‘If you lived in bitterness you wouldn’t enjoy anything’: Exeter’s Zimbabwean rugby exiles

The Chiefs’ Don Armand and Kai Horstmann suspect their resilience and work ethic stems from their families’ suffering during the Robert Mugabe years

For every Zimbabwean living in long-term exile, the removal of Robert Mugabe as president has stirred powerful emotions. Exeter’s Don Armand and Kai Horstmann are no different: both grew up on farms outside Harare, enjoying a youthful freedom seldom found on Britain’s frost-covered school playgrounds. Until, that is, Mugabe’s notorious fast-track land reforms drove their families out, forcing them to seek new lives elsewhere.

Armand, Horstmann and their compatriot Dave Ewers have fared better than many, helping Exeter Chiefs to become England’s champions, but their sun-kissed childhood memories are still bittersweet companions. Armand and Ewers were 12 and 13 respectively when they left Zimbabwe; Horstmann was in his late teens. Livelihoods ruined, dreams trampled, the what ifs never-ending. “If you lived in bitterness you wouldn’t enjoy anything here,” says Armand, acutely conscious of those who suffered far worse when Mugabe’s war veterans brutally targeted farmers and their workers between 2000 and 2002.

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