Monday, 12 November 2012

Bernard Dzoma

Rule one of the Olympic Games Charter reads simply: "The Olympic Games are held every four years. They assemble amateurs of all nations in fair and equal competition. No discrimination is allowed against any country or person on grounds of race, religion or political affiliation."

It is a solemn rule which has been transgressed many times in the interests of expediency. And so it was in 1968 when the rebel nation of Rhodesia incurred the wrath of the world for its illegal declaration of independence from British rule.

From November 1965 through to April 1980, Rhodesia was shunned by the majority of nations until it achieved legal independence as the sovereign state of Zimbabwe under Prime Minister Robert Mugabe.

Those fourteen years of lonely isolation afflicted countless innocent people in many ways, among them the nation's sportsmen who were denied international competition.

One who suffered the most heart-rending disappointments was a lithe Umtali-born carpenter, Bernard Dzoma, who was selected for and then denied the right to compete in two successive Olympiads — Mexico, 1968 and Munich, 1972.

A distance runner with undoubted world-class potential he and marathon man Mathias Kanda painstakingly prepared for Mexico, unaware of the political wrangling in the background which ultimately was to destroy their cherished dream just two weeks before their scheduled departure. Although Rhodesia was in good standing with the International Olympic Committee, the Mexican Government — in obedience to a United Nations resolution demanding non-recognition of Rhodesia — seized the passports of the Rhodesian team from the Mexican Olympic Committee offices and refused to issue visas.

Realising the futility of continuing to fight the situation, the National Olympic Committee of Rhodesia president, Mr. Douglas Downing, issued the following statement: "In view of the decisions reported through various news channels, wedeprecate the lack of direct and official communication from the Mexico Olympic authorities to this Association. Discourtesy is not normally a failing of Latin-American races. In accepting enforced exclusion from the 1968 Mexican Olympics, we express the hope that interference — authorised or assumed — by the United Nations in the affairs of the International Olympic movement will not create that type of disunity between sportsmen which currently exists between nations.

"True British sportsmen — and there are many throughout the world — will hail this politically inspired victory as the greatest since Peterloo. Sport has now been devalued more than sterling. To our own sportsmen of all races, selected but denied the privilege of competing, we apologise."

Mr. Downing's communiqué concluded with a special word of praise for Avery Brundage, president of the International Olympic Committee: "A man of great courage and a worthy successor to the founder of the modern Olympics, his voice cries in a wilderness of spite."

This last poignant line was to provide the title for a book on the moving human story of Rhodesia's victimised sportsmen, written by Australian, John Cheffers, who was the country's national track and field coach in 1968 and was responsible for preparing Dzoma and Kanda for the Games.

His account — A Wilderness of Spite or Rhodesia Denied — recalls the moment he broke the news to Dzoma at a training session.

Wrote Cheffers: "Bernard broke down and cried. He was much more literate and accomplished than Mathias. His English expression was first-rate and his writing well above average. His name was a household word throughout the whole of Rhodesia. His record breaking season, culminating in Olympic selection, had enthused everyone and his prospects at the Games looked exceedingly bright

"Bernard had pounded out many miles each day. I used to rise at 5.30 a.m. and meet him. He would cover at least ten miles before breakfast, sometimes more. At 4.30 each afternoon, I would take him and Mathias to the Borrowdale racecourse where Bernard would cover at least another eight miles. Now came the last straw.

"A very bitter Bernard Dzoma glared angrily out of the car window that night and I felt the sharp lethal nature of the affair deeply. And fifteen other Rhodesian Olympians felt the acute pain of these two Africans."

A rule which decreed a sacred truce for the period of the Games had been shattered as Rhodesia continued to be a pawn in the international game of political chess.

Bernard Dzoma was born at Tsonzo Clinic in the Umtali District on 9 October 1941 and learned to be a carpenter at Mount Selinda Mission near Chipinga.

He began athletics seriously in 1966 and one of his first races was the three miles in the Mashonaland championships. Without proper shorts — he wore khaki — and never having worn spikes, he burst onto the scene by running barefoot to gain the provincial title. So high was his confidence and such was the quality of his raw talent, that Dzoma remained unbeaten in any event on the track in 1966 and 1967, competing in one mile, three miles and six miles distances.

An intelligent and articulate man. he set himself goals and aimed to crack Terry Sullivan's three miles record of 14 min. 07,2 sec. set in 1963, and to qualify for the Mexico Olympics. Through sheer dedication he was to achieve both.

In 1967 he became the second Rhodesian — after Robson Mrombe — to break 30 minutes for the six miles, recording 29 min. 27,8 sec. which he was to trim to 29 min. 17,2 sec. the next year. In May 1967 he won an outstanding double at the Mashonaland championships, winning the three miles (14 min. 19,4 sec.) and six miles (29 min. 37,8 sec.) and taking the Ranger Trophy for the outstanding athlete of the meeting. A few months later he underscored his immense natural talent with a double triumph at the national championships (14 min. 17,4 sec and 29 min. 27,8 sec.). Remarkably, he bettered his own times for these two events on every occasion he competed in his first two seasons.

It was at a meeting at Bulawayo that coach Cheffers — a man of outstanding ability — first saw Dzoma run In 1968. These were his impressions: "Dzoma showed outstanding talent. He was not fit enough to hold the fast pace which I had set him throughout the race, but showed such promise in the first six laps that I knew we had a champion. He finished the three miles in 14 minutes 13 seconds, the fastest he had achieved. Bernard's beautifully relaxed running style, which he maintained throughout, even when fatigued, gave me just cause for optimism."

