20 for 20 with Tafadzwa Chitokwindo

There is quite some pressure that comes with doing something for a second time. Many artists have lost credibility with their sophomore album, while many more athletes have fizzled away in the sophomore seasons after an impressive debut.

The overwhelmingly positive feedback from the first 20 for 20 article, literally gave me sleepless nights when I realized that another one would have to follow soon. I didn’t have to worry much when it came to finding a suitable individual to interview for the second installment. It was an easy choice really, I just decided to look at the sport I loved the most growing up. And there I found a legend in the making, a speed merchant whose mind is as sharp as his side step.

I was elated when he set aside time in his busy schedule to allow me to ask him 20 questions.

PM: Tafadzwa thank you so much for allowing Sports Hype to have this amazing opportunity to speak to you.
TC: You are welcome, and it’s my pleasure to be here.
PM: So as I stated in my request email, I will look to ask twenty questions and get twenty responses from you on various topics.
TC: Yes, I’m with you, Sir. I’m ready.
PM: Thanks Sir, let us begin.

PM: You were quite the athlete in your high school days. And for sometime one of your tries was a highlight in sevens rugby. What’s the fastest time you ran a 100m?
TC: Fastest time in 100m, was back in 2008/09 at the Zimbabwe Youth Games, but it was head timed 10,54 so I’m not sure about the accuracy. So that’s the fastest that I have been told that I ran and know of.

PM: Kyle College is now a powerhouse in Zimbabwe Schools Rugby, you and I are the same age and believe it or not we were in the same Rugby calendar. I went to Jameson High School, we literally watched this new school Kyle College come up and grew into a powerhouse in the “B league”. They had a bit of a rough season this year, but what would you say is their secret to success?
TC: To be honest all the credit must go to the headmaster of Kyle College Mr. Odendaal, that man has so much passion for rugby, so much so that I believe it would cover Zimbabwe’s land surface if he lay it out for all to see (laughs). So he is the mastermind and the trump card behind our school’s success. I mean in 2009 we had an unbeaten run, we went to Cottco where we played against the top teams there and we won. We didn’t lose a game during the season we even asked to play the big fixtures that year but a lot of the big teams turned us down out of fear of our prowess. They feared the status quo shifting so swiftly. That said a combination of the headmaster’s (who is also the coach) passion and the talent he manages to recruit at Kyle College, it was only a matter of time before we became a powerhouse in Zimbabwe Schools rugby.

PM: Tell me how conversations with your parents would go around your desire to play sport professionally considering that for many in our generation it was sort of taboo. As most parents wanted their kids to focus solely on education at times.
TC: Well I am privileged to have parents who are passionate about sport. Since I was in primary school, my mother would be present at all the events I would take part in. She had a lot of time on her hands and she would make sure she would be cheering from the stands for the whole day at times. She always had a basin of rice for me to eat after a long day (chuckles). So I’m really privileged to have parents who had a great understanding and passion for sports. My dad played football and was an athlete, so he knew/knows the importance of support someone in such instances. And there was a point where I had to choose between moving to Germany or taking up a job my dad had organised for me. I could tell he was a bit disappointed with my decision at first but in the end, it ended up going well. It was a great lesson for me how I know that sometimes parents can give their kids the leeway to pursue their dreams and this goes a long way in helping their kids to be better people. I mean I know a lot of people who could have gone far with sports but due to Zimbabwean societal beliefs around professional sports and education must always come first in all circumstances ultimately hindered them. Personally, I would like to encourage parents to take the leap of faith and allow their kids to dream and give their dreams their all.

PM: How did your move to TV Pforzheim come about?
TC: Well the move came about straight after university in South Africa when I returned to Zimbabwe while I was playing for Old Hararians. Then as fate would have it the club manager for TV Pforzheim contacted Costa Dinha because he had played in Germany before. He requested Costa Dinha to help him find some players to take one trial and Costa decided that I should be one of those who traveled to Germany alongside some other players. It was literally a once in a lifetime opportunity and that’s how I got to Germany and I’m still here at Pforzheim.

PM: I have a good friend based in Germany. He has mentioned the hardships of living in Germany for a black man. In your experience have things changed over the years?
TC: It’s always difficult for a person of colour coming to Germany, the Germans aren’t really used to the person of colour. The stereotyping is unbearable I experience it on a weekly basis for months on end. But as long as one remembers why you are here and the reasons you left home you will turn a blind eye to such. It works at times and in other cases, it doesn’t work and you remain scarred. But yeah, the moral of the story is it’s very very difficult to live in Germany, I haven’t lost hope in them though with time they will get used to us. There are a lot of economic refugees coming through in their numbers.

