JOEY Muwadzuri’s family had a special request to mourners attending his funeral wake in Manchester, England, nine years ago — please mind what you wear.
“The dress code will be strictly no black,” the short statement read. “As the family, we are celebrating Joey’s life, not mourning.”
A kind-hearted man with a passionate pursuit for purity through his deep religious faith, Muwadzuri died in the United Kingdom in 2010 following a short illness — triggering an outpouring of sympathy from friends, fellow congregants and all those whose lives he touched.
Muwadzuri had dedicated his life, which was short in the end, to helping others out of hardships, as well as achieve their dreams.
Apart from his pastoral work, Muwadzuri used his knowledge and passion for rugby as one of the means to transform lives.
Although he had himself attended Victoria Primary and High Schools in Masvingo and then Marlborough High in Harare, Muwadzuri later felt an affinity with Churchill Boys High, most probably because it was the school that shared his passion for the sport and showed the greatest desire to utilise his services.
Due to an in-born love for mentoring people, Muwadzuri sacrificed his own playing career and turned to coaching when he was young — juggling training rugby players with gospel and the family business. He died aged 35 while living in the UK. One of his protégés at Churchill, the gifted Daniel Hondo, later to ably captain Zimbabwe in a sizeable number of Test matches, fondly remembers an important mentor in his life.
“His passion for the game was almost unparalleled,” Hondo tells us for our last Zimbabwe-themed Rugby World Cup story.“He treated us like his own boys. I remember how he used to like hanging out with us after his coaching sessions. He would take us to his house or to his garage. He ran a fuel station in town along Chinhoyi Street. He was more like a brother to us.”
A loyal man genuinely proud of the success of those associated with him, there could be little doubt that Mawadzure would have been among the thousands of spectators inside Yokohama’s International Stadium tomorrow for a momentous occasion.
He surely would have made the trip to Japan to witness one of his ex-pupils, in fact the most illustrious of them all, attempt to make history.
Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira, who will feature in the World Cup final for South Africa against England tomorrow, passed through the capable hands of Muwadzuri during his formative days at Churchill.
“When he (Muwadzuri) was coaching at Churchill, my old school, he used to call me time and again to pep talk the boys, and Beast was one of them,” former Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) chief executive and Churchill alumnus, Blessing Chiutare, told IndependentSport last year after Mtawarira reached his 100-Test milestone.
“Those days, Beast also played Sevens rugby, that was after we had formed the Cats & Dogs Academy (made up of Churchill and Prince Edward boys) to play in the senior Sevens league against clubs. Joey used to talk a lot about Beast, (about) the great potential he possessed.”
Mtawarira, who then completed his schooling at the prestigious Peterhouse College after receiving a bursary, stands on the brink of something very special.
The 34-year-old prop is already an undisputed legend of South African rugby, with his 116 Test caps for the Springboks the highest number of games played by any black player for that country.
Winning the World Cup — a first for the Harare-born star and a third title for his adopted country since the tournament was introduced in 1987 — will be the icing on the cake for a splendid career that has also yielded over 150 Super Rugby games.
England, many people’s favourite for tomorrow’s final — their second World Cup trophy if it turns out that way — stand between the Boks and a record-equaling title.
But do not be deceived, the Springboks will front up tomorrow and it will be no stroll in the park for Eddie Jones’ English side. There will be no short supply of motivation among South Africa’s players.Take Mtawarira, for instance.
Hailing from a country that has produced several world-class players in this sport, Mtawarira will however become the first Zimbabwean — black or white — to be part of a World Cup-winning team.
Wallabies great George Gregan — the son of an Australian father and Zimbabwean mother — was the vice-captain when Australia lifted the World Cup in 1999.
But Gregan, who was born in Zambian capital Lusaka, has no known close ties with Zimbabwe. He moved to Australia with his family when he was only two years old and has permanently lived there ever since.
Gregan’s half-Zimbabwean genes may have come in handy in his glittering career, but in Mtawarira, a product of a local system — Prospect Primary School, Churchill, Peterhouse, selfless coaches like Joey Mawadzura, Paul Gosho, Taya Chakarisa (also late), Reg Querl — this country can feel it has played a part in the success of the Springboks if they overcome England tomorrow.
After all, who does not need a fairytale ending from time to time?South Africa’s impressive and historic first black captain, Siya Kolisi, has hugely united a once bitterly divided nation behind the Springboks. The man from Zwide, a poor township in Port Elizabeth, was a 16-year-old boy when South Africa won their last World Cup in 2007. Because his family did not own a television, young Siyamthanda had to watch the final against England in a local tavern. Twelve years and three tournaments later, Kolisi could lead the Springboks to their next World Cup conquest and, in doing so, become the first black person to lift rugby’s greatest prize for any country.
And picture this scenario for a moment: South Africa becoming the world champions of rugby for a third time and the heroes are Kolisi, a potential victim of racism in his own country, and Mtawarira, a potential victim of xenophobia in his adopted homeland. It does soften even the hardest of hearts.
And if everything goes according to script and the finest hour arrives, the unsung heroes who were there at the beginning — the likes of Beast’s early mentor Joey and the talents scouts who spotted Kolisi in Zwide — deserve some kind of recognition.
As for Mawadzure, if his protégé drapes the World Cup winner’s medal tomorrow, it will be one more reason to celebration his life, just like his family did nine years ago following his sad and untimely demise.
Ironically, Joey lies interred in England, the country that invented the sport he so passionately loved and the home nation of a fancied team hoping to deny Mtawarira and his fellow Springboks glory tomorrow.