Tinashe Kusema

ZIMBABWE-BORN rugby legend, Tendai Mtawarira, went back to school – from the comfort of his home in Durban – as the inaugural recipient of a special scholarship from Henley Business School Africa.

The programme is designed to help sports icons successfully transition from the changing room to the boardroom.

“It went well,” laughed the man once beloved as “Beast” on rugby fields across the world.

“There were a lot of hours of paying attention. I’ll have to work on my brain’s fitness now, for sure as we get into it.”

Mtawarira, the third most capped Springbok of all time, retired from international and domestic rugby last year after helping win the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

He signed a one-year playing and coaching contract to play in the US Major League in Washington DC, only for the season to be cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Henley Business School Africa’s seamless virtual learning before the imposition of the South African lockdown means Mtawarira can attend lectures from his home – or even in the US next year.

“I might possibly go back to Old Glory DC next year to play and to coach, we are still talking about it.

“This year was supposed to be my final season,” says the 117-cap veteran, but for now though he’s focusing on his business studies.

“I was initially enrolled to study a Bachelor of Commerce degree in marketing before I was spotted and signed to play for the Sharks,” he remembers.

“I always intended to get an academic grounding to give me a solid start to my business career.”

He was alerted to Henley by an old school friend, Shingi Jena, who lives in the UK, who told him about the MBA programme.

Mtawarira was busy focusing on preparing for the World Cup, but made time to visit Henley Africa’s campus.

“I got introduced to Jon (Foster-Pedley, Henley Africa’s dean and director), who was very accommodating and answered all my questions. Then and there, the decision was made to enrol.

“I’m planning to use the one-year Post Graduate Diploma in management which I am enrolled for as my stepping stone to the global triple accredited MBA ultimately,” Mtawarira says.

The transition from the bright lights of the stadium to life outside hasn’t been as difficult for Mtawarira as it is for other sports starts.

“To be honest, I think the key is to plan beforehand. I was very fortunate to have met Wahl Bartmann at the Sharks who became a mentor on the field, and later off, when I joined his company Fidelity Security nine years ago.

“Today, I’m on the board of directors and I’m a shareholder too, so when the day came to hang up my boots for the last time, I already knew what I was walking into.”

Foster-Pedley said the decision to award the Zimbabwean-born South African rugby icon the inaugural scholarship had been an easy one to make.

“Most sports stars struggle with the transition from retirement from what they love at an age when most of their peers are only starting to see their corporate careers take off.

“Tendai is far more astute, the opportunity to study at Henley just allows us to help him take this career in jacket and tie to the same heights he enjoyed wearing the green and gold.”

For Foster-Pedley, the announcement of this latest scholarship which now pushes Henley to 31 annual scholarships – the most of any business school in Africa – is part of the continuous evolution of a business school rooted in its community.

“Where else can you sit in a class studying towards your MBA with classmates that range from acclaimed investigative journalists to world class comedians, stadium-filling musicians and now sporting icons that you might only ever have seen on TV?” he asked.