Kwinji 15: Living legend of women's football

HARARE - Sithethelewe “Kwinji 15” Sibanda was one of most dominant women’s football players at the turn of the millennium, bursting onto the scene when very little attention was being given to the game in the country.

She can be best described as a pioneer of women’s football in Zimbabwe, a foundation layer to the wave of success and popularity currently being enjoyed in the game.  

She is a living legend of women’s football, a pioneer and icon.

When women in this country were restricted to tennis, volleyball, hockey, netball and basketball, Sibanda and her contemporaries set off on a journey to prove that the fairer sex could also play football.  

A gifted midfielder who was a marvel to watch, the Bulawayo-born-and bred starlet turned herself into the darling of supporters, who thronged stadia during the evolution of women’s football in the country.

Alongside such equally talented players as Rosemary Mugadza, Ruth Banda, Precious Mpala and Nomsa "Boyz" Moyo, they were a compact unit for Bulawayo side New Orleans before going on to form the core of the national side, nicknamed the Mighty Warriors.

“I grew up playing football but it was difficult for my parents to accept it,” Sibanda reveals to the Daily News.

“Women’s football was not popular then as soccer was only viewed as a men’s game. I was not deterred by that though and during my spare time I used to play street soccer with the boys.

“When I was in form two at Gifford High School, I joined the girl’s football team. We played in different tournaments and I was outstanding, being voted player-of-the-tournament and top-goal scorer.

“It then took the intervention of former New Orleans director Haverson Masilela to convince my brother to allow me to join women’s football and that’s how it started.”

Sibanda’s breakthrough eventually came when New Orleans played in various tournaments in South Africa, Swaziland and Botswana, winning several accolades.

“We had a strong team at New Orleans and we dominated the local game from 1993 to 2001. We could go the whole season without tasting defeat. During those days we only lost once, in a Softex Cup against Mufakose Queens,” she says.

That Sibanda was nicknamed “Kwinji 15” after former Dynamos and Highlanders free-scoring striker Makwinji Soma Phiri showed that she was indeed held in high esteem.  

Her efforts did not go unnoticed, and she eventually earned a national team call-up. She participated in the Mandela Cup, continental championship qualifiers, Zifa Unity Cup and the Cosafa Cup.

“My debut for the national team was in 1998 in a friendly match against Mozambique. We won 2-0 and that is when we started to be recognised,” she recalls nostalgically.

“With the type of players that we had then, we convinced fans that women can also play the sport. By the year 2002, women’s football reached its peak and we hosted the Cosafa Women’s Tournament.

“We lost in the final to South Africa, but we did enough justice to our legion of fans who came in their thousands to watch us play. During my days with the national team, I enjoyed playing against South Africa.

“The matches were very competitive and fans enjoyed too,” she says.

And as her fan base of young girls continued to expand, Sibanda became aware that it was not just her conduct on the field that left an impression.

Her influence as a public figure extended to all aspects of her lifestyle, including personal choices such as her stance on sex, drugs and alcohol.

Sibanda has since hung her boots and is now involved in coaching and grassroots football developmental programmes. She is also part of the Young Mighty Warriors technical bench.   

The 32-year old has already attained a Level Three certificate and is one of the few women in the country who hold a Caf C licence. - Godknows Matarutse

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