It is not every day that a footballer, let alone a goalkeeper, becomes captain at every club he plays for.
But not so when your name is Tapuwa Kapini.
The veteran goalkeeper has ‘led from behind’ at each of his senior football clubs. In some instances, like at AmaZulu and Highlands Park, he has been given the armband upon arrival.
And, that is a challenge that has never fazed him. “In Amazulu’s case, Manqoba (Mngqithi) asked the players when I was still new at the club and they all voted for me,” he says modestly.
Perhaps his biggest display of authority in his two decades of competitive football, garnered on either side of the Limpopo river, was the day he quelled the tempers of thousands unruly Highlanders fans in 2004.
Angry after a dubious decision by the referee, the fans started throwing missiles onto the pitch. The club chairman, an influential figure in the Zimbabwean game, Ernest ‘Maphepha’ Sibanda, thought he could get it under control. But he was wrong.
Up stepped Kapini and the livid fans retreated to their seats after a few hand signals by the eccentric shot-stopper. It was then that he “knew the importance of connecting with fans”.
But that was not the end of the lessons that have kept him in the game for a whole two decades. Those around him would have learnt by now that the bedrock of an eminent career is discipline. “Talent without discipline will never be enough,” says Kapini, who has been in South Africa for almost 14 seasons.
Being a veteran of 191 appearances in South Africa, where he started off with Silver Stars in 2006 – his wells of wisdom could be worth tapping into for the younger generation, including teammate Marlon Heugh, who’s pictured with him below.
Even better, the man, who has kept 54 clean sheets local football, boasts 48 international caps.
But he offers a lot more on the field of play than just insight – acrobatic, top-notch ball distribution, expressive, risky, and yet highly effective. And oh, he has scored a few goals from his own half of the pitch. The most notable, was when Highlands Park beat Ajax Cape Town 2-1 in 2016, courtesy of his strike that was initially meant to be a clearance.
Born in Harare in 1984, his early influences sat somewhere in midfield, pulling the strings as a traditional number eight. Used sporadically as a back-up goalkeeper, and far more frequently as a midfielder, he was just a guy enjoying the world’s most beautiful game. It wasn’t obvious at the time, but his regular outfield exploits were building a skillset to be the hallmark of a unique and gifted goalkeeper.
And when he decided to make the switch to being a goalminder in 2000, Highlanders, arguably the second biggest club in Zimbabwe, came knocking for the lanky teenager. “I was so tiny, weighing exactly 61kgs at the time.”
Skinny as he was, he was quickly thrown into the first team in 2001, a year he used to adapt to professional football. His main weakness, at the time, was perhaps a weak frame, which many thought restricted him from muscling out players during set-pieces. But he made up for it with agility.
The 2002 season saw Kapini firmly cement his place as first-choice goalkeeper, beginning a remarkable journey that yielded 12 trophies in his homeland, including three League titles.
United States-based former Highlanders defender, Thubelihle Nkomazana waxes lyrical about the man. “His work ethic was off the charts, he had a winning mentality even at training.”
His style of goalkeeping is undoubtedly unique and it was a no-brainer when Silver Stars came knocking for his services. He had worked to gain solidity and consistency. He was growing into a gifted goalkeeper.
Kapini, who turns 36 next month, was inspired by former Liverpool goalkeeper, Bruce Grobbelaar, below, arguably his country’s best football export.
With experience, he has developed the knack of being proactive when guarding the goals, rather than reacting to one-on-one situations. Timing his runs, sprinting to meet and interrupt an advancing striker has become his forté.
He vows to keep playing football for a couple more years. And clearly, the man is still strong, something he attributes to a lifestyle he has always maintained. “I’d never sit in a night club and drink alcohol. I need to take care of my body,” he says.
But when his favourite musician, the late Oliver Mtukudzi, was in town, Kapini would break his own rules just to go and watch him belt out his chart-topping tunes. Even still, his wife, Sandra, keeps him in check. “It’s good to have a firm wife, it gives you a sense of direction,” he says.
Kapini, who has already ventured into the vehicle repair business, is already planning for life after football.
Besides growing his business beyond the borders of South Africa, he harbours ambitions of being a coach, not just a goalkeepers’ mentor. Such is the clarity of vision and determination that has brought him thus far.
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By Mthokozisi Dube