Rugby World Cup winning Springbok legend Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira, better known as Beeeaaasssttt! to fans, has been moved from back row to front row, bullied by xenophobic politicians and undergone three bouts of heart surgery. But his is a story of how a humble man from Zimbabwe became a rugby icon.
During those three weeks when the Boks were playing at home and I was shuttling between Regan [Hoskins] and Michelle at home affairs, I started to think that this was probably not going to work out.
But at the very moment when I was about to give up, I received a phone call that changed everything.
I got a call from a friend saying: “Hey, Beast, the Arch wants to speak to you. Make sure your phone is on.”
Later that afternoon my phone rang, I answered and a voice said: “Is that Beast? It’s the Arch here.”
It was none other than Archbishop Desmond Tutu on the line.
He said: “I love what you do for South Africa. Every time you get the ball the crowd shouts, “Beeaaassst!” and I think it’s fantastic. You’re a great ambassador and a role model, you represent us and this whole thing that’s happened to you is unfair and unjust.”
I was surprised that the Arch even knew about me, but he said: “I love rugby! I watch it all the time.”
Beast by Tendai Mtawarira with Andy Capostagno
Published by Pan Macmillan
Pages: 205; R290
It was an amazing conversation, because I was just thinking, “Wow”, and he was just so chilled and nice.
And I guess this was the answer to the prayers my fiancée and I had shared on the South Coast.
The Arch knew I was a man of God and said: “Don’t worry, I’m going to sort this out for you. Keep on training and playing well and leave it to me; I will resolve this. You will get your citizenship and you’ll be able to play for the Springboks.”
As soon as he hung up, my spirits lifted, went through the roof, straight to cloud nine.
Now I had someone serious on my side and within a week I got a call from the office of Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
I was told to fly up to Pretoria with my documents.
So Michelle was literally cut out of the picture and off I went, handed in my stuff, had my fingerprints done, and at the end I was told my passport would be ready in one week!
That was the longest week of my life because, apart from my fiancée and parents, I couldn’t tell anyone.
I didn’t dare breathe a word until I had the passport in my hand. I buried myself in training with the Sharks and a week later I flew back to Pretoria to pick up my passport.
Of course, because I had become a South African citizen I now had to surrender my Zimbabwean passport.
On my first trip back to Zim there were a few chirps when people saw my South African passport – stuff like, “he’s crossed over to the dark side” – but it was all in good fun and at the end of the day to me it was just a document.
It made it easier for me to travel and do my job, but it didn’t change who I was and where I was from.
The first thing I did was take a picture of the new passport and the next thing I did was to call Regan Hoskins.
On Friday, June 25th, Hoskins released a press statement that read: ‘The South African Rugby Union announced on Friday that prop Tendai Mtawarira had been cleared for selection for the Springboks following the granting of South African citizenship.
“Mtawarira was unavailable for selection for the Springboks’ first four Tests of 2010 – against Wales, France and Italy (2) – as he was not a holder of a South African passport. The decision to exclude him from selection was taken following advice from the ministry of sport reaffirming the government’s position that no foreign player can be selected to represent a national team.
“Mtawarira had been actively seeking South African citizenship and has now been granted that right by Minister for Home Affairs Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
“This is very gratifying news indeed and thanks to much hard work that has been going on behind the scenes over the past few months,” said Mr Oregan Hoskins, president of Saru.
“I’d like to personally thank Minister Dlamini-Zuma for her intervention to assist in this matter. It had long been Beast’s desire to become naturalised and he has had to endure some difficult times in recent months. He is now eligible for selection should he fit into the plans of the coach and national selectors.”
It is difficult to know how the decision was arrived at and until he was interviewed for this book Hoskins had no idea about Tutu’s role.
It’s possible that Tutu called Dlamini-Zuma direct, but it’s more likely that he went over her head and straight to the top of the ANC structure.
Sports Minister [Makhenkesi] Stofile left office at the end of October 2010 and, eight months later, took up his post as the ambassador to Germany, a position he fulfilled until his death on August 15 2016.
His replacement as sports minister was Fikile Mbalula, who took a far more benign approach to rugby than his predecessor.
But that was all in the future for Beast as he began to come to terms with resuming his international career.
When he heard that everything had been resolved, Peter de Villiers called to tell me how happy he was that I was available, but warned that he wasn’t going to pick me for the Tri Nations, but he said he would definitely get me back in the squad for the end-of-year tour.
That wasn’t what I wanted to hear, of course, because I was just raring to go.
I was a raging bull ready to be unleashed!
I remember the hunger I felt having to watch Gurthrö [Steenkamp] playing my position and I wanted to prove my worth and show people how hungry I was to play in the Bok jersey again.
As for Hoskins, today he ponders whether Beast expected more from the president of Saru than he was able to give.
He says: “I think, because he was from Zimbabwe, that Beast assumed I had a lot more power as president of Saru than was actually the case. He didn’t understand the political reality in South Africa. From 2006 to 2018 I always felt I had to walk a tightrope. Whenever I had to speak in front of Parliament I had to defend rugby and assure them that we were serious about transformation. I always felt I had to mind my Ps and Qs with senior ANC people and that is the saddest part of my time with rugby.
“I believe that the ANC has bullied rugby and my successor as president, Mark Alexander, told me that he has become an ANC member and I get a sense that the relationship has improved because of that. Looking back, maybe if the president of Saru in 2009/10 had been an ANC member we could have stood up to government over Beast. But Butana Komphela and Cedric Frolick and all those guys knew I wasn’t an ANC member and at my last meeting at Luthuli House, just before I resigned, it became clear to me that I would never have the backing of the ANC.”