Although clearly one of the most naturally talented runners in Rhodesian athletics history, Dzoma's efforts were stifled from the start by a lack of opportunity which was a sad reflection on the system of the time. A carpenter in the Rothmans organisation, he was given a generous allotment of time to train, but he could not run in league meetings because he was not a member of a club affiliated to the Mashonaland Amateur Athletics Board. His own attempts to form a club in Harari foundered and the two established clubs in the city — Rhodes and Churchill — at that time had 'whites only constitutions. So it was a frustrated Dzoma who left the city and joined Rio Tinto Mine as a carpenter.

Among Dzoma's most notable early successes was beating Springbok star, Willie Olivier, in the three miles at Salisbury in a triangular meeting between Rhodesia, the South African Police and South African Defence. Olivier, in peak condition after an overseas tour, stayed 15 metres behind Dzoma for most of the race and when he attempted to close in, Dzoma merely stepped up his pace to win by 50 metres. His time of 14 min. 23,4 sec was 16,2 seconds outside Sullivan's allcomers mark. In his only attempt at the mile that year, Dzoma set the best time of the season with 4 min. 14,5 sec.

To clinch his selection for the 1968 Olympic 5 000 metres and 10 000 metres, Dzoma ran 13 min. 52,8 sec. that year to beat Sullivan's national three miles record. The six miles record fell to him at 29 min. 17,2 sec .. but he was cruelly denied participation in the Olympics.

Once over the bitter disappointment Dzoma continued his devotion to running, gaining many triumphs that kept his name in the headlines. Among these were victories in the international San Sylvestre round-the-houses race in Luanda in 1971 (25 min. 02,0 sec.), and again in 1972, when he broke Fanie van Zijl's record. He followed this by eclipsing another Springbok star, Andries Krogman, in both the 5 000 metres and 10 000 metres at a major meeting at Lourengo Marques.

Bernard Dzoma was ready to lift himself to another Olympic challenge and he was overjoyed to be chosen in the ten-strong Rhodesian track and field team to be sent to the Munich Games of 1972.

In beating Krogman in that 10 000 metres, Dzoma had clocked a national record time of 30 min. 0,08 sec, cracking a mark set in 1960 by Cyprian Tseriwa. It clinched his Munich selection and the ten athletes who travelled to West Germany were: Artwell Mandaza. Adon Treva, Alfred Ncube. Terry Finnigan. Philemon Tambanawenyu. Nigel Hodder, Vuyani Fulunga, Bernard Dzoma. Bruce Kennedy and Jean Fowlds.

Despite political rumblings, the team took off and was installed at the Olympic village at Munich, having accepted a demand by African countries to participate under the old Southern Rhodesia ensign (which included the Union Jack) and to use the British national anthem.

Once at the Games, political lobbying intensified against the rebel colony, with the various African countries threatening a walk-out. With the fabric of the Games threatened, the International Olympic Committee called an emergency meeting of all delegates, leading to a 36-31 vote to exclude Rhodesia.

Until then, the IOC headed by Avery Brundage. a most trustworthy and noble man, had resolutely defended Rhodesia's right to participate. Now they buckled to naked political threats and withdrew Rhodesia's invitation on Tuesday, 22 August 1972. It was a second shattering blow for Bernard Dzoma, who never got another chance to compete at an Olympiad. By Moscow 1980, when the new internationally recognised nation of Zimbabwe was welcomed at the Moscow Olympics, it was too late ... Dzoma was too old and had long since left the track with bitter memories.

After Munich, he did rise to impressive heights on odd occasions, as if to prove a point. In 1973 he beat an international field of almost 100 in the Lourenco Marques road race in a record time of 14 min. 45,5 sec. with his club-mate Kenias Tembo, then aged eighteen, second, and another Rhodesian, Esau Magwaza. third. But Dzoma had lost his zest for all the arduous training and soon slipped into obscurity after coaching for only a short period. It was a tragic waste of a superb athlete, who had lived his best years in a wilderness of spite.


One mile — 4 min. 09,5 sec. (1968) Salisbury.
1 500 m — 3 min. 53,5 sec.(1969) Salisbury.
3 000 m - 8 min. 28,0 sec.(1974) Luanda.
3 miles — 13 min. 48,8 sec.(1968) Salisbury.
6 miles — 29 min. 17,2 sec.(1968) Bulawayo.
5 000 m — 14 min. 24,4 sec.(1970) Wankie.
10 000 m — 30 min. 00,8 sec.(1972) Lourenco Marques.


1967 — National 6 miles and all-comers (29 min. 37,8 sec.).
1968 — National 3 miles and all-comers (13 min. 52.8 sec.); National 6 miles and all-comers (29 min. 17:2 sec.).
1969 — National 5 000 m and all-comers (14 min. 50.6 sec.).
1972 — National 10 000 m (30 min. 00,8 sec.).


1967 — 3 miles (14 min. 17,4 sec.) and 6 miles (29 min. 27,8 sec.).
1968 — 3 miles (14 min. 24,8 sec.) and 6 miles (29 min. 17,2 sec.).



Comments are welcome - please send them to Eddy Norris at

To view the Blog Home Page - Please Click Here.
(Please visit our previous posts and archives)
Ref. Rhodesia

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home