The Sunday News
Mehluli Sibanda, Senior Sports Reporter
INDEPENDENCE for Zimbabwe in 1980 brought about sporting opportunities for the majority black Zimbabweans who had no such chances before the country was liberated.
Some sports remained reserved for those of a certain skin colour and it took years for the majority in the country to break through. The late Richard Tsimba became the first black player to represent Zimbabwe in international rugby. Born on 6 July 1965 in Harare, Tsimba made two appearances for Zimbabwe at the 1987 Rugby World Cup, a tournament co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
An outside centre, Tsimba, announced his arrival on the global stage when he raced through the Romanian defence to score an amazing try at Eden Park in Auckland, on the second day of the inaugural tournament. He scored two tries in that match which Zimbabwe lost 21-20. He played 23 times for his country before signing off with a try on his farewell appearance against Japan in Belfast at the 1991 Rugby World Cup.
Nicknamed the “Black Diamond”, Tsimba opened doors for other black players. At the 1991 World Cup, where Tsimba played in all of his country’s three matches at the tournament, there were three black players in Zimbabwe’s squad, the others being loose forward Honeywell Ngurube and wing Elimon Chimbima.
Tsimba died in a car accident in April 2000 at the age of 34, the same month that Zimbabwe celebrated 20 years of independence. His contribution to the game played with an oval shaped ball did not go unnoticed as in 2012, he was posthumously inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame. His younger brother and fellow Zimbabwe international Kennedy Tsimba was inducted alongside him.
Through their superb skills and groundbreaking achievements, the Tsimba family name is held in the same high esteem in rugby as the Flower siblings, Andy and Grant, enjoy in cricket. In his acceptance speech, Kennedy said it was his hope that the recognition can serve as inspiration that someone’s background did not matter that much.
“The accolade will also hopefully mark an era in history that proves that you can come from nowhere and reach your goal and beyond, and open the doors for more black rugby players, and give them hope that they too can achieve great things,’’ said Kennedy.
World Rugby vice-chairman at that time, South African Oregan Hoskins said: “The Tsimba brothers have left an indelible mark on Rugby in Southern Africa. They are pioneers of the Game who will be remembered by generations to come. It is fitting that they will be captured in
Rugby’s most famous place for memory, the IRB Hall of Fame.”
Most of the black players in the current Zimbabwe Sables squad can take representing their country for granted but for the late Richard Tsimba, it did not come that easy. – @Mdawini_29