FROM Gweru to Brisbane, Perth and now Canberra.
BY MICHAEL MADYIRA
It is an eventful journey travelled by Zimbabwe-born Brumbies and Wallabies flanker David Pocock.
Growing up on their Allysloper family farm in the Lower Gweru area bordering Nkayi, the cow dung-smelling and cheerful kid would spend some of his time playing with farm workers.
But marauding war veterans took away his happiness when they forced his family to flee the country in 2001 with only their clothes as posessions at the peak of the farm invasions.
With harrowing experiences of witnessing a farming neighbour being strangled to death with barbed wire and terror unleashed on them by the rogue war veterans, his childhood dream of becoming a world rugby great almost died.
Unbeknown to the thugs, they were chasing away a jewel that went on to captain one of the world’s rugby powerhouses.
Zimbabwe did not do any justice to herself by driving away such extraordinary talent that is now revered in Australia and the rugby world.
“At that time it was very hard for my family, especially my dad,” Pocock told Standardsport.
“He had bought the farm together with his dad and brother after Independence and worked hard to make it relatively successful. It was awful seeing the way that farm workers were being beaten. If it was truly about land redistribution I couldn’t see why our farm would be given to an army general and not farm workers who knew how to farm it. I visited it a few years ago and there was nothing happening there. The fields were overgrown and I had a good chat with the farm manager who said they were doing 200 chickens in one of the sheds.”
As a result of the chilling experiences, Pocock developed eating disorders while his younger brother Steve suffered from acute anxiety problems that saw him admitted at a children’s psychiatric centre for nine months.
Although his grandfather’s farm in Beitbridge is currently under similar attack, Pocock does not bear any grudges on the war veterans and has gone ahead to establish a charity organisation in Nkayi that caters for women and children’s rights, health, food security and education.
“My grandfather’s farm is being occupied despite High Court rulings in his favour. Women and children have been beaten, wildlife slaughtered and eco-tourism lodges ransacked. I find it incredibly sad,” he said.
After Zimbabwe kicked away the potential flag bearer, Pocock put that behind him to establish himself into a world rugby icon who was nominated for the 2010 and 2011 IRB International Player of the Year.
Arriving in Brisbane in 2002 as a 14-year-old, he made his Wallabies debut in Hong Kong against New Zealand six years later.
“It was a very exciting day. It was six years to the day from when my family had arrived in Brisbane with our suitcases to start a new life in Australia.”
He became the Wallabies’ 79th Test captain at age 23, won the John Eales Medal in 2010, which is the highest accolade in Australian rugby, and played in the IRB World Cup the following year.
Regarded by many as the world’s best open-side flanker, the Musina-born player however refuses to sink into personal glory.
“It was a huge honour to be voted by my team-mates for the John Eales Medal. I find that it’s not the personal accolades that you remember but rather the wins and good times together as a team.”
While his worship of the Springboks kept his rugby-playing dream alive despite a difficult childhood, Pocock is now living his dream.
“I always hoped I would become one of the world’s best rugby players,” he said.
“But it seemed like a big dream for a kid from Gweru. I loved my rugby and watched the Sables play a few times as a kid and was a big Springboks fan. Knowing that players like Gary Teichmann and Bob Skinstad had been born in Zimbabwe and gone on to be world rugby legends was a huge inspiration for me as a kid.”
That dream began as a Grade Three pupil at Midlands Christian School where he fondly remembers his Grade Five teacher Simon Gough.
He also has memories of Tungamirai Mashungu, his Form One Geography teacher at Midlands Christian College (MCC) who is not surprised to see Pocock illuminating world rugby.
“He was a well-mannered and very hard working student,” said Mashungu. “He was above average academically but you could see that he was a phenomenal rugby player. He also still holds the Under-14 javelin record. I was not surprised to see him playing for the Wallabies. I knew he was going places with rugby because he was miles ahead of the others in terms of ability and he had a bigger body frame than most boys. I am happy for him.”
Signing for Perth-based Western Force in 2006, Pocock defied age barriers that came with Australian union rugby rules of no Under-18s largely owing to his huge body frame.
But his career has of late been blighted by a spate of injuries that has seen him missing the past two seasons with the Brumbies whom he signed for in 2012.
Just a month after his comeback from a 12-month injury layoff, he had another injury on his knee during a game against his former club Western Force in March and had a reconstruction of the left knee. He will only be back in action in December.
That has risked his World Cup chances because by the time he returns to action he would have missed nearly 30 Tests.
“Playing in the World Cup is my goal and there is plenty of work to do before then so I will see how I go.”
Watching his Wallabies colleagues in action while he is on the sideline is painful to him but he believes he can get back to a career-best form.
“It is never fun but it is all just part of it,” he said. “All I can do is work hard with my rehab to get back as soon as I can. It will obviously be a big challenge getting back to the career-best form but I hope to get back and enjoy my rugby.”
A perfect surprise struck during his rehabilitation in a Brisbane hospital, when he was nursed by a former MCC classmate Wongani Silo.
“That was crazy hey,” he said. “When Wongani walked in and we started chatting and figured it all out, it really made my day.”
While his family endured a torrid time at the hands of some war veterans, his father Andy and mother Jane could be celebrating that relocating to Australia was a blessing disguise.