Ricky Zililo, Senior Sports Reporter

THABISO Youth Centre, an iconic sporting hub located in the heart of Bulawayo’s oldest township Makokoba, is one of numerous pre-and post-independence facilities that produced renowned footballers in Zimbabwe.

Thabiso Youth Centre was the nerve centre of talent and among the stars it produced are the legendary Ndlovu brothers, Madinda, Adam (late) and Peter.

The trio started playing football at the centre, which is just a stone’s throw from the flat the brothers resided in.

From the dusty grounds of the youth centre, the Ndlovu brothers went on to play for Highlanders and all representative national teams up to the Warriors.

Madinda had a stint in Europe, in Germany, Adam in Switzerland, while Peter became the first African to dazzle the modern-day English Premiership at Coventry City.

Other stars that had their foundation at Thabiso Youth Centre include Gift Lunga (senior), the late former national team midfielder Benjamin Nkonjera, Makheyi Nyathi (late), Matambanashe Sibanda, Zenzo Moyo and the late ex-Highlanders and Dynamos defender Lenny Gwata.

The area where the centre is located is popularly known as “eMaTongeni” because of the large concentration of Tonga-speaking people that reside in the nearby flats.

At the peak of Thabiso, every township had youth and recreational centres where young people spent time playing and carving their talents. 

The youth centres’ vibrancy took young people off the streets and kept them away from substance abuse.

Youth delinquency was limited when Inyathi Youth Centre in Mpopoma, Tshaka in Makokoba, Isilwane in Old Pumula, Iminyela, Lobengula and Luveve, among others, were equipped.

In one interview with eDiski, the late former Highlanders’ coach Barry Daka likened Thabiso and other centres dotted around Bulawayo to European academies.

“The city council built and organised youth centres for sports and cultural activities. There was money and people at those youth centres. Many players are a result of Tshaka Youth Centre in Makokoba, even during our days. There was Thabiso Youth Centre and a lot of others in Matshobane, Sizinda and so forth. It was like what Europeans call academies now. That is why we had great players. It will be hard to emulate that, but we are hopeful of success.

“All the players that graced Highlanders and represented greater Bulawayo with pride and honour one way or another, came from these structures,” Daka said in that interview.

Zenzo Moyo, the country’s Soccer Star of the Year in 2000, grew up in Makokoba near eFusini and has fond memories of playing at Thabiso Youth Centre.

“That (Thabiso) was the hub of all budding footballers. Besides getting guys from other townships coming to play imbeji (money games), we had our own teams within Makokoba that played money games almost every day. The games were hectic; you’ll find that there were some talented guys who didn’t play for clubs like Highlanders and Zimbabwe Saints and were content playing at Thabiso,” said Moyo.

He said playing at Thabiso Youth Centre helped shape his career and life because sniffing glue was as popular as gambling for youths in Makokoba during his teenage years.

One could have easily fallen prey to peer pressure and Moyo said the youth centre was a safe haven for him and others because they’d hang around there after school and during school holidays.

Thabiso Youth Centre also offered table tennis, volleyball, netball and other games, and was also home for theatre groups.

Now Bulawayo City FC vice-chairman, Moyo feels there is need to re-visit the youth centres model.

He believes former players and active footballers can take time to train youngsters at the centres and share their stories to inspire the younger generation of players.

Wilmot Kwenda is trying to bring yesteryear fun to the centre through his Tigers FC juniors’ team that trains juniors from Under-8 to Under-18s.

Kwenda didn’t scale the football heights, but wants to give youngsters from Makokoba a step towards being professionals.

“Thabiso Youth Centre is where the Ndlovu brothers came from and that inspired most of us. Almost every boy in Makokoba at one time had a wish to emulate what the Ndlovu brothers did. I also had that dream, unfortunately I only managed to play in the First Division for the now defunct Makokoba City Warriors that trained here.

“We’ve since established Tigers and we won promotion to the Zifa Bulawayo Junior League’s Serie A. Even though we don’t have resources, we are playing our little role to take boys off the streets, train them with the hope that they become successful footballers and remember where they came from,” said Kwenda.

Some present footballers that Kwenda has seen come out of Thabiso Youth Centre include Highlanders’ winger Godfrey Makaruse, Bosso 90 anchorman Darlington Munkuli and Bulawayo City FC midfielder Nkosilomusa Khanye, son to former Caps United defender Ndumiso.

Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) Bulawayo provincial coordinator Sam Dzvimbu said plans are underway to approach Bulawayo City Council to spruce up the youth centres and make them “friendly” for sports activities to take place.

In 2008, SRC launched the Community Sports Development Programme (CSDP), in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Education Fund, Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic and Confederation of Sport and the Norwegian Television Gala that made use of Youth Centres in the city.

Through the programme, they held workshops for community sports development officers, set up sports clubs in communities and held Youth Education through Sport (YES) Games at the centres.

The CSDP targeted four major sporting disciplines in the country, football, netball, volleyball and athletics.

“We ran the Community Sports Development Programmes (CSDP) at the youth centres and we still have those structures. I think on facilities, that has always been a challenge and engagements are being done with local authorities so that they spruce these centres. Ours as SRC is to formulate policies, but I can’t say we are not worried about the state of recreational facilities. Since the scrapping of the council’s sports department, most youth centres have been left in a state of neglect,” Dzvimbu said. — @ZililoR