PM: People back home often envy those from home who are abroad and thriving. Do you feel blessed to have an opportunity to earn a living outside of Zimbabwe and how do you deal with home sickness?
TC: At such times when the economy isn’t doing well the majority are struggling because of so many wrongs that the government has done over a long period of time, I actually feel privileged to be here. I wake up and not worry about load-shedding. I wake up with assurances that my job is secure meaning I can plan ahead and I’m not waking up worrying about the price of bread changing for the next two years. I actually wish that I could do something to help our country, but such is life. Rugby actually helps me not to get homesick I’m always the home cause of the sevens and fifteens competitions, so no homesickness for me.

PM: For the majority of your life you grew up in an environment with a very tough economic outlook for the majority. What lessons did you take from Zimbabwe’s economic situation, that you use to this day.
TC: I think the Zimbabwe economic situation is a tricky one. I came from a middle-class family, thanks to God, and I was also fortunate enough to have both, my parents, alive and they always made sure that we went to bee well fed. I’m grateful for that. One thing I have learnt from the situation is that for one to be happy and successful, I think you have to minimize the level of influence your environment of the outside world has on whatever you need to do to get to where you want to go. So if it means you want to make sure there is bread on the table.

PM: I’m sure you get this question quite a bit. But tell me why are known more for the Sevens and not Fifteens?
TC: It’s funny you should ask, most of the time I have to remind people that I play both Sevens and Fifteens. The main reason could be that when an opportunity arises to play fifteens I am usually tied up with my club. The fifteens competitions are usually held over a longer period when you compare them to the sevens. The last time I couldn’t play for the Sables, I had actually broken my leg. So generally people hear more about my exploits with the sevens side because I seem to always be free for a week or a weekend which is enough on the sevens circuit and that’s why.

PM: How disappointed were you with the results at the Sevens World Cup last year?
TC: Going to the World Cup was a huge step, although the results didn’t show that we wanted to be there. I think it was a combination of poor preparation due to the tough economic conditions in Zimbabwe. But as a team, we weren’t impressed at all by the results we produced there. As part of the team that went to the previous World Cup, I remember vividly that we placed 13th out of the 24 teams there. So the last World Cup didn’t leave anything to be remembered by and we were really disappointed.

PM: We recently heard about the wage strike by the Warriors at AFCON 2019, the Gems also protested somewhat at the Netball World Cup and the Mighty Warriors abandoning a match. I have never heard about such protests with the Sables or Cheetahs. Is ZRU that well run, if yes what can other sports associations learn from ZRU?
TC: Well boycotting and protests, the Cheetahs and Sables have their fair share of those, it’s just that the Union is very proactive when it comes to that. So if there are complaints they attend to them quickly before they get out of hand or it maybe our ability to contain such issues amongst ourselves and keep them inhouse. Those are the two reasons that I think would make you ask such a question. It’s not like we don’t have our own fair share of these kind of issues in Zimbabwean rugby circles.

PM: You played league rugby in Zimbabwe after your time at Rhodes University. How was the Zimbabwe rugby league? Do you think it can be improved?
TC: To be honest with you our league has enough talent to compete anywhere in the world. But sadly the talent can’t be backed up financially and the resources to develop us the players and promote the league are just not there. I think the one difference that exists between our league and others out there is funding and player welfare which are close to zero. The league talent-wise can compete anywhere globally and that is my two cents on the Zimbabwe Rubgy League.

PM: When I look at the IRB Sevens circuit, very few players play both rugby codes and the few who do never play fifteens that much. In your opinion why is this the case?
TC: I think the bigger Unions you see that the players are contracted for sevens and fifteens separately since they are fully professional so this means you have to commit to one code for the duration of your contract. So for professionals, it’s impossible to commit to both.

PM: You are one of the most complete sevens players that I have seen in sevens. You are speedy and nifty in attack but your cover defence could actually be named as your key strength. Who do you model your game on?
TC: I wouldn’t say I’m an allrounder, but then it is a problem with all wingers one on one tackles are always our weakest point. Sometimes you can try to get a last-ditch tackle from behind but you don’t always have an opportunity to catch the man. But a role model in Sevens would be Sabelo Senatla, he has everything, well had everything if I can say so since he isn’t playing anymore. As a role model, he had it all in his arsenal the pace, the kicking game, the stepping ability, the D he was always on point at a consistent rate. He is an absolute role model when it comes to the game and off the field too as a man. He represented exactly how I like to portray myself as well. Sabelo is definitely my sevens role model.

