Like many Zimbabweans, Tendai Mtawarira is living and working far from home. Unlike most of us, Tendai plays for the Springboks. He is far from the first Zimbabwean to play for the South African rugby side (Take a look at my post on Zimbabwean Springboks) and I am sure he won’t be the last.
I cannot speak for him, but if he is anything like most Zimbabweans I meet, he would much rather be living and working in Zimbabwe. But until things get better, many of us will continue to live in a foreign country, giving them the benefit of our skills and depriving Zimbabwe them.
Last week, I noticed with interest that the South African Sports Ministry has accused the South African Rugby Union (SARU) of poor administration regarding their handling of Tendai Mtawarira’s eligibility for playing for the Springboks.
Apparently “The Beast” as he has been nicknamed was in danger of missing the year-end tour if the Sports Ministry weren’t satisfied with the reasons that a foreign national had been selected for the Springboks. Tendai Mtawarira debuted for the Boks in 2008 after completing his three-year residency and has played 19 Tests and has already toured with the Springboks to the UK last year, as well as Australasia this year and in 2008 and so it is strange that they are bringing up the issue now.
SARU apparently wants to speed up the process of getting Mtawarira’s South African citizenship, by asking a government minister to use his influence.
‘This request to have the Minister use his position to have the process of securing permanent residence and subsequently, citizenship expedited ahead of the year end tour in Europe, has exposed our sport administrators’ clear disrespect or lack of understanding of our laws,’ the ministry said in a statement.
‘Talented as he is, Tendai, like all foreign nationals plying their trade in South Africa, is bound by the laws of this country. The migration laws of our country are clear on issues relating to permanent residence and citizenship. We expect our sport administrators to understand and respect legislation that regulate their business. None of the athletes, sport codes, or federations can be bigger than the country.’
The Sports Ministry also questioned whether Mtawarira is that much better than other looseheads in the country to gain the special treatment that allowed him to tour.
‘While Tendai is a live wire on the field of play, the question is whether it is, in the first place, justifiable to say he has scarce skills – the rationale that would have enabled him to obtain the current work permit. If we go the route our rugby administrators are requesting us to take, and facilitate the fast-tracking of Tendai’s citizenship, what would this say to all rugby players in our country? We cannot as a government department responsible for sport and recreation in this country, afford to insult our players like this,’ added the statement.
‘The principle here is clear: Only citizens of our country can play for our National team, irrespective of the sport code. Therefore, no foreign national can play for any of our national teams, no matter how outstanding they may be. If any player in any code is to become a South African citizen, this has to be done within the legal framework of our country.
‘Federations, provinces and clubs, are more than welcome to approach us for advice on similar issues, instead of trying to slip a player through the legal framework.’
SARU responded by saying they would not comment on the Sport Ministry’s statements.
If you are wondering why Tendai is known as The Beast: It had something to do with him being “a bit of a bully” in his primary school days in Harare, Mtawarira has stated. It was also back then, when his huge frame was knocking down smaller contemporaries in a football match, that a local rugby coach thought he might be better suited to the rough and tumble of the 15-man game. It has only been in the past two years, though, that Mtawarira has made a name for himself as a beast of a prop.