PROFESSIONAL netball player, Pauline Jani’s life is best summed up in one of Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi’s lyrics — kune vamwe varume vanorarama ne raki.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police Officer and senior netball Goal Shooter’s typical rags-to-riches rise to fame is a tale she still can’t get over.
Each time she dons her police uniform, she is thankful for the sport but her heart bleeds, remembering that her parents could not live long enough to celebrate her graduation. The 1,9 metres imposing shooter’s story begins during her primary school days in Hippo Valley.
At a time when her mother should have been beating her up to attend to her homework, she instead advised her to focus more on netball.
Now most netball enthusiasts call her “Zim-One”.
“Memories of my mother telling me to take netball seriously back when I was just seven years old are still fresh in my mind although then I was too young to understand,” she says.
She recalls her mother saying: “Pauline, you are not good with academics, but with your height and netball within your DNA, take it seriously. I know you will make a good player. The game will give you a life.”
Her mother was a netball player, taller than her daughter as she stood at 1,96 metres. So netball is in the blood.
Thereafter, Jani’s love for the netball courts grew but she never imagined herself going beyond primary school with the sport. In 2006 and 2007, their father and mother died respectively, throwing the lives of Jani and her younger brother, Mike, into a quandary.
“When I got to Grade Seven, life became tough. My brother and I struggled to stay in school because of financial woes.
“When Pamushana gave me a scholarship, I felt a door had opened for me,” she recalls.
Jani got a Pamushana Mission educational scholarship after she was discovered at a tournament during her Grade Seven days at Chishamiso Primary School.
That was the beginning of her great netball journey. Then she was faced with a difficult choice of leaving her younger brother behind, as she went to boarding school.
“The school would provide everything, including groceries for me but my heart was always with my young brother who then had to live with our uncle.”
Jani, who turns out for ZRP outfit, Mambas Queens, got her first national team call up while in Form Two.
Enrolling at a boarding school and getting national team colours, were a dream come true for Jani.
However, later news reached her that her young brother was being ill-treated back home which prompted Jani to abandon school. She became a vendor in Masvingo in order to take care of her sibling. But the school followed her up and took her back to school.
“For some time, I was a freezit vendor in Masvingo in order to keep an eye on my brother, but my netball calling led me back to school,” says Jani.
In Form Four, in 2008 Jani was signed under Gaths Mine Netball Club before moving to Shangani Mine Netball Club, the following year.
It was a short-lived move for the fledging netballer who felt she was too young for the mine life. Before the end of the season, she moved to Railstars then under Menfree Tanyanyiwa.
Coach Tanyanyiwa took her in as a foster child. The club shut down due to financial constraints, forcing Jani to move to Hwange Netball Club, then Zimbabwe Prison Services Hwange.
It is during these years that the tall and lethal shooter is noticed by Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), who then sign her under their team.
“I played for the police team and then got a job within the police force in 2010,” says Jani who is now a constable at ZRP Headquarters.
“Had it not been for netball, I would not have been a police officer. In fact, my life would have not been like this.
“I have been to many countries within and beyond Africa all because of sport. Unfortunately most people out there do not understand that sport can give you a life.”
Apart from being one of the most consistent faces and senior players on the Gems’ team sheet, Jani is part of the squad that made a stylish first appearance at Vitality Netball World Cup in Liverpool last year. However, she announced her retirement from international netball upon return from the global tournament where the Gems finished off on position eight.
A netball commentator said of Jani: “We cannot say a single player makes a difference, but without her there was not going to be a World Cup top finish.”
On the police front, she is part of the team that has for several years brought home gold from the Southern African Regional Police Chiefs’ Co-operation Organisation (SARPCO) games.
Gems’ Head Coach, Lloyd Makunde, says Jani is one of the greatest players of all time, who put Zimbabwe netball on the international map.
“We cannot talk of Zimbabwe’s best 12 of all time without mentioning the likes of Jani because she played a crucial role in the grading of the Gems as one of the major powerhouses globally.
“Despite her retirement from the international game, she still can do wonders. She is someone any coach can count on,” he says.
ZRP Mambas Queens Head Coach, Talent Museka, paid tribute to Jani, a player he described as a very aggressive and lethal shooter. He says Jani is one of the most trusted players who can play under pressure.
“When it comes to games that are high pressure, Jani is one person to trust. She has that pull-the-team-together strength, which is very rare to find in most team sports.
“When pressure mounts, she simply switches on and they sure can overturn any game,” says the coach.
Falcon (Air Force) Queens Head Coach, Tapiwa Chirenda, who is also a former national team coach said although Jani decided to retire from international netball, she still has the potential to represent Zimbabwe in elite leagues like Suncorp or Vitality.
Chirenda had a short stint with the tall shooter at ZRP Mambas before they spent three years together under the national team.
“I remember her exploding onto the international scene in Malawi after a dismal showing in Maputo. . . the Malawian defenders could not stop her and at the time, they rated her better than Uganda’s Peace Proscovia who is arguably one of Africa’s finest,” he says.