Through the darkness of poverty, a guy who changed his name from Ray to Kazembe after cheating death always saw a ray of hope.
How Kazembe Kazembe emerged from the shacks of his childhood while being raised by a father who repaired watches at a township for a living, to becoming Minister of Sport, Arts and Recreation is quite a story.
“Mine was a tough upbringing I tell you. I would sometimes survive on handouts from local elders. It’s a story you won’t understand until you visit the people who saw me grow up,” says Kazembe. To better understand his background, The Sunday Mail Sport made the 60km journey to Dandamera township in Concession where Kazembe’s name is now spoken of with respect some 40 years after the family was the subject of a mixture of pity and scorn.
“It was one of the poorest families in this area, it’s not a secret. Ray (Kazembe) grew up in dire circumstances. He grew up living in a shack, we used to call the area kuma T-section, short for tangwenas (shacks).
“His father used to repair watches at this township; there (pointing) at a verandah where the late Anarphy (Kazembe’s father) operated from,” recalls 73-year-old Stella Munjeri.
Now 48, a successful businessman and a Cabinet minister, Kazembe tells us how his name changed from Ray to Kazembe.
“I got sick and my father gave up on me, he thought I was going to die from this strange ailment. He surrendered me to a local woman who was well versed with traditional herbs and I stayed with her for almost two months.
“I was still a young boy, my mother had died and I had only my father to look up to. But he at that time had lost all hope.
“Miraculously, I survived, thanks to that woman who I remember was called Mai Rongotai. That prompted my father to change my first name to Kazembe, my grandfather’s name as a way of paying tribute.
“However, my friends continued calling me Ray even up to the days when I was Dynamos secretary but I was Kazembe Kazembe from the 1980s.”
The name might have changed but poverty still stalked Kazembe and he needed a breakthrough.
Frank Guvambure (49), Kazembe’s childhood friend, tells us how that breakthrough came.
“Academics changed his life. Kazembe was one of the brightest students in this area. He was so sharp that he took first position throughout his primary school education (at Dandamera). We are not surprised that he went on to become a businessman and a Government minister.”
As he nears 100 days in office, the Sports Minister says his tough upbringing spurs him on.
“It is because of my poor background that I am driven to make sure that all those poor children out there have access to sporting facilities and opportunities. It’s part of the ministry’s 100-day programme and we are on track,” says Kazembe.
“It’s not like everything will be accomplished in 100 days, no. We have milestones that lead to the long-term objectives and I believe we are on track. Areas of focus include creating a link between grassroots and national sport, and introducing community-based clubs for all sports in our quest to achieve mass participation in sport.”
It’s been a hard grind for Kazembe, whose political career was very nearly cut short by a factional purge in the ruling Zanu-PF party last year.
It seems the hardships of his early years stalked him into politics, as a clique that surrounded former President Robert Mugabe came within inches of claiming his scalp in late 2017.
Instead, that faction dramatically collapsed and rather than being fired, Kazembe was appointed to Cabinet.
“I just hope my story will inspire some kids into reaching out for their dream,” he says.