Visually Impaired Sport Commentator Defies the Odds

By Lovemore Zigara, Midlands Correspondent
September 22, 2017 Updated: October 7, 2017

It seemed the world had collapsed around Obert Sithole, a former soccer player and one-time artisan with Shabanie Mine, a Zimbabwean football club, when he lost his sight in a mine blast accident in 1992.

Many were quick to write an epitaph on Sithole’s dream of earning an honest living through his sweat.

It is often said the essence of life is in facing whatever is thrown in one’s way head-on and being able to pick yourself up whenever you fall.

This is exactly true when one looks at how Sithole, 48, has managed to push aside the obstacles of the past to mark a new beginning.

Some minds recreate themselves, springing up under every disadvantage, and working their solitary but irresistible way through a thousand obstacles.

Sithole, a former midfielder for Shabanie Mine from 1988 to 1992, before he met his fate, had taken his passion for the beautiful game to another level.

He is now Star FM’s Zvishavane Sports correspondent after exchanging the football boots for the microphone.

The man keeps listeners captivated with his live football match updates and in-depth match analysis, despite his blindness.

After operating as a source for sports journalists in the Midlands province for many years, Sithole quickly fitted into the Star FM jig-saw.

The father of three found himself in the deep-end of the country’s most listened to urban radio station through two former ZBC employees of the now defunct Voice of Zimbabwe in Gweru.

“I’m grateful to people like Simba Chiminya and Collen Nikisi who were football commentators for ZBC. The two saw the talent that was in me through our interactions every time that they came to Zvishavane. I was their source of information regarding what was happening at FC Platinum and Shabanie Mine of which most of my leads were spot on.”

“It was through these interactions that Simba told me that Star FM was looking for a correspondent in Zvishavane to cover Premier Soccer League matches and other sporting disciplines. He then introduced me to Steve Vickers who is the head of [the] sport. Vickers was quite impressed with my abilities and took me on board,” said Sithole who has been with Star FM since May 2014.

The former Shabanie Mine attacking linkman has become an authoritative voice in terms of football developments in the asbestos and platinum mining town.

He has quickly become to football what renowned visually impaired cricket analyst Dean Du Plessis is to the gentlemen’s game.

Sithole is able to give accurate soccer updates despite his condition.

“I have an aide who assists me. Also, other sport journalists have been of great assistance before, during, and after the match. However, 80 percent of the work is my own input because I can feel the atmosphere in the stadium as soon as I step in.”

“When teams are playing and the home side is being attacked, you can feel the apprehension among their supporters and when they’re attacking the mood changes. There are some players who are easy to identify when they’re in possession. I can tell the player’s name especially someone like Obrey Chirwa who is a menacing striker who dissects the defence at will,” said the visually impaired soccer commentator and analyst in flawless English.

Coincidentally, it was also at Shabanie Mine that Elliot Mujaji, another top athlete, lost his arm in a work-related accident.

Mujaji participated at the 1998 Commonwealth Games as an able-bodied athlete. He later suffered severe burns following an electrical accident while at work which saw him going into a coma for two months, resulting in one of his hands being amputated.

Two years later, Mujaji became the country’s first Paralympic gold medalist, competing in Australia in the 100 metre amputees event, a feat which inspired many who now believe one can rise to the top despite adversity.

Vickers, a veteran sports journalist with a career spanning over two decades and a Star FM head of sport, described Sithole as “connected” as he gets great interviews.

“Obert has added a lot to the Star FM sports team. As our reporter in Zvishavane he keeps us in touch with what’s happening there in PSL, Division One football and other sports. Obert is well-connected and knows what’s going on in Zvishavane in as far as sports are concerned. He is able to get great interviews for our programmes,” said the Star FM’s head of sport.

FC Platinum mentor, Norman Mapeza who is one of Sithole’s most interviewed sports persons said the Star FM correspondent has a bright future ahead of him.

Mapeza places Sithole ahead of many so-called able bodied journalists.

“He can make many able-bodied journalists look like amateurs with his well thought out questions,” said the FC Platinum coach.

However, despite Mapeza’s optimism and Sithole’s zeal to excel, the challenge of prejudice against people living with disabilities remains.

Most able-bodied people’s attitudes make it difficult for people like Sithole to realise their full potential.

The situation is likely to be worse for disabled people without special talents who struggle to receive quality healthcare, education, and other such services which are their right.

A study conducted by the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH) shows that less than seven percent of people with disabilities in Zimbabwe are in employment with only 19 percent enrolled by schools and colleges.

However, despite the fact that the stakes are heavily against him because of the plethora of challenges highlighted against people with disabilities, Sithole is determined to succeed.

His Whatsapp Messenger status reads: “It’s better to be blind in the eye than in the mind.”

Sithole believes he can override any prejudices against people with disabilities to become an international sports journalist for the likes of Sky Sports and BBC Sport, among other international channels.

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