The Sunday Mail
Langton Nyakwenda —
A MONTH from now, somewhere in Nigeria, Khama Billiat could re-script the country’s football history by becoming the first Zimbabwean to win the CAF Player of the Year (Based in Africa) award.
The Mamelodi Sundowns star made the five-man shortlist for the award whose winner will be announced at the Glo-CAF awards Gala in Abuja on January 5, 2017.
And as Billiat continues to dazzle in the fast lane of international football, back home, at some old church building in Mufakose high density suburb, the grounds man who unearthed the dribbling wizard quietly feels some sense of satisfaction.
At Gwinyiro Primary School where Billiat did his primary education, the craze has also caught on. It is at this modest high density school where Billiat was unearthed by a school grounds man who doubled up as a soccer coach in his free time 17 years ago.
Arifa Sumani is now 60 and still doing the same job at a local church in Mufakose but he still vehemently remembers the first day he came across “a tiny talented boy” at Gwinyiro Primary School.
Going about his housekeeping errands back in 1999, Sumani was struck by the sight of a then Grade Three Billiat juggling a tennis ball with “amazing technique and composure.”
“From the onset I believed in this boy’s talent, even now when I hear news that Billiat waenda nenyika and he is now one of the best footballers in Africa.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Sumani, with a proud smile.
He wiped off some sweat, from his forehead, before he continued with an interesting narration of Billiat’s football roots.
“Billiat was a tiny, tiny boy but very talented. I remember the first day I saw him as he juggled a tennis ball during break time.
“His technique and composure were shocking.
“I engaged him instantly and the next thing he was playing in our school first team.
“Just imagine at Grade Three level he was already our first team key player,” he said.
“Because he was tiny, so much that the size of the soccer ball was almost half his height, the instruction to his teammates was to pass the ball into space.
“He could do amazing things with the ball, he won a lot of matches for Gwinyiro especially the derbies against Mukurumbira,” said Sumani.
The 26-year-old Billiat, who won the CAF Champions League final with Mamelodi Sundowns on October 23, is vying for the African Player of the Year (based in Africa) award alongside teammates Hlompho Kekana, Keegan Dolly and goalkeeper Dennis Onyango. TP Mazembe’s Zambian forward Rainford Kalaba completes the five-man shortlist.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon & Borrusia Dortmund), Riyad Mahrez (Algeria & Leicester City), Sadio Mane (Senegal & Liverpool), Mohamed Salah (Egypt & Roma) and Islam Slimani (Algeria & Leicester City) are vying for the main Glo-CAF African Player of the Year.
The 26-year-old Billiat will mix and mingle with Africa’s best at the glittering ceremony next month. This is the kind of news that has fascinated Zimbabwe and Mufakose in particular, especially at Gwinyiro Primary School where it all started.
When The Sunday Mail visited the school, a Grade Three teacher who had assigned her class to write an essay on Zimbabwean celebrities, had the majority of her pupils writing about Billiat. Among the students who wrote about Billiat was eight-year-old Sharmaine Tembedza.
“Ane mukurumbira wekutamba nhabvu ari munyika ye South Africa dzimwe nguva anouya achitambira chikwata che Zimbabwe (He is a popular footballer who plies his trade in South Africa and sometimes comes home to play for the Zimbabwe national team).
“Ndinomufarira nekuti anotamba nhabvu nekumwisa zvibodzwa zvakanaka (I like him because he plays good football and scores beautiful goals),” wrote Tembedza.
Billiat’s former tutor Eunice Dembera talked of a young and humble Khama who was not so bright at school.
“It was a struggle to get him to read through a simple English sentence, he wasn’t very keen about his schoolwork.
“But we are happy, at least we know that we were able to exploit his talent because we would allow him to play his football
“I urge pupils who are not academically good to invest more of their energy in extra curricula activities like sport.
“Billiat is a living example for us here at Gwinyiro,” said Dembera, who taught Billiat at Grade Three level.
Cornelius Kudumba, another teacher at Gwinyiro chipped in.
“He carried his football boots to school every day. At break time Khama (Billiat) would be the first on the fields with his football boots on.”
Billiat grew up enjoying the primary school derbies against Mukurumbira, mainly because that school had a deadly left footer by the name Nicholas “Tuhutu” Alifandika.
The debate on who was better between the two still rages on today.Alifandika went on to play for Underhill, Dynamos, Caps United before his career took a nosedive at Harare City where he was offloaded last season