Successful diski princes have what it takes to build empires for themselves. The modern-day game pays them handsomely after all!
Naturally, the kind of empires they would build vary perhaps because of their past and the future they envisage.
Without a doubt, Cuthbert Malajila, nicknamed ‘Ca-Zola’ after his yesteryear favourite Gianfranco Zola, has had a decorated career stretching over 16 years.
His football talent that started off in the farming and mining town of Kadoma, some 160 km southwest of the capital Harare, has taken him as far as Tunisia, Libya and finally South Africa.
It has seen him crowned league title winner six times with Dynamos back home, Mamelodi Sundowns (four) and Bidvest Wits.
Add to that, he has won the MTN8, Nedbank Cup and Telkom Knockout in Mzansi, the Mbada Diamonds Cup, a COSAFA Cup as well as the UNAF Nessma Cup in far-flung North Africa.
On the individual front, he scooped the 2009 Cosafa Cup golden boot, two golden boots in Zimbabwe’s PSL and the 2006 CBZ Cup golden boot.
But his tough pathway to the top has never been far from his mind. In fact, a story is told by Swaziland-based journalist Noel Munzabwa of how a former coach struggled to convince air force side Chapungu to sign teenage Malajila many years ago.
So, at the height of his football career while turning out for Maritzburg United, Malajila had a dream!
What he dreamt of had little to do with himself. It was a different kind of empire that he wanted to build.
In 2013, he had to move to Sundowns, but the dream remained alive. Not even the cushy life at Chloorkop could make him forget where he came from.
At the back of his mind, he always thought of the little boys who would scream his nickname each time he visited home. ‘Ca-Zola’ some would passionately shout at the sight of the brightest football talent to emerge from their town in recent years.
It left him convinced some of these boys had what it took to make it big. The mere fact that, young as they were, they followed him, they probably dreamt of making it big like he had done.
But, one thing for sure, Malajila knew his hometown had lost its mojo as a footballing town. His dad, Ernest Makosa, had set the topflight league alight, turning out for teams like Black Aces, Rio Tinto and Darryn T.
As the economy of his country continued to crumble in the 2000s, football became a distant thing in the town, with mining and farming remaining Kadoma’s claim to fame.
Once the pride of the town, Eiffel Flats Football Club lies motionless in Zimbabwe’s football cemetery. Almost forgotten by the older generation and unknown by the emerging crop of soccer lovers.
Even Malajila, whose dream as a youngster was to play for ‘Flatso’ barely remembers when the club got the chop from the topflight.
The little diski memories of the town, located in between the capital Harare and the second largest city Bulawayo, are sustained by people like himself, SuperSport United coach Kaitano Tembo and former Baroka FC star Rodwell Chinyengetere, who was crowned soccer star of the year in Zimbabwe twice before joining the Ga-Mphahlele-based side.
“Kadoma has had no topflight football,” he tells FARPost.
And so, Malajila – a firm believer in humble beginnings – together with businessman Hebert Manyowa took a group of boys aged between 9 and 15 some eight years ago.
Their humble soccer school was called CUMA, a derivative from Malajila’s name’s first two letters and the first two letters of his partner’s surname.
“We’re trying to prepare the young players for the future and with the way they are training we are going to have something big from Kadoma.
“We are going to encourage former players to take the same route which we are taking with Malajila,” said Manyowa, who unfortunately passed on in 2020.
It was only the beginning of a football revolution. In these young boys, they saw beyond mere kids. They saw the future of Kadoma and Zimbabwe. Perhaps even Africa.
And so, the journey began. Nothing spectacular as they took these boys through the paces.
“It’s an idea which came along the way because where I come from there’s a lot of talent which sometimes is not seen or recognised so I decided I’d help the community to mould good players,” explains the soft-spoken former Wits forward.
Munzabwa adds that the Real Kings striker saw the project “as a platform to help the town unearth a new Malajila”.
“For years he has always lamented poor scouting structures,” says the prominent newspaper columnist.
Of course, Malajila was busy scoring goals at Chloorkop as the project gained momentum. These kids, by their own admission, were following their principal’s career. He would occasionally visit to see the progress.
“Most of us are inspired by Cuthbert and what he has achieved in his career,” said Obert Malajila, captain of the team.
Understandably so, Malajila is by far the most accomplished footballer from Kadoma in recent times.
“He’s been a great example to most of us that we can achieve our dreams,” said the 23-year-old midfielder who is reportedly on the radar of a topflight team.
Having burst into the scene while at Gweru’s Chapungu, the 35-year-old Malajila went on to play for the country’s biggest two teams based on either side of Kadoma.
His first port of call was Highlanders in Bulawayo before crossing the country to play for Dynamos in Harare. While playing for all the three Zimbabwean clubs, he was named in the best XI soccer stars of the year at least once.
Thereafter, he moved to Tunisia’s Club Africain, then Libya’s Al Akhdar before joining Maritzburg.
Interestingly, while things were seemingly going well at Sundowns, Malajila was busy stirring a football revolution in the heart of his native country.
His inspiration was simple: “If I’ve done it, they can do it too.” And each time these boys have been invited to a tournament, they have done it.
What started off as an Under 13 team has developed over the last eight years into a formidable first division side tipped to win promotion to the Premier Soccer League.
Along the way, they won the Ephraim Mazarura Birthday Cup, the Jaden Cup (both at Under 15 level) and several invitational trophies.
“It’s a very big project, I’m just praying. I want to see these boys grow. I want the premiership back where I come from (Kadoma). But most importantly, I want them to go to places I never went to,” he says.
The club’s secretary, Saidi Marango Lemu, who has witnessed the boys progress through lower leagues, believes they have the talent to storm into the elite league.
“If they get the right kind of exposure I can tell you that in future they will play abroad,” Lemu tells FARPost.
While the staunch Liverpool fan, Malajila, has had to part with his own funds for the sustenance of the project, money is the last thing on his mind. The former Warriors star finds fulfilment in seeing these youngsters progress.
“The idea is to give back to the community and uplift the future stars. It’s not about money, it’s about helping others.
“I believe God will always make a plan when you give back to other people. What you take out, God always gives back double or triple.
“So, as long as I help others to reach their dreams and goals I will be happy.
“I, myself, was born with nothing so I know where I come from. As long as I see players fulfil their dreams I will be a happy man.”
Over the years, the team has evolved with a ladies’ team being birthed. Malajila doesn’t want to leave anyone out.
“We’ve got a ladies’ team at Under 20 level. We started it in 2017,” the father of three says with pride.
In total, CUMA has about 100 young footballers from Under 13, 15, 17 right through to the seniors.
Of course, Covid-19 has disrupted all football activities in Zimbabwe. The young boys feel hard done. They are raring to go. Ready to fight for a berth in the Premier Soccer League.
“I’m thoroughly enjoying working with these youngsters. I love their confidence and they are very much keen to learn.
“Nothing will stop us from winning the ticket to play in the Premiership,” says the team’s coach Gipter Raiva.
At least five youngsters aged 17 and below will soon be promoted to the senior team.
“Given the right support and focus, Kadoma could return to being the hub of soccer talent that it was with Rio Tinto, Eiffel Flats, something that had suffered a ghostly death cutting off ease of passage into mainstream football.
“One hopes the CUMA story could regenerate and eke out future stars not just for CUMA but the national team and offshore market,” Munzabwa says from his Mbabane base.
If the vision unfolds as intended, then a football revolution is certainly on the horizon in Kadoma.
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By Mthokozisi Dube