I have never seen myself as disabled

  • 18 December 2020

Kudakwashe 'the Terminator' Mapira a talented Zimbabwean footballer, has known only one thing since he was six years old. That he wanted to be a professional footballer.

He made history by becoming the first football player with a disability to represent his country and make the Zimbabwean Homeless World Cup team. People call him "the Terminator” because of his physical fitness and strength, after Hollywood star Arnold Schwarzenegger, and many people know him only by that name.

Kuda describes life growing up in Zimbabwe with a disability "as like living in jail", but the 29-year-old, who was born without a left foot, is now fighting against discrimination through football.

Born on 17 April 1991 at Harare Central Hospital to Alois Mapira and the late Annette Chikurumi-Mapira, he grew up in Glen Norah, one of the Harare suburbs known for churning out talented footballers in the country. One thing Mapira is grateful for is the fact that his parents did not treat him as disabled by taking him to disability schools though he was born with a physical disability, missing knuckles on his left hand and without a foot on his left leg.

“Life has not been an easy one for me, and the road to get where I am today has been tough.”

In spite of his physical disability, gifted footballer Kuda has not been deterred in pursuit of his football dream. It was apparent at a tender age that the gifted boy also had a unique football talent and general love for the sport. And for as long as he can remember, Kuda has been playing football with able-bodied competitors and in most cases outplaying them, but a professional contract has eluded him because of his physical condition.

“Football is my passion. I have been playing since I was about six, playing plastic football in the street with able- bodied friends. I have never seen myself as disabled, but it’s only other people who always remind me.”

Apart from having natural talent, it was hard for Mapira not to like football growing up in an area awash with football icons such as Tinashe Nengomasha, George Shaya, Dickson Choto and Givemore Manuella, to mention a few. Mapira also grew up playing with the likes of Abbas Amidu while he is best friends with former Warriors and Dynamos Football Club goalkeeper Tatenda Mukuruva.

It has not been an easy journey, including trials after trials and being turned away by a number of local academies and local junior football clubs. 

“I was better than many of my friends in football and it was sad when some of my friends were joining academies and I would be turned away. I also wanted to take my career to the next level, but most coaches never wanted to give me a chance.”

The closest he has come to gracing the Castle Lager Premiership (Zimbabwe Premier Soccer League) was a short stint at Caps FC back in 2008 when former ZIFA Technical Director Maxwell Takaendesa Jongwe, was brave enough to give Mapira a junior contract at CAPS FC.

“I played for Caps FC, thanks to Takaendesa Jongwe and Joey Antipas, who gave me that opportunity. Unfortunately, I could not achieve my dream of playing in the top flight because of my disability, but it’s something I do not regret. God’s time is always the best time.”

Mapira was one of 1,000 hopefuls who participated in the Castle Lager Five-a-Side tournament as trials to represent Zimbabwe at the Homeless World Cup in Cardiff, Wales. It is there that Mapira found the strength to vanquish the demons of his past, and that was largely due to his parents’ unwavering support. It has been Mapira’s dream from when he was young to carve a successful football career and eventually play for the Zimbabwe national team (the Warriors). He also wanted to look after his mother Annette from his football gift.

“My parents have always supported me and it is through their support that I managed to reach the level I have. They made me feel comfortable with my condition and I am glad for their support.”

Mapira was selected to part of the team to represent Zimbabwe at the Homeless World Cup in July 2019, after finishing as the top goalscorer in trials tournament.

“It was an amazing opportunity to come out as the top goalscorer at that tournament, as it gave me confidence going to the Homeless World Cup.”

It had been his prayer to go to Europe one day and to possibly get a chance to play football there. But with this opportunity, it was no longer about him, but for all the people with disabilities. 

“Being at the Homeless World Cup was a good experience for me; it opened up many opportunities for me as a player, and as an individual. I want to thank Young Achievement for Sports Development for this opportunity to go represent my country because it was my dream. I used to ask God why I was born like this, but I realise that he had amazing plans for me.”

The Homeless World Cup also opened some previously closed doors for the Glen Norah-born football star. He caught the eye of international media and others who wanted to be part of his inspiring story.

Mapira was offered a scholarship to study sports management with an American university while South African-based side Cape Town City was also assisting the disabled footballer in different ways.

God’s time looked to have arrived, just in the nick of time. The year 2019 brought with it many fortunes. Mapira is at a stage in his life where he is comfortable in his own skin; so much so that he has fully adopted his nickname “Terminator” and now proudly wears it like a badge of honour.

Kuda’s football idols are German great Bastian Schweinsteiger, as well as Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo, but he hopes that he can be a role model for young people with a disability in the future so that they too can be part of the beautiful game.

“It is my desire to help other disadvantaged and disabled kids, helping them as upcoming sportspersons and artists. I want to open doors for others like me so I will be representing every disabled person in the world. I want to be an inspiration in the world even to able-bodied players.”

Mapira may have inherited his football skills from his father Alois Mapira, who played in the late 1970s and is a former CAPS United manager It is also Mapira’s dream to become a football coach.

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