabwean long-distance runners, including Collen Makaza and Steven Muzhingi, since 2000. Chinnasamy shed light on the circumstances that propel athletes to seek opportunities elsewhere, saying, “Athletes receive no more than $1,000 for winning a marathon in Zimbabwe, so athletes tend to go to countries where they feel they can win and relocate. For example, the Lagos marathon pays $50,000 to winning athletes.”

    Nevertheless, Mudzinganyama’s determination to pursue his passion and make a living from it remained unyielding.

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    “As I grew older, my desire to reach the level of greatness I witnessed on television intensified,” he expressed to Al Jazeera. “Back then, I couldn’t foresee where it would take me; it was purely my passion that propelled me forward.”

    With neither a degree nor a clear path to his goal, Mudzinganyama made the life-altering decision to move to South Africa in March 2009. His brother, who had resigned from his position as a prison warden, had already relocated to Cape Town and extended an invitation to him.

    Seasons of Migration: Zimbabweans’ Quest for a Better Life

    Since the turn of the millennium, Zimbabwe’s economy has frequently encountered setbacks. In 2009, hyperinflation forced the country to adopt multiple currencies, including the US dollar, as a replacement for its own unstable currency.

    Unemployment soared, leading to a significant rise in migration.

    Over the past two decades, an estimated two million Zimbabweans have migrated to neighboring South Africa, the continent’s most industrialized nation, in search of a brighter future. Additionally, approximately one million people have emigrated from Zimbabwe to countries outside of Africa due to the economic collapse.

    South Africa, as the region’s economic powerhouse, remains a favored destination for migrants across the region and the continent. Botswana, located to the east of Zimbabwe, is another popular choice. The Africa Center for Strategic Studies estimates that around 21 million documented Africans reside in a different African country, with Nigeria, South Africa, and Egypt being the primary destinations. These cities boast relative economic dynamism, attracting significant intra-African migration.

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    By comparison, approximately 11 million African migrants reside in Europe, nearly five million in the Middle East, and approximately three million in North America.

    Given the limited opportunities in Zimbabwe, stakeholders in the sports industry predict that more young Zimbabweans will seek greener pastures in the future.

    “I do not believe Zimbabwe will ever have the necessary facilities to retain athletes,” states Ken Hamden, a Zimbabwean Olympian in hurdles, now based in the United States. “Athletes are leaving in search of better training conditions, coaching, education, and opportunities. Currently, Zimbabwe offers little to none of these essentials required for world-class athletes. They require top-tier treatment, strength coaching, and mental coaching,” Hamden emphasizes in an interview with Media.

    In the quest for his dreams, Givemore Mudzinganyama embodies the struggles and triumphs faced by countless athletes seeking a place to call home. His unwavering spirit serves as a testament to the resilience and determination that drive individuals to overcome obstacles and carve their path toward greatness.

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