A 19th century prophet and a rugby revolution

CHAMINUKA, Zimbabwe’s 19th century prophet and a giant of pre-colonial life in the Southern African country, died some seven years before the first game of rugby was played here around 1890, five years after formation of the Rhodesian Rugby Football Union.

ENOCK MUCHINJO

It is perhaps befitting that the spirit-medium who is said to have predicted the arrival of white settlers in this country would, exactly a century after his demise, give his name to a club that has shaped the identity of black rugby in Zimbabwe.

Chaminuka Rugby Football Club was established around 1984 as the first black-formed rugby club in the country.

Before Chaminuka RFC, black players did not play the game in numbers in a structured club system. Only a privileged few across the country, who had gone to prestigious private or certain government schools, had played at a good enough level.

While christening the pioneering club Chaminuka after the revered spirit signified some kind of a rugby revolution in the eyes of the founding members, it could be seen as somewhat prophetic too — just like the man who inspired the name — in that this country would then go on to break racial barriers to also produce numerous world-class black players in the sport.

Chaminuka Rugby Club, fittingly, will go down in history as the first team on the planet to give a first taste of senior rugby to the first black person from any country on the planet to play at the Rugby World Cup.

The late Richard Tsimba, who would have turned 55 this year, was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in 2012 alongside his young brother Kennedy, himself a class act in his heyday, widely celebrated across the globe.

Today, both Chimurenga RFC and the great Richard are no more.

Last week, Kennedy Tsimba paid emotional tribute to both the iconic club and his late brother in a special interview with one of South Africa’s leading radio stations, SAfm, SABC’s English public broadcasting service channel.

The former Zimbabwe captain and Free State Cheetahs legend was guest on the hugely popular SAfm sport-show, Spot On, which is hosted by top sportscaster Thabiso Mosia.

While the show mainly focussed on the younger Tsimba — with both South African and Zimbabwean callers pouring praises on the record point-scorer, once considered the finest flyhalf in the world — the ex-Sables skipper spoke of the inspiration he drew from Chaminuka, despite not having turned out for the club himself.

“Funny enough when we were young, my mother raised us up as a single mother because my father died when I was four,” Tsimba told Mosia on the show.
“Rugby wasn’t a sport that a lot of black people played within Zimbabwe, but funny enough there was a little culture that started and I think you can see, you know, with what has happened with a lot of Zimbabweans that have played in different countries across the world. And it came from a club called Chaminuka that we started and they sort of, traditionally, came out with a culture, the style, the running rugby. They (Chaminuka) almost admired the way the All Blacks played. You see the Super Rugby flankers in New Zealand, the style of rugby they play. Whenever they see space, they attack, that was the sort of style the (Chaminuka) guys copied.”

Kennedy, who was still in school when Richard turned out for Chaminuka, named his brother — ever known in the sporting world for his breathtaking solo try against Romania at the 1987 World Cup in New Zealand — as his first role model.

“Some of us were young,” recalled Tsimba.

“I was into arts, music, and the funny thing is I didn’t want to play rugby until my brother took me and my other brother outside the house to play rugby, so that he could practice his side-steps. I didn’t know why he was doing this, but I was starting to craft my abilities, you know. I didn’t even know why he was doing this, until I was told by mum to come inside and watch TV, and there he was on TV at the World Cup. And then it started to make sense to me. You can see him score that spectacular try, and it has been going viral for years. That sort of then inspired me.”

Chaminuka had been founded by foresighted black administrators who had either played the game at school level, or in other social circles.

Most were outstanding members of society who would later hold key positions in different fields, locally and internationally.

The late top lawyer Arthur Mutsonziwa, who was a player at Peterhouse College in his school days, became a stalwart in management alongside another hard-working colleague Ben Mundangepfupfu.

They were ably assisted by Sue Tsimba — sister of the two Hall of Famers — alongside the likes of Phillip Mupambawashe, Bert Chanetsa and Ben Mundange.

Quite a few others who were not permanent club members contributed in kind behind the scenes, such as Goodson Nguni, then a hotel manager.

The great diminutive centre Richard Tsimba was, of course, the star of the side whenever he was available, as he was in nearly all the teams he played for — later on featuring for Belmont Shore RFC in the United States and Zimbabwean giants Old Georgians.

But it was Chaminuka that assembled probably the finest group of black players in the history of Zimbabwean rugby.

Another notable name from the era would be the explosive winger, Mudiwa Mundawarara, later to become Zimbabwe’s best referee for many years, and now referees’ manager for Africa’s continental body.

Then there was gifted fly-half Allen Chiura, a United States-trained neurologist and current Zimbabwean Sports and Recreation (SRC) board member, who like Mundawarara, had played the game at St George’s College in Harare.

Such players as Albert Hatidani, Adam Banda, Kingdom Mabhena, Tom Kazembe, Zack Rusike, James Chiweshe, Chine Munyuki, Dominic Mandizha — to name but a few — also starred.

Opposition came in the form of clubs like Beatrice, Enterprise, Mvurwi, Karoi and Zimbank — all white clubs at the time.“We used to beat some of these clubs,” scrumhalf Hatidani told this newspaper.

“We were weak in the forwards, but strong in the line (backline). Our game was modelled on speed, and skill.”

Hatidani’s halfback partner, Chiura, echoes his former teammate’s sentiments: “We dominated a lot of these clubs, which was unheard of. All the white farmers’ teams were surprised that an all-black team could showcase that quality of rugby. It was something unexpected. We were at one time coached by (St Kitts-born British coach) Collin Osborne, who is a world-class coach. We had fantastic coaching. I then left for the United States, but I think it was because of what he (Osborne) did with Chaminuka that he later on went to coach the (Zimbabwe) national side. All this was because of Chaminuka.”

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