Ngqwele Dube Sports Correspondent
PLAYING football with the boys’ soccer team at Nzwananzi Primary School saw teachers insisting on roping in a promising female player who they felt could take them far. The schoolgirl, Rejoice Kapfumvuti, could have propelled the school to winning an inter-district competition had it not been for a church-mate who “spilled the beans” leading to the school’s expulsion from the tourney that was held at Mtshingwe Primary in Emakhandeni in 2000.
However, it was the remarkable talent that nine-year-old Kapfumvuti possessed that was the highlight of the forgettable episode as there was no competition for females and the diminutive midfielder was already training with boys’ team.
“I always look at that incident and laugh but I now think it cannot happen as there are strong structures in the women’s game at the lower levels unlike in the past when few girls were playing competitively at a younger age,’’ Kapfumvuti, better known as Joyi or Maestro in football circles.
“I grew up in Gwabalanda and there were a lot of boys so I was forced to play football with them as they would not indulge in female games and that is when I got hooked into soccer and never looked back,” she added.
The Mighty Warriors midfielder was identified by Inline Academy’s Trust Kwembeya at primary school and he called her up for training and although she was initially reluctant because of the all familir arduous training sessions, she ended up being a committed player.
Joyi had to overcome dissuasions from her mother who did not like the idea of her daughter playing football although she later relented and bought her soccer boots. Ironically her father had always been in her corner.
“I was so engrossed in football that I would wake up in the morning, go and play and come back in the evening and fortunately I used to stay with the maid as my father was in Victoria Falls while my mother worked in South Africa so I had leeway to do as I please,” she said.
Two years after enrolling at Northlea High School for her secondary education, Kapfumvuti felt knocking off late (4pm) was stifling her football career as she could not attend training sessions with Inline Academy and changed schools, moving to Sikhulile High where she could play more of the game.
After completing her secondary education she was firmly of the view that she would be taking up football as a career and nothing would stand in her way.
The 24-year-old midfielder grew at Inline becoming one of the most astute midfielders as she went on to play an important role at the Academy assisting the team become a dominant force in the local game.
Her efforts did not go unnoticed and she was subsequently called up to the national team where she was to become part of the squad that won a slot at the 2016 Rio Olympics to be held in Brazil.
Maestro said being part of the history-making team was a great feat and for a moment it was unbelievable they had got the better of football powerhouse, Cameron to win the ticket to Rio.
“For a fleeting moment it was just unbelievable but I am glad we made the nation proud and we can hold our heads high going to Rio knowing we have brought Joy to the nation. I know we are not going to have it easy but reaching that stage itself in a boost for our game,” she said.
She still has fond memories of the Marange Resources Super League as it was the time women football was competitive and brought out the best in the players as the game was being played regularly.
“It was the ideal situation that we had always wished for but it was unfortunate it had to abruptly end when we thought we had reached a new era in the game. I have never really sought financial rewards in the game but being able to play regularly week-in; week-out had been my wish. Right now it’s a struggle when I am called up for the national team because of lack of game time.” she
The little maestro said she was contemplating hanging up her boots after the Rio Olympics but if a lucrative offer turned up she might reconsider her decision.
Born on 19 November 1991 in Bulawayo, Kapfumvuti is now a player-coach at Inline where she is assistant coach after acquiring a Level One coaching certificate.