‘Fighting to the last drop of blood’

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Enock Muchinjo

FOR a fertile ground that has produced tonnes of surplus for Zimbabwe, Churchill School was destined to supply the more lucrative markets at some point.

In Rugby World Cup winner Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira, this proud establishment — a 69-year-old government senior boys’ school in the capital Harare — has witnessed its greatest alumnus in more than half a century of existence.

While the last two years of schooling spent at the prestigious Peterhouse College was incredibly crucial in honing the skills of Mtawarira, probably the first major step in becoming a Springbok, the intricacies of the game had been learnt earlier at Churchill for five years under the guidance of well-motivated staff and selfless coaches who enjoyed the responsibility of inspiring pupils in accordance with the school’s ethos.

Tatenda Taibu, for 15 years the holder of Test cricket’s youngest captain record until Afghanistan hotshot Rashid Khan broke it this year, speaks with enormous pride in the culture of his old school.

“The first thing you were told by the headmaster on the interview day was ‘young man, you will show the tenacity of a bulldog in all the years at Churchill, a bulldog fights to the last drop of blood’. I loved that when playing sport for Churchill,” Taibu tells IndepedendentSport.

Bulldogs, Churchill’s official moniker, stems from the man who gave his name to the school: former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. While the man who led Britain to victory in the Second World War had distinctive physical resemblance to a bulldog and so went by that nickname, Churchill was also well known for his ferocious personality, traits that Taibu refers to here — fighting to the bitter end.

One can go back a long way and find generations of fine Churchill-groomed sports stars. But for the purpose of relating, let us focus on the modern era.
The cricketers — Tatenda Taibu, Douglas Hondo, Hamilton Masakadza, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Vusi Sibanda, Elton Chigumbura, Tinashe Panyangara, Prosper Utseya, Chamu Chibhabha, Forster Mutizwa, Tinashe Ruswa, Timycen Maruma, Johnson Marumisa,Tafadzwa Mufambisi, Tino Mutombodzi, amongst an array of gifted players to pass through the school’s gates since the mid-1990s.

The footballers — George Mbwando, Elasto Lungu, Nyasha Mushekwi, Murape Murape, Cephas Chimedza, Norman Maroto, Eddie Mashiri, Leo Kurauzvione, Samson Choruwa, Esau Amisi, Trymore Mutisi, prodigious talent across some three generations. The rugby players — Rocky Gurumani, Steve Mtandwa, Jeff Madhake, Daniel Hondo, Billy Katiyo, Prayer Chitenderu, Nyasha Shumba, Daniel Macheke, Gerald Kambadza, James Nyatanga, Denford Mutamangira, Happy Nyatanga, Tangai Nemadire, Gerald Sibanda, Shingi Mpofu, Willis Magasa, Shayne Makombe, Lenience Tambwera, Teddy Hwata, Stephan Hunduza, to name but a few.

Do not forget, too, that Zimbabwean-born British heavyweight boxer Derek Chisora — a former world title contender — briefly attended Churchill before migrating to the United Kingdom as a 16-year-old.

While the likes of Mtawarira and Chisora have scaled dizzy heights under the flags of foreign lands, which were never likely going to be the case had they stayed in Zimbabwe, Churchill is known to be a prolific conveyor belt of talent for this country across multiple disciplines. This is in part due to the characteristics of Churchill. Boys of middle-class to township backgrounds — who are less likely than their private school counterparts to enjoy opportunities abroad — compose the majority of the student population.

One of those is Taibu, an orphaned whizz kid from Highfield who went on to become his country’s first black cricket captain at the age of 20. The former wicketkeeper sees Mtawarira’s achievement with South Africa as an opportunity for Zimbabwe to introspect as a sporting nation.

“It gives pressure to the powers-that-be in Zimbabwe to sort out sport in our country, so that we don’t keep losing our special athletes.”

A Churchill upbringing is something Taibu himself still cherishes to this day, nearly two decades after entering the real world.

“That never goes away,” says Taibu. “Look at it this way: look at the eloquence of the Zimbabwean people. It’s because of the educational system we used to have. A strong schools system molds people for life.”

To Daniel Hondo, a former Zimbabwe rugby captain who went to Churchill alongside his older brother — ex-national cricketer Douglas — the school evokes happy memories of boyhood.

“Churchill was where I improved all my basic skills for all the sports I played,” Hondo says. “We were brought up being tough, and to be men. We were taught respect, discipline and hard work and we knew nothing came easy. I’m thankful to the teachers and coaches that kept us in check. The late (headmaster) Mr (Dawson) Mutsekwa, the late (sports master) Mr (Peter) Sharples, the late (rugby coach) Joey Muwadzuri and (rugby coach) Billy Katiyo.

I definitely wouldn’t change the school I went to.”Hondo and Mtawarira were both coached and mentored at Churchill by the late rugby development enthusiast and philanthropist Muwadzuri, who met an untimely death in the UK in 2010 at the age of 35.

Life however took both players in different directions, Hondo initially to university in England and then an international career with Zimbabwe, while Mtawarira rose through the ranks of Sharks in Durban to become a Springbok icon.

Taibu, two years older than Mtawarira, remembers his ex-hostel mate as a “rugby-crazy” player who was always destined for the top. “I have continued to be in touch with him, he was one year my junior at Winston House when we were boarding together at Churchill,” says Taibu. “Tendai was and still is rugby-crazy. It’s no surprise to me that he has played a part in this World Cup success story.”

Also not so surprised by Mtawarira’s accomplishment with the Springboks is George Mbwando, a former Churchill star footballer who played for Zimbabwe in its first two Africa Cup of Nations appearances in 2004 and 2006.

“It’s exciting times for us as former students of Churchill to have a World Cup winner from amongst us,” says Mbwando, who lives and works in Germany. “The Bulldog fighting spirit will forever live in us. It was instilled in us right from the beginning at school. It was there even in soccer, I mean, everywhere.

In soccer, remember, we were the first team from Harare to win the Coca Cola Trophy in 1992, and for everyone at the school, that felt so special. The entire school was proud of our achievement, even the guys who played other sports. Churchill is a family, and a way of life. I always knew that one day a Churchill boy would be the best in the world at what he does.”

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