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Meet Mighty Warriors’ ‘Kwinji 15’

MIGHTY Warriors assistant coach Sithethelelwe Sibanda is arguably the best playmaker ever to don the Zimbabwe women national team colours.

yesteryear profile with MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE

From player to coach .. . Sithethelelwe Sibanda
From player to coach .. . Sithethelelwe Sibanda

It is a misfit that she was christened “Kwinji 15” after former Dynamos bustling forward Makwinji Soma-Phiri when perhaps parallels drawn between her and former Zimbabwe Saints and Warriors playmaker Ronald Sibanda (not her relation) would have been more apt.

A rare breed of a midfielder whose ball artistry and vision remains inimitable, Sibanda did not achieve much despite being part of a national squad that oozed with quality.

Back from the Rio Olympics following a campaign in which Zimbabwe clearly missed a playmaker of her calibre during her time and became a punching bag to other countries, Sibanda spoke to Standardsport about her career and experience in football.

She reckons she still got it despite being skeptical about her fitness.

“Handina kupera but fitness chete (I’m not a spent force but maybe I lack fitness),” Sibanda chuckled. “The skill remains but it’s just that I am really enjoying being a coach.”

“For me, doing all those things came naturally. My greatest attributes were to pass the ball as well as my vision. I just need to consolidate on that and work on other areas where I was not good,” she said.

Growing up in Bulawayo’s Ross camp and Njube suburbs where football was a culture back in the 90s, Sibanda used to play the game a lot with boys when she was young.

Little did she know that football would take her to many foreign lands and even the glamour of the just concluded Rio Olympics, albeit as a coach.

“Football was part of the games we grew up playing as young boys and girls. I also played school football at Mzilikazi and at Mandwandwe High School. That is where it all started. I was identified by the late Haverson Masilela of New Orleans, who introduced me to club football and I played for his team,” the 33-year-old Mighty Warriors assistant coach.

Strangely for a woman, Sibanda has always wanted to play football and nothing more. But being viewed as a female footballer in the community in spite of the popularity and fame, had its share of challenges.
However, she has no regrets.

“There are always mixed feelings from people in the community. not everyone supports what I do, but I believe this is a profession just like any other. There is stigma attached to women footballers but I am just who I am even if I was nurse or something else,” Sibanda said.

“I have no regrets for choosing to be in football because it is a God-given talent. I enjoy football. I live football although at times I get frustrated to the extent of wanting to quit. But it has been great to represent the country both as a player and coach. I have made a lot of friends both in Zimbabwe and globally.”

A holder of a German A coaching licence as well as the Caf B licence, Sibanda has coached New Orleans, Inline Academy both ladies teams, while she was assistant coach at Tsholotsho FC in the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League last season.

She currently is the Zimbabwe Únder-20 ladies team head coach and at the same time assists Shadreck Mlauzi in the Mighty Warriors technical team.

Obviously her biggest assignment has been the Rio Olympics where the team performed commentably against some of the world’s best teams.

Sibanda speaks of her recent experience in Rio.

“It was a great experience indeed and it was just amazing to be at that level with the world’s best. The lessons we learnt were that football is business in other countries and they invest a lot in it. Their players have tactical awareness because of exposure. We have talent, but we lack the exposure and support from stakeholders,” she said.
Having been part of the vastly talented team that, however, played second fiddle to neighbours South Africa back in the day, Sibanda drew comparisons between the team she played for and the one for which she is coach.

“Both groups have immense talent only that now there is a broader base to select from. but back then a few ladies played football. However, the current Mighty Warriors team just needs support and exposure and with more discipline they can achieve more than what they have done,” Sibanda said.

The former Mighty Warriors player was part of the team that had great players in the mould of Precious “Gringo” Mpala, Nomsa “Boys” Moyo, Rosemary Mugadza, Ruth Banda, to name but a few.

After hanging her boots in 2010, Sibanda took up coaching and has high hopes of having a successful coaching career, which should culminate in her becoming a Caf instructor.

“I want to get all the experience I can in this country and eventually coach abroad. But ultimately I want to develop into a Caf and Fifa instructor.

Born on November 16 1981, Sibanda is the last born in a family of six and was the only one in the family to play football professionally.

Away from public glare Sibanda is also nurturing her 12-year-old son Qhubekile Prince to follow her footsteps and become a top footballer.

She is also of the opinion that Ronald Sibanda’s name would have suited her as a nickname considering the similarities in their type of play but she nonetheless loves the alias, Kwinji 15.

“I know I played much like Gidiza but this name came from Dynamos supporters during Makwinji Soma-Phiri era and I love it,” Sibanda said.

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