UNICEF supporter and rugby star Tendai Mtawarira ‘The Beast’ urges schools to remain open during COVID-19 pandemic

18 September 2021

NAIROBI/JOHANNESBURG, 18 September 2021 – Famed Zimbabwean-born, South African rugby star Tendai Mtawarira, nicknamed ‘The Beast’, has joined UNICEF’s call in urging schools in Eastern and Southern Africa to remain open and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, and for parents to send their children to school.

“I am deeply worried about the futures of our children if school closures continue”, he said in a video message from his home in South Africa, adding: “Across Africa, schools are not only places of learning, but places that protect many children from violence, often offering them their one nutritious meal of the day, and a way out of living in poverty”. 

The retired star of South Africa’s national rugby team said Africa has learned a great deal throughout the COVID-19 pandemic; and that with the right measures in place, schools can stay open safely with the knowledge that children are less likely to fall ill with COVID-19 nor spread the disease.

UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Mohamed Fall, thanked Mtawarira for using his powerful voice to urge schools to be the ‘last to close and the first to open’. Mr. Fall said, “Ministries of Health and Education across the region have shown that close collaboration, real-time assessment of evidence and adherence to safety measures can keep schools safe and open. Keeping school gates open as we continue to fight COVID-19 is vital for the well-being and education of African children, as well as the future of the continent.”

Currently, there are 18.9 million children still out of school due to COVID-19 related closures across the Eastern and Southern African region. Ugandan schools are still fully closed affecting 14.6 million learners. In Mozambique pre-primary learning is still yet to open, and an estimated 4.3 million children are still out of school. Thanks to strong collaboration between Ministries of Health and Education, and the strengthening of evidence-based decision-making practices, Botswana, Eswatini, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe recently re-opened schools after full or partial closures.

Mtawarira, who now runs The Beast Foundation to support children and youth, and who last year collaborated with UNICEF to produce a video titled ‘Africa Strong’ to mark the Day of the African Child, concluded the video with this message: “So, my fellow parents and Africans, let’s encourage our schools to stay safe and open, and our children to return to their classrooms. And let’s ensure our kids practice behaviours that we know can prevent the spread of the virus – wear their masks, social distance and wash or sanitize their hands regularly. Prioritizing children’s education is the best investment in the future – for Africa and for all of us.”

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Note to editors:

  • Mtawarira is a decorated rugby star who played for the South African national rugby team since 2008. He was named in South Africa's squad for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, when South Africa went on to win the tournament and become World Champions. He also holds the record for the most Super Rugby caps by a South African with 160 caps.
  • Mtawarira belongs to an exclusive group of elite rugby players who have played 100 or more international games - only 77 players from 13 different countries have achieved this feat in history.
  • Mtawarira is passionate about youth education, youth engagement and using sports for good and has established his own Foundation to further those goals. As a UNICEF supporter, he uses his powerful voice to bring attention to issues affecting young people’s access to education, including disruptions to schooling due to COVID-19. His The Beast Foundation focuses on assisting young people through sport, education and life skills. 

All video formats (including for social media) here.

Media contacts

Malene Kamp Jensen
Regional Chief of Communications
UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa
Tel: +254 797 048 529
Nadia Samie-Jacobs
Communications Officer
UNICEF Africa Services Unit
Tel: +27 72 777 9399

About UNICEF

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.

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