The Sunday Mail
IF it were not for his grandmother Podina Meki, Tatenda Tavengwa’s football career could have ended prematurely.
The Venda Academy skipper had a tough upbringing and realised what it means to be rejected at a young age.
He lost his mother when he was just seven.
Her death meant more misery in his life, as the man he believed to be his father claimed he was not his biological dad.
Tavengwa was too young to understand what it meant then, as his supposed father only claimed paternity to his two siblings — Takudzwa and Tafadzwa.
Tavengwa was forced to flee home as one of his uncles also allegedly violently abused him.
This also meant he had to start a new life.
But all hope was not lost.
He found in his grandmother, Meki, his greatest admirer and closest aide.
Meki turned 81 this year.
“I was really hurt when I lost Tavengwa’s mother. She loved her three kids unconditionally with the little she could afford during that time,” she said.
“Things got worse after the burial of my daughter. We called for a meeting seeking to know what was going to happen since I was taking care of her and the three boys, and I was shocked when the man who I thought was Tavengwa’s father told us a different story.
“I was not aware of anything, and sometimes I cry when I think of the words which were exchanged that day and how the meeting ended.
“I looked at Tavengwa and I failed to control my tears. I really felt for him.”
She also spoke about the challenges she faced while raising the boy, who would go on to play for a number of Premier Soccer League clubs before crossing the Limpopo to South Africa.
“I was not employed and giving him everything he needed was really a huge ask, because sometimes I struggled to get him clothes, school fees and basic food.
“But he never looked bothered,” she said.
“He was always satisfied with what was on the table, but he really suffered emotionally, because it is not easy to accept being rejected and losing your mother and siblings in three days.”
When Tavengwa realised that he was not bright at school, he turned to football.
As fate would have it, the game gave him some solace and the heavens seem to have smiled on him.
“I was not that bright academically,” he said.
“As a kid, you don’t really know what is going to happen next, but luckily, people started telling me that I should take football seriously.”
He was also lucky to be exposed to international football, as the late former Zimbabwe and Moroka Swallows midfielder Edzai Kasinauyo included him among a group of young players he took to Spain for the VW Junior Masters tournament.
Those young players got a chance to play at the iconic Bernabeu, which is home to European and Spanish giants Real Madrid.
Some of the players were later offered scholarships by Churchill School.
“I was selected for the VW Junior Masters in 2011 to represent the country in Spain, and upon my return, I was given a Churchill School scholarship,” he said.
“I also struggled with bus fare and soccer boots, but I would borrow from my friends because my grandfather couldn’t afford them.”
After completing his Ordinary Level studies, he featured for Gunners, Tsholotsho FC, Bulawayo City, Harare City and CAPS United.
That was before he secured a deal at the Motsepe Foundation Championship outfit Venda Academy in South Africa.
The 26-year-old now looks after his grandmother, whom he bought a car to use for her errands, including attending church services, as she now struggles to walk.
Meki is also grateful that Tavengwa has not shunned his siblings despite what he endured early in his life.
“Tavengwa is a kind man. He takes good care of me and his two siblings despite everything that happened in the past.
“Recently, he even paid most of what was asked for when Takudzwa lost his child, and it really shows the person he is.
“He also bought me a car when he realised that I was no longer going to church because of my health situation.”
Tavengwa has now set his sights on a move into the South African Premiership, amid revelations that he is on the radar of Soweto giants Kaizer Chiefs.
Former Zimbabwe and Kaizer Chiefs captain Willard Katsande has also added his voice to those Chiefs fans asking his former club to sign Tavengwa.
“It’s not easy to get recognition from Chiefs fans. It shows he is doing something good, and I would be happy to see him playing for this great club,” Katsande said.
“I also like him and I hope he maintains the form that has made people realise his potential. Even if he doesn’t get to play for Chiefs, at least he should play for any other top team in the DStv Premiership.”