Stansly Maponga made history when he became the first Zimbabwean American to play in the American National Football League (NFL). Zimbabwe is the small Southern African country with the highest literacy rate in the whole of Africa surpassing South Africa and Nigeria and Kenya. Typically, Zimbabweans prefer the pursuit of academics and professional careers to sports but Maponga has broken a new barrier.
Stansly Maponga was born in Harare Zimbabwe in 1991 and migrated to the United States at the age of 9. Maponga has been in the National Football League (NFL) for the past three years playing for the Atlanta Falcons. He was interviewed recently by Fox Atlanta about his journey to the NFL. What should have been good publicity turned into a firestorm for the footballer in the age of social media.
Maponga who has practically grown up in America knows that America loves a rags to riches story and in telling his remarkable story he explained that he hunted for food at the tender age of 9. The problem is that Zimbabwean youth do not go hunting to survive and Zimbabwe has no deer. He could not even name the animal which he hunted and Zimbabweans in the Twittersphere took him to task until he retracted his story and issued the following apology on his Instagram page.
I’ve been truly blessed. I am a PROUD Zimbabwean and it is an honor to holster the name of my country on my back every time I step on the field. With that said, I would like to extend an apology to my Zimbabwean family for some of the comments I made on Fox News. Truthfully, I wasn’t prepared for the interview for I was just getting done with practice, nonetheless that’s not an excuse. I wasn’t acclimated to answering those questions. Let me clear a few things up, no we do not hunt to survive in Zimbabwe. We hunted common animals leisurely when younger. As kids, we were raised actively and we didn’t stay couched up in the house all day playing video games. No, we enjoyed the outdoors and in Zimbabwean culture we’re taught the essence of loving and protecting nature. In actuality we haunted “Mhembwe” which is slightly comparable to deer over here in the U.S. . That’s why I said deer, I didn’t know the proper term to use I just wanted to paint a picture in people’s heads. We also enjoyed catching small creatures resembling squirrels (mbeva), but not necessarily squirrels. I’m repentant for those remarks. I grew up not having much, me and my brothers had to share the same pair of shoes for many years so having the opportunity to come to the U.S. and owning my own pair of shoes was a privilege but certainly not a culture shock like I stated. Deeply apologize for saying that. My bad. Now I’m not saying everybody in Zimbabwe grows up the way I did, no. Everybody has a different upbringing, this was just mine. In no way shape or form did I want to degrade or disrespect my people, I just put words out of context during the interview. I love my heritage and my great country of Zimbabwe. I thank God for giving me this platform to be in a position to inspire a whole nation. I love playing football, I’ll never disown my country, I’m also proud to an American and the opportunities they have bestowed me with. I want to be a role model, I want kids in Zimbabwe to grow up knowing that with God and hard work nothing is impossible. Faith without works is dead, dream big, stay on your path, keep pushing. Be blessed.”
Zimbabweans were upset with Maponga not because his story isn’t true but because he makes his story into the typical narrative of every Zimbabwean. He made Zimbabwean life to be that of the primitive hunter and gatherer tribes. There are many people who live in poverty in Zimbabwe to be sure and that making donations of basics particularly to orphans is a good thing. However aid is not the solutions and Zimbabweans and Africans in general do not want handouts just holdups and do not want to be turned into charity cases waiting for Superman and in this case the Americans.
It is not that Maponga’s story is invalid, it is that it his history not representative of the total Zimbabwean experience. The Zimbabwean experience is not a monolithic experience and Maponga should not have made generalization about children going hunting for food as a means of survival.
Zimbabwe is an agricultural based society and the majority of the food source comes from farming and not hunting and gathering as Maponga espoused. Americans are ignorant of whole history most of them anyway have never left the country and Maponga could have used his platform to educate them. Most Zimbabweans would not get a culture shock from shoes. All Zimbabweans knew what shoes were even those who did not own a pair of shoes.
The reporter obviously has no clue where Zimbabwe is and has done absolutely no research on the country and readily accepts the answer Maponga provides because it fits into the American narrative of primitive Africans who practice hunting and gathering in the 21st century because that is his single story about Africa. Fox tells the story as though Maponga just left Zimbabwe yet he has lived most of his life in America.