From Shurugwi To Surrey With A Smile

Sport Zimbabwe

Brighton Zhawi

• The rise of a ‘disciplined and respectful’ Felisitus Kwangwa

• Zimbabwe netball captain set for Vitality Netball Super league debut

• Surrey Storm defender once promised her dad she would be a star


Felisitus Kwangwa’s story can begin simply with her smile.

The lingering ‘Felisitus smile’ worn on and off the netball court could get broader when she showcases her talent in the Vitality Netball Super league debut for 2021 this weekend.

Kwangwa now 25, was born at Chrome Hospital in Shurugwi, a small town in the southern part of Zimbabwe.

She was bred in Njube a high density suburb in Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo.

She now lives in Surrey, a county in South East England and is on the books of Surrey Storm. From Shurugwi to Surrey is a journey that needed persuasion to take off because Felisitus had other plans.

“Looking back it surprises me how much I have achieved from netball, I hated it when I was in primary school, and since I was tall I was forced to play,” she said.

“I only started appreciating the game when I was in Form Three at Sikhulile High School after receiving positive compliments from many coaches, then I realised maybe I had talent.”

School teachers are like second parents to children considering how much time kids spend at school.

So upon seeing a lanky teenager, Sikhulile High School teacher Mrs Karen Marechera, saw potential or maybe she was simply impressed by her height.

“At first she wasn’t really keen (to take up netball) I didn’t know her reasons, but I wanted her for her height,” the Ndebele language teacher told ZTN sport.

Also a mother’s influence is never far away in a girl child’s life.

Simeon Kwangwa, Felisitus’ father revealed: “Her mother used to discourage her from playing netball, but I had to remind her that even the schools ministry encourages sports. And now we have got a lot of people making it in the world through sport,” he said, adding that his daughter was athletic from a young age.

“She was a runner, she was very good in athletics and she can even play football,” he said.

Felisitus’ interest in netball grew and the rest is well documented.

From representing her Bulawayo province at the National Youth Games, to guiding Zimbabwe to the Netball Youth Cup in Botswana, making her senior netball team debut at 19 and being the best defender of the tournament when Zimbabwe won the Africa Championship in 2015 in Botswana, Felisitus’ star continues to shine.

“I could see that she had potential and it manifested,” said Simeon Kwangwa. “She has got self-trust; she never doubts herself.

“She used to tell me that dad one day I want to represent Zimbabwe.

“I was really a proud father when she played in Liverpool, it was a great feeling.”

And of course, there is the Netball World Cup feather as well on Kwangwa’s cap.

Perpetual Siyachitema who captained Zimbabwe at the Liverpool World Cup isn’t ‘really surprised by Kwangwa’s rise’.

“I have known her since she was playing age group netball for Bulawayo Province,” she said.

“She has always been a dedicated player, she loves netball, she can do anything on the court.

“She is not afraid of competition and that enabled her to join the senior national team at the age of 20 (19).

“With the limited resources we have in netball in Zimbabwe Felly still managed to put up a stellar performance at the Netball World Cup in Liverpool competing with the world’s best defenders.”

Kwangwa has succeeded Siyachitema as Zimbabwe Gems captain and on Saturday February 13, she will make her Vitality Netball Super league debut when Surrey Storm take on local rivals London Pulse.

For Menfree Tanyanyiwa who nurtured Kwangwa from her raw days, this is a beautiful story.

Tanyanyiwa runs Free Stars Academy in Bulawayo and Kwangwa calls him ‘my private coach’ for he played a big role in her development.

“(I get) so many feelings (looking at her success), fulfilment (is one of them) because she has made progress realising the immense potential I think she has,” said a proud Tanyanyiwa.

“Thankful to all those people who have had a positive impact in her career.
“They say to raise a child you need a village.

“I have had a chance to work with her since she was 16 at the academy and the youth games together with a few others.”

For Platinum Queens player and Free Stars product, Nomagugu Makhalima, Felisitus is simply an inspiration.

“Felly is my role model not just sport wise but academically too, I am inspired by her character,” said Makhalima who was Kwangwa’s teammate in the Zimbabwe youth team.

“When she was first nominated the vice-captain of the national team I personally thought she was not going to pull that one through, because I assumed that captaincy is being derived from experience and age but Felly proved me wrong.”

Kwangwa’s close friend and former team mate at Zimbabwe netball giants Correctional Queens, Lorraine Manjoro remembers the days they used to ‘push other’ to succeed.

“She would always encourage me to leave my everything on the court because we wouldn’t know who would be watching.

“On the other hand I would always encourage her to continue her education so our conversations always had to revolve around being the best student athletes in the service and in our families.

“So far we are on the right track,” said Manjoro.

Despite her success and popularity, Felistus has remained modest and her high school teacher/coach Mrs Marechera is proud.

“I think having open relationships with the players sort of helped. I remember we used to have life discussions, sessions where we would talk about life in general and Felisitus was always impressive in those sessions.

“She has visited the school twice just to talk and inspire other kids.”
Tanyanyiwa would love to see Felisitus continue reaching new heights in her career.

“She is in the right direction and I hope she goes beyond maybe to play in the New Zealand league, it’s the natural pathway.

“As an academy I cannot say we are under pressure to produce more, but we are proud.

“It goes to the other teams she has played for, Lobengula Queens, the Youth Games team all those she passed through, I am sure her success acts as motivation for them.”

So the first weekend of February will be big for Kwangwa and her family, friends and fans as she makes her debut.

“I am excited and nervous at the same time, but at least I am happy that we are almost there.

“It will be great to be playing in this league, it is something that I and some fans have been waiting for,” she said with a smile.