A Zimbabwe football fan will be among the lucky few attending the final game of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) pitting Senegal and Algeria, compliments of Ahmad Ahmad, president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
Alvin Zhakata, 32, got the honor after hitch-hiking from Cape Town, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt, where the AFCON games are taking place – a journey that took him 51-days – just to support his home team, the Warriors, who had qualified for the games.
For his troubles, Ahmad gave Zhakata a free ticket to the games, accommodation during his stay in Cairo, and an air ticket back to Zimbabwe.
“I am so thrilled and overwhelmed, you know,” said Zhakata, who posted his journey on Facebook. “I feel honored to have received this kind of recognition from the CAF president himself, which is the highest echelon as far as African Football is concerned,” he said.
“He (Ahmad) said he’ll take good care of me, I’ve been taken good care of, and he also pledged an air ticket from Cairo to travel back to Zimbabwe,” said Zhakata. “So I’m so grateful, I feel honored and proud at the same time. I feel like, I feel rewarded for my efforts, and recognized. It’s a great thing.”
Zhakata’s journey to Cairo took him through important political developments taking place in Ethiopia and Sudan, which contributed to his journey stretching for so long.
As he explained, internet shutdown in Ethiopia to contain an attempted coup against Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, derailed his efforts to get a visa, and protests in Sudan somehow got him arrested.
In Ethiopia, Zhakata said, getting a visa proved to be problematic because the application had to be done online.
“To apply for that visa, you needed to do it over internet, and internet was shut down in Ethiopia, and so we had to wait until internet was restored,” Zhakata explained.
Prior to arriving in Egypt, Zhakata tried to get a visa from Sudan, but ended up being swept up in the protests taking place at the time, as citizens there protested against military rule in favor of civilian leadership.
Sounding emotional, Zhakata said his experience in Sudan, which included an arrest that he did not want to elaborate on, was “a really difficult moment,” for him.
“I encountered a lot of challenges in Sudan … I found myself marooned between protestors … it was really a difficult moment because I was briefly detained ... I really cannot give more details about this, but it was a really difficult moment for me,” said Zhakata, affectionately known as Alluva.
While the journey was long, and his experiences along the way challenging, Zhakata said he has gained a lot of fans, who see him as a hero.
“You would not believe the popularity or the interest I have generated here …everyone is saying you are our hero, you are our hero, you can ask the journalist from Zimbabwe who was there to witness. Its overwhelming, I feel so (sighs) it’s great, its great!”
Another positive from his ordeal, Zhakata said, was his meeting with the CAF executive committee, where he was asked to offer recommendations to the African Union, over any concern he encountered. Zhakata said his main one, was about making travel easier for Africans, travelling within the continent.
With his experiences regarding getting visas, Zhakata’s main recommendation is for African countries to drop the visa requirement for travelers and essentially allow free movement around the continent, as is in place in some regions like east Africa, where citizens of countries belonging to the East Africa community, do not require visas.
“If the AU (African Union) was to relax travel requirements for Africans travelling across Africa, or to implement the borderless Africa ideology, I think that would be a great idea, because … some of the challenges that I faced, I am sure those are most of the challenges that are being faced by many Africans who are travelling from one African country to another country.
The highlight of Zhakata’s trip, which was to watch his nation’s team kick their way into the finals of the game, however, did not pan out as he had hoped. By the time Zhakata arrived to Egypt, the Warriors had lost against Egypt, drawn with Uganda, and then thumbed by the Democratic Republic of Congo, which ended the team’s bid for the AFCON cup.
While disappointed by the loss of his team, Zhakata believed he still made the right call to hitch hike to Egypt rather than fly, which would have cost him more.
“It was so depressing, but you know, it could have been more disappointing had I aborted my journey along the way to take a flight to Egypt, and then three games later, the Warriors are knocked out, and we go home together,” reasoned Zhakata.
To Zhakata’s point, the Warriors are back in Zimbabwe where they faced the wrath of many sports critics and fellow citizens who felt the team underperformed.
Meantime, Zhakata, who has hitch hiked to other continental matches to support his nation’s team, gets to sit in an executive box on Friday, with what he calls the “highest echelon of football itself,” CAF president Ahmad, and every other big name in football.