IN the rugged world of rugby union, an uncompromising search for perfection often invites the label of superman or superbrat.
You will probably find Cleopas Makotose, the Zimbabwe rugby captain, somewhere in between.
Fanatical dedication, fierce determination and brilliant natural talent have established him as one of the most dedicated, yet underrated international sportsmen this country has produced in the last 10 years.
It is that same tenacity, that typical outburst of contempt for anything less than the perfection he has always strived for which often sees Makotose fall foul of rugby authorities in Zimbabwe.
But that is the mark of a warrior.
For the most part Makotose is a humble, self-effacing young man who would sacrifice anything for team and country.
It is those same qualities that give him the right to opinion on Zim rugby, its present state and future.
This week, from the comfort of his mother’s home in his hometown of Chiredzi, he spoke as passionately as ever to IndependentSport about the international season ahead and life in Cape Town.
Makotose was not in the Sables squad that won the inaugural Car African Zone South trophy in Botswana last year. He has burning desire to don the green-and-white hoops of the Sables again this year.
He is particularly excited about the newly formed tri-nations involving the Sables and East Africans Kenya and Uganda.
“It’s a big thing,” Makotose said. “In the past we used to have one or two games per year. To have this included in the XVs season is more than exciting.”
This development comes after a decade of economic and social crisis that hit the sport hard and left players and officials disillusioned about the future as the country was isolated from international competition.
“In the past years, the conditions were too harsh (for us) to play a good brand of rugby,” commented Makotose. “If you look at it now, a lot is being done. (Sables coach Brendan) Dawson has brought a different dimension. Guys are getting more games. There is a visible structure now.
“The guys are doing pretty well. They won that tournament in Botswana which people probably didn’t expect. They beat Madagascar, a team we had struggled against in the last three years. If we assemble our strongest team on the day, we can win all those tri-nations games. Motivation-wise, Dawson is the best man to put the players in the right frame of mind, to make guys want to give it all. It’s high time the Sables become a serious international side again.”
Cleopas Makotose was born on December 29, 1983, in Bulawayo. The seed of sports was sown early in his life, at Murray McDougall Primary School in Triangle. For senior school he was at the sporty Plumtree High, alongside his older brother Modreck, who has been working for the Zimbabwe Rugby Union ever since a car accident ended his playing career.
Cleopas’ club rugby career started as a precocious 18-year-old at Old Miltonians in Bulawayo.
He earned a reputation as a super-cool fullback in a team that had developed into one of the strongest club sides in Zimbabwe.
Makotose’s ice-cool approach developed into full-bloodied brilliance in the succeeding seasons, especially when he moved to the capital where he joined Harare Sports Club. Solid in tackles and with the “up and under” ball, offensively he also developed excellent attacking skills, pace and open field-running prowess.
In 2004 he was part of a star-studded Zimbabwe Under 21 team that had ex-Springbok Brian Mujati, and current Zimbabwe stars like Jacques Leitao, Daniel Hondo, Paul Staak, Gardner Nechironga, Fortune Chipendo and Willis Magasa.
He won his maiden Zimbabwe senior cap away in Uganda in the 2003-4 season when rugby in the country had hit rock bottom. Under caretaker coach Naboth Mujaji and captain Victor Olonga, the Sables lost the match in Kampala.
Chris Lampard handed him the captaincy as a 23-year-old in 2006, leading the team onto the park against Madagascar at Hartsfield in Bulawayo in 2006.
The absorbing test was drawn 22-22.
These days he plays as first centre in the Western Province Super League “A” for SK Walmers with fellow countrymen, backs Gerald Sibanda and Tangai Nemadire and prop Danford Mutamangira, who has earned the nickname “Beast”.
Last season the championship was won by Hamiltons, who have Zimbabwean flyhalf Piet Benade on their books.
“It’s one of the best club leagues in South Africa, if not the best,” Makotose said.
“Rugby in the Cape is very strong. You need to come and see for yourself. The teams that played in the Varsity Cup final, Matties and UCT, are all from Cape Town. It says something about the game there.”
At the beginning of this season, compatriot Sibanda was invited for trials by Western Province. He is still waiting for his chance at first-class rugby in the Vodacom Cup. It will be a wonderful feat for Sibanda if he makes it, Makotose said.
“It’s a huge disadvantage if you have played for Zimbabwe,” he said.
“It’s difficult to break through because you are not eligible to play for Springboks. At that level they would rather invest in someone who is a potential Bok.”