One day Samuel Mutsvanga of Mbare witnessed an incident that changed his perception about kids roaming the streets in Mbare with nothing to do.
“A kid was hit by a bicycle right in front of me and at that moment I realised that if kids were left to roam the streets with nothing to do, they are exposed to street dangers such as accidents and the temptation to fall into vices that include criminal activities and the intake of drugs.”
Mutsvanga then decided that one way of taking the children off the streets was through organised sport.
“During those days I worked as a freelance graphic artist and I was free between 2pm and 4pm. I decided to take children for basketball training and initially I started with 12 boys. The number swelled to 60. Hoops for Hope came to Mbare for basketball and we formed a basketball partnership with them.”
Mutsvanga soon realised that he was not catering for the diverse needs of children in the local community.
“Some children had a passion for soccer and they asked me to organise soccer training sessions for them. We then started the soccer programme with Simba Mutsvairo. Initially we had 106 kids and the numbers have since grown. I then met Victor Pekani and we formed the Mbare Junior Rugby Academy that has become a phenomenal success. Initially Victor was helping us with goalkeepers’ coaching for our soccer programme. We mooted the idea of the rugby programme on a Sunday and by Monday (on the morrow) we had more than 70 kids on our hands,” said the unassuming Mutsvanga.
“Apart from being involved in the actual coaching of the games, I also teach the kids life skills so that they grow up as good and responsible citizens,” he said.
“Sam (Mutsvanga) gave us the idea to train rugby in primary schools and we went to various schools in Mbare where we groomed kids of various ages in the rugby discipline. Sam, myself, Tawanda Mandizvidza and Milton Rankeni embarked on this ambitious programme that became an instant success,” said Pekani, who has become a household name in grooming rugby talent.
“Most teams in the rugby league today have Mbare players whom we groomed in Mbare,” said Pekani.
One of their protégés, Manasa Sitah, is now an international rugby player who turns out for German outfit Sport Club Neuenheim.
“I was groomed by these guys (reference to Mutsvanga, Pekani and Rankeni). I was into athletics as a student at Mbare High School but Victor saw something in me and he persuaded me to play rugby. Victor taught me everything I know about rugby. Today I meet various experienced and high-quality coaches but I still rank Victor as the best. He is a clever coach who knows his stuff. He introduced me to club rugby when I was in Form 3 and now I am an international player,” said the talented player who is back home for national duty.
“I’m here to join the national team for a rugby tournament in Dubai,” he said.
The academy has grown in stature and the kids are so talented that they have attracted the eye of Sharks Academy in South Africa who want to enter into partnership with them.
“Sharks Academy wants to assist in grooming our kids. They said they were going to make preparations for hosting our kids. We hope that next year some of the kids will be based in South Africa at the academy,” said Rankeni.
The young children play mesmerising rugby and their coaches are justifiably proud of them.
“We started this academy that caters for the 6-19-year-old age group in 2008 and we have played 85 games, losing only two,” said a happy Pekani.
“We started training girls this year and we have noted that they have great potential.
“It is just a matter of time before they knock on the doors of the junior national teams,” the revered coach said.
He added: “Tournaments have allowed our kids to be exposed. We met people like Themba Sibanda, the Zimbabwe Rugby Union president, who has been helpful. He noted that Mbare has organised children with immense rugby talent and he bought us a kit and organised academic scholarships for our young players.
“Our players come from poor backgrounds and the academic scholarships have helped a lot. Some of these youngsters are orphans staying with their grannies. I have been forced by circumstances to stay with some of them at my house,” Pekani said, with sadness creeping into his voice.
Rankeni chipped in, explaining how the scholarships have assisted the children’s pursuit of academic qualifications.
“Last year we managed to send 10 boys to Churchill Boys’ High and this year 15 have benefited. Mr Sibanda has also bought bicycles for the children to ease their transport problems as they commute to school every day.”
The academy, however, is beset with challenges.
“There are serious challenges that dog our academy. We have no proper training facilities. At present we have been allowed to use the ground at George Stark School. Last year 14 of our children had made it into the national team for a rugby tournament in South Africa. They were later dropped because they had lighter weight than what the coaches required. This is due to poor diet since the kids come from poor families.
We have a chicken project that we thought would assist us in easing financial problems such as transport but sometimes we end up slaughtering the chickens to feed the children. It is pathetic that some of the children will confess to having only porridge the whole day and this is not healthy for a rugby player.” Said Pekani.
“We rely on well-wishers like Sibanda and Kudzai Kambarami, who is based in the Netherlands. The latter watched our kids play and he loved the talent that he saw. He has promised to assist us.”
The problems were echoed by Sitah. “I wish I could play and make money so that I can assist this academy. This is where I came from. I know the feeling of playing rugby without boots and appropriate kit. I just pray that one day I will play in a rich league so that I can pay back through financial assistance. These talented youngsters need a proper clubhouse, good diet and training facilities,” said the national team player.
Despite the challenges, Pekani and his crew are soldiering on.
The young coach expressed gratitude to those who are helping them to groom talent and to keep the kids off the streets.
“I want to thank those who are assisting us to make our vision concrete.
“I need to thank Churchill Boys’ High for accepting our kids into their school. Some schools have rejected our kids simply because they come from the ghetto but Churchill has been generously different.”