Living in the Beast's shadow

DURBAN - Kings Park Stadium in Durban, known as The Shark Tank to adoring fans, is a mecca of rugby in South Africa.

Two Zimbabwean brothers have made the 52 000 capacity stadium their home for the last eight years – one on the pitch, and the other in the stands.

That has been the story of Springbok prop Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira, and his older brother Brian.

Having arrived in this port city of Durban with little more than a satchel on his back, the unheralded brother of the famous South Africa international playfully remarks he was so broke when he arrived in the country he craved for a new pair of R300 shoes.

With his job as an Information Technology (IT) manager at National Foods back home in Harare, the older Mtawarira could hardly afford to buy himself an extra pair of trainers, as Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown of 2008 took toll on even young professionals like him.

Seeking a way out, Brian made the 1676 kilometre journey by bus from Harare to Durban to “crush” with his young brother whilst he looked for a job.

On the other hand, the script had been different for “Beast”, who was having a fantastic 2008 Super 14 season with The Sharks.

Soon, Tendai was being selected for the Springboks, making his debut against Wales in June of 2008, and what an introduction to test rugby it was for the young man from Harare.

“I remember the first game I watched him play at Kings Park, it must have been a Currie Cup final against Blue Bulls,” Brian tells the Daily News here on the coastline which has been his home for the last eight years.

“Every time he got the ball the whole stadium would shout ‘Beast.’ It was amazing, I felt inspired. I said ‘he is my laaitie (South African slang for young brother) I grew up with him, sharing the same bed’ here he was shining.”

But it had not always been like that.

Once, Brian had been the pacesetter of the two siblings, shielding Tendai from the harsh realities of a Form One student at a high school where seniority is the order of the day.

“Beast came to Prospect Primary School in Harare when I was already in Grade Seven and then to Churchill when I was Upper Six,” says Brian.

“So it was a matter of wanting the best for him and making sure he was in good company.”

Beast might be one of the fittest athletes in world sport today, but Brian insists his brother was never one to throw his weight around as a youngster. 

“Having gone to Churchill, seniority was always going to be part of our life at school and at home,” Brian says.

“But it was moderate, it was just a matter of making him stay out of trouble and stay in good company….all in good faith.”

The older Mtawarira planted the first seed of rugby in the family.

Brian, a backliner, first won selection into the Harare Provincial team, then turned out for Old Hararians before representing Zimbabwe at Under-21 level, and later for Harare Sports Club.

Among the stars of that Zimbabwe Under-21 side was former Springbok prop Brian Mujati.

“I was actually the first one to play rugby in our family,” he says.

“Beast and the rest of the family would come to most of my Under-21 games. I remember he came to this game when we played Namibia where I scored three tries.”

Though having the talent, Brian, admits he was not as “extraordinary” and as "passionate" for the game as his brother.

With the financial situation a bit worrying at home, the Mtawariras insisted their older son pursue a degree at Midlands State University.

“I was actually meant to pursue athletics after school,” Brian says.

“At that time I was training with a club called All Stars and my main target was to go to the United States on an athletics scholarship,” he recalls.

“I had just made Zim athletics (team) the previous year along with (former Zimbabwe Olympic sprinter) Brian Dzingai for the 100m and 200m.  Dzingie was always a step ahead.”

While Dzingai went on to further his athletics career in the United States, Brian took up IT at MSU.

He later retraced his footsteps to rugby when current Zimbabwe Youth coach Godwin Murambiwa called him up into the Junior Sables squad.

“Godwin said to me ‘Brian, the Under-21s are in camp, why don’t you join us. We know you have the pace but before that we want you to play for Old Hararians’ first team, to show the other guys what you got’.”

But after featuring in only a handful of the Junior Sables matches, Brian’s parents ensured their son fully concentrated on school from where he would graduate with an IT degree before working for Delta and then National Foods.

But as the Zimbabwe’s economy declined, those in formal work begun to find it extremely difficult to get by.

“Things were tough, I was so depressed,” he says.

“Before I came here I had been trying to save to buy a pair of shoes. So as soon as I arrived the first thing I bought was a pair of shoes and it was such a relief.

“You can imagine, I was manager but I was failing to buy the basics. When I came here Beast gave me some pocket money and I used it to the buy shoes.

“I stayed with him for six months and during that time I went with him to every game he played. I still attend his games when I get time and every game is as inspiring as the first.”

The 34-year-old is in awe of the journey his brother, four years his junior, has travelled.

“It’s amazing how much he puts into the game,” he says. “His training regime is disciplined; he gives 100 percent all the time. When I stayed with him, he would wake up in the morning, hit gym, in the afternoon train with the team and hit the gym again in the evening.”

This persistence and ability to absorb pressure, are some of the qualities Brian noticed when the pair were both young.

“When he got a scholarship to go to Peterhouse College from Churchill, it was life changing.

“That in itself was great, here is a boy from Churchill, a government school, moving to Peterhouse, a snobbish school, and then doing well there at rugby, that spoke volumes of the type of person he would become.”

In a utopian world, Brian would have loved to play international rugby for Zimbabwe against his brother, the Bok Beast.

But he is 34 now, and retired from playing.

Now an IT teacher at Clifton College here in Durban, Brian speaks of the goodness of his young brother’s heart.

In between teaching IT and coaching rugby and athletics, Brian is still amongst The Beast’s ardent followers, travelling to watch and cheer him wherever he plays in South Africa.

“Even meeting the guys from the Sharks, they are very down to earth,” Brian says.

“And Beast, if you meet him now you won’t know he is famous. His passion for the game is up there, you can’t think he has made it.” 

Although older, the IT teacher is not evasive to advice.

“Over the years the tables have turned. Ten years ago I used to do the talking and advice but now as far as rugby is concerned I consult him more and incorporate that in my training sessions,” he says.

Brian says despite representing South Africa, Tendai still holds Zimbabwe in high regard and chips in whenever he can.

The Mtawariras’ parents have also been emotionally pivotal in making their son’s dream a reality.

“I want to thank my parents who got us where we are,” Brian says.

“Coming here alone is not easy but the inspiration we got from our parents is big, they always taught us the hard lessons,” he says.

With rugby facing turbulent times back home precipitated by a declining economy, the former Harare Sports Club  centre is still hopefull.

“As far as rugby is concerned we have the brains in Zim, we just have to create sustainable structures and avoid bias,” he says.

Married with a four year old daughter, Brian says he still owns the shoes he bought after “getting pocket money” from his famous brother Beast.

And as long as he continues to live here in Morningside while his brother turns out for the Sharks, The Shark Tank will always hold a special place in his heart.

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