PM: Looking at your catalogue of tries, one of my absolute favourites is the one you scored versus Russia. You got the ball in your own 22, juked inside to leave one defender for dead, you ran straight at their last man and you popped the ball up as if you were going to kick an up and under left him for dead to score right under the posts.
What would you say is the best try you have scored so far in your career?
TC: It’s interesting to note that you chose Russia out of all the teams I have played. To be honest my best try was actually versus Russia but not the one you picked. I would like to think the Russians are unlucky when it comes to me, I never leave good memories when I face them (laughs). So yeah my best try was in the 2015 World Cup qualifiers versus Russia in Moscow, I could be wrong but we were away to them. I got the ball in the five-yard line, ran through the first line of defense, went around the fullback and the winger put a chase on but he couldn’t catch me. Yeah, I think that was the best try of my career and I was starting to enjoy scoring tries for the Fifteens side. Of course, I have scored many other memorable tries and others come close to that one but this is a big highlight in my career. They still talk about that try in Russia, I even did an interview with a Chilean publication about that try.

PM: What is the highlight of your career?
TC: The highlight of my career…. This is an easy one it would definitely be Hong Kong 2015/16 I can’t really remember but that’s where I became the best Sevens player for the Hong Kong qualifiers and I also made it into the Dream Team. I also scored the most tries in the final, I also scored a hat-trick in the final and went off. We then ended up losing to Russia after the shooter. Despite that, this was the highlight of my career so far and I’m sure something else will come up in my career ahead but for me that is the peak so far.

PM: How do you deal with failure on the pitch?
TC: I think for me coming from a Christian background, I believe that everything happens for the reason so if one game doesn’t go my way, to me I see it as an opportunity to redeem myself in the next game and improve. This is how I deal with failure on the field, and success on the field too. To me, it’s all God’s grace and if something doesn’t happen my way it’s all for a greater good to prior myself and show myself I can be better and grow.

PM: If you weren’t a international rugby player what would Tafadzwa Chitokwindo be doing?
TC: If I wasn’t an international rugby player I would be a Premier League star maybe (laughs), or I could have maybe been Africa’s Usain Bolt in the making. I did get a national U20 call up for soccer back in the day and I also had an opportunity to go to the USA for a track meet for the 100m and 200m sprints. So I could have been various things really and I believe I would have been successful in whichever path I had taken because I have the discipline and mental fortitude to be successful.

PM: I see you are an Arsenal fan. When did you begin following your club? And have you ever been to the Emirates?
TC: I have always been an Arsenal fan since I was born, I was under the impression that my dad was an Arsenal fan. However, it turned out that he was in actual fact a Tottenham Hotspur fan and just admired the type of football that Arsenal played. That said it was too late for me to change over, so I’m have been a Gunner from the get-go.
Well I have to the Emirates once and that was last year, I enjoyed my experience there.

PM: One of the first articles I wrote for Sports Hype was an article about Tendai Mtwarira. In the article I outlined that I believe that he turned on De Villiers and was ungrateful. What do you think about the Tendayi Mtawarira book and his comments on Pieter De Villiers?
TC: On the Mtawarira issue it’s pretty much subjective, I personally think Tendai thought PDV had little influence on the wins the Boks had at the time. But if you go to someone else who was on the same side with Tendai under PDV he will probably say he learnt a lot under PDV. So as the saying goes one man’s meet is another man’s poison. So whether Tendai took PDV for granted or not there is someone who learnt something or a whole host of things from PDV so it becomes a subjective issue.

PM: I’m sure you read the letter that Peiter De Villers wrote at the time of his departure, where he spoke about the existence of racism in ZRU and the Sables setup. Any thoughts on that and how deep would you say racism is in Zimbabwean rugby?
I ask this because I have seen some glimpses of this from my time playing in high school plus university andas a fan as well.
TC: Unfortunately I didn’t read the letter that PDV wrote prior or after his departure so I wouldn’t be able to comment as I don’t have any content on that. So yeah, fortunately, or unfortunately the letter didn’t cross my path and I can’t really comment on that.

My take away
Tafadzwa Chitokwindo is one of the most intelligent individuals I have ever been around, and I’m not talking about his on the field exploits. He has his feet firmly on the ground and one can clearly tell that he is one of the good guys. He attributes much of his success to his parents and God, he even credits his teammates and those around him for his successes on the field. For me this is gold!
I did feel that he held back from answering the last part of my question relating to racism in ZRU and Zimbabwean rugby circles, I didn’t even get an off the record comment. That said I thoroughly enjoyed my time speaking to this legend and fellow Gooner.

Thank you for your time, leave your comments below!

Philani Mukwakwami

FOUNDER

Sports are a hobby horse of mine, what happens in-between the lines is just as thrilling as what happens outside of them.