As a father of two and someone who rose to the top of the rugby world despite coming from an under-resourced background in Zimbabwe, it is no surprise that looking after the welfare of children would feature strongly in the post-Springboks life of Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira.
The 36-year-old Mtawarira, the most-capped prop in Springbok history, was announced this week as the Regional Ambassador for Eastern and Southern Africa for Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund.
His role will be to bring much needed attention to Unicef’s humanitarian and development priorities in the region and he has already travelled to the Mukuru informal settlement in Nairobi, where he spoke with the young children about the significant challenges they face.
Mtawarira is passionate about improving the education and sporting opportunities of vulnerable children. As someone who arrived in Durban in 2003 with just a bicycle and one bag as he tried to follow his rugby dream, the Beast knows first-hand what it means to fulfil one’s potential against the odds.
“I’ve always wanted to work with children and I am blessed to have two of my own, my pigeon pair Talumba and Wangu,” Mtawarira told The Citizen. “I want to inspire children to reach their wildest dreams.
“In my playing days I saw myself as a role-model, as a symbol of hope. I was that kid once upon a time, who needed support to fulfil his talent, and now I want to pass it on.
“So it’s a massive honour for me to be Unicef’s regional ambassador, humanitarian issues have always meant a lot for me and to impact lives is the most meaningful thing I can do.
“I was in Nairobi last week, at an informal settlement, and it was humbling to see families in very tough circumstances. But Unicef allows those children to access quality education, sanitation and water,” Mtawarira said.
But the third most capped Springbok of all time is also an inspiration to adults, and his busy schedule also sees him playing a mentorship role at the Sharks. He is hopeful that Kings Park will become a factory for great tight forwards, picking up the baton he left in 2019.
“I spend a lot of my time involved with the Sharks, in a mentorship role with the players and I also represent MVM Holdings [the Sharks’ equity partners] as a strategic advisor on the board.
“So I am quite hands-on. It’s been impressive to see how the pack has done lately. The arrival of Bongi Mbonambi [hooker] has made a significant difference and Ox Nche [Beast’s successor in the No1 jersey] is coming up in leaps and bounds.
“So there are a lot of positives around the Sharks at the moment, which is what I wanted to see when I retired, so I’m happy.
“They have a core group of senior players, guys like Siya Kolisi, Bongi and Thomas du Toit, who are World Cup winners and understand what it takes to be a top-performing pack in such a tough competition as the United Rugby Championship.
“The youngsters will learn from them and Globis, the Georgian scrum coach [Akvsenti Giorgadze], has set really high standards. He’s great on technique and his attention to detail in training has seen significant progress in the scrum,” Mtawarira said.
The man who made 159 appearances for the Sharks in Super Rugby also says the move to the URC in Europe has been very good for South African rugby.
“I was blessed to play so many Super Rugby games, but the URC has been a great shift for the South African teams. The players relish the opportunity of playing in Europe,” said Mtawarira.
“There are a lot of positives for South African rugby – especially that it’s the same time zone and you’re not necessarily going to be playing with jetlag.
“It’s not so similar conditions for the players, but no South African is going to shy away from a bit of cold weather. There is a lot more in our favour than there was in Super Rugby.”
While Beast was a vital part of the South African team that won the 2019 World Cup and he is confident they can defend that title in France next year, he says he hopes to see the births of some legendary new Springbok careers in the build-up to that tournament.
“I think the Springboks are in a great position to defend the World Cup, we have a lot of depth and talent, but the big thing is to not peak too early.
“I hope we give the youngsters a chance before the World Cup, especially during the Wales tour here in July. Guys like Aphelele Fassi, Damian Willemse and Wandisile Simelane have been shining in the URC and we must blood them.
“It’s also important to perform well in the Rugby Championship, we must win that, and you also want to get through this season without any serious injuries.
“A lot of other teams will have studied our game-plan and will see how they can break us down. We know our strength lies in our pack and so our method will not change, but hopefully there are a few tricks or variations we can bring in,” Mtawarira said.