ONE incident drew the attention of travelling press corps in Cape Town last week in the build-up to the last game of Zimbabwe’s debut season in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge.
By Enock Muchinjo
With dinner done, the bulk of the Zimbabwe Rugby Academy players — after spirited workout at training — retired to bed, leaving the previously busy dining room quiet and peaceful as night fell.
Other players decided to unwind at a game of pool in the common room.
Cleopas Kundiona, though, headed straight to the kitchen of the guest house, and started cleaning.
For close to two hours, the 20-year-old star prop thoroughly did the dishes left by 35-odd squad members, all the while working and chatting in Shona with the on-duty hotel cleaner, a middle-aged Zimbabwean woman.
Guessing it was some kind of punishment for misbehaviour, the inquisitive reporters asked Kundiona’s friend, 21-year-old halfback Jerry Jaravaza, what team rule his roommate had breached to deserve such unwanted corrective measure.
“Nothing,” answered Jaravaza, who had to linger around the place waiting for his pal to finish his chores. “Cloppy has always been different. He is always doing these kind of things, voluntarily.”
So here he was, the son of a relatively wealthy man back home in Zimbabwe, raised in material comfort, deciding he would rather cap off a taxing day by cleaning up after everybody.
Not only that. The gifted tight-head — the most exciting prospect in Zimbabwean rugby right now — flies out of Harare today for Durban to start his first-class contract with Sharks, one of the biggest domestic names in world rugby where no less a man than Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira horned his skills.
Helping out in the kitchen of a hotel is not something you will normally see a rising sports star doing. But for Kundiona, doing such is really no big deal.
“It is just to help,” Kundiona told IndependentSport the following day. “Some of the times, the dishes are just too much for one person.”
Lending a helping hand was, of course, greatly appreciated by Grace, the Zimbabwean cleaning lady working for the neat suburban residence.
“It was so helpful of him,” she said. “He was quoting the bible and he was asking me if I was born again, and if I would one day like to come back home to Zimbabwe to work in our own country.”
For the former Falcon College pupil, feeling obliged to help the hotel cleaner is something that stems from his family upbringing.
“That is how I was born,” he said. “When there is work to be done, it must be done. Ndi mhomz wekumba (she’s a lady from home). Coming here, I realised that it’s not easy for us Zimbabweans in SA as we think. We need to help each other in the least possible way we can. It is touching to see. As Zimbos, no matter where we go, we work hard. Nothing is ever easy for us.”
And it did not matter to Kundiona that his parents, who instilled those values in him, were a thousand miles away in Marondera, his hometown in Zimbabwe.
“That is what character is, doing things when people aren’t watching,” Kundiona said. He initially joined Raiders Rugby Club in Johannesburg early this year, in a deal facilitated by Athletes Sphere Management (ASM).
The Harare-based sports firm is also behind the latest move.
“Cleopas is in top shape at the moment, a quality rugby player and quality young man,” ASM president Gerald Sibanda said. “He has benefitted from the training and conditioning we afforded him at Raiders. I have said this before and I will say it again. He is destined to become a super star.”
Brendan Dawson, the revered former Zimbabwe captain, knows Kundiona well, having coached the young front-rower as a schoolboy at Falcon.
Dawson, coach of the Zimbabwean side in the SuperSport Challenge, was also instrumental in having his Sharks contacts get a good look at Kundiona.
“The door is open for him to go to the top,” remarked Dawson. “He is an unbelievable rugby player. I see him in the next two to three years playing in the Super 15. Look, he’s obviously good with the ball. His tackling is amazing. In the SDW (Eagles) game where we nearly won, I think he had about 18 tackles. On top of that, he is an amazing ball-carrier. He deserves going to a team like Sharks, he is one kid who is going to take it with both hands.”
Bags of raw talent unquestionable, Dawson believes Kundiona has room to become an even better and more complete player at Sharks.
“He has lots to learn about scrummaging,” Dawson said. “I feel at the moment he is scrummaging with his strength rather than technique. He will learn that in South Africa. When he can dominate in scrums, he’s going to be an amazing asset to any rugby team.”
Kundiona’s display of faith is something that is well respected within the team, as testified by Dawson.
“He is a very religious man, very humble,” said Dawson. “He is got both feet planted firmly on the ground. He believes in his faith. He is a humble boy, obviously, he went to Falcon College.”