The Sunday News
Yester year greats with Lovemore Dube
EVERY sport has its own sport legends. Others believe it’s their sporting discipline only and football with legends. This is because yesteryear greats are not celebrated or the nation, associations and media have stopped recognising them.
Volleyball was at one stage one of the most popular and fastest growing disciplines in Zimbabwe in the 1980s and 1990s. Powered by the Winners Programme sponsored by United Bottlers in Harare and surrounding areas, Blue Ribbons Food in Matabeleland, every other school had the sport in its extra-curriculum activities. Itsanang Abu Basuthu emerged from the Blue Ribbons programme in Matabeleland to be one of the best volleyball coaches and sits up there among three best qualified coaches in the country.
Abu Basuthu is regarded as one of the best players to come out of Matabeleland. His generation took over from the old guard which had Nicholas Mavunde, Jefias Gumbo, Togara Machokoto, Francis Moyo, Sydney Dube, Clifford Makunike, Themba Ndlovu, Sihlangu Dlodlo, Sairota Banda, Dave Manickum, Richard Bismark, Shaun Orange and Silas Nyabadza.
A generation that won all Zimbabwe volleyball had to offer in club tournaments and dominance in national teams. They took the sport to great heights with some top players like Edson Sibanda coming close to getting a scholarship in the United States of America.
Abu Basuthu showed his mettle as a secondary school pupil at Luveve, a team that would go blow by blow with other competitive sides like Ihlathi, David Livingstone, Milton, St Columbus, Inyathi and Sobukhazi.
Born on 27 August 1972 in Gwanda, he attended Fusi and Mbizo junior schools in Luveve and crossed the railwayline to an institution famed for its technical subjects division and basketball with the legendary Jackson Nkau, among the stand out athletes. After school Kevin Tshuma and Didymus Mapuranga wooed him with other youngsters to Unit Fairbridge.
It was an intimidating side full of the best talent from the south, west suburbs schools while Makokoba and Mzilikazi appeared to be a preserve for Sparrows Thabani, one of the best sides and most successful teams of yesteryear.
“I was a good blocker, that was my task. Martin Kemes and Sikhumbuzo Siwetshe of Inyathi, Hamilton’s Vulindlela Moyo, Northlea’s Leslie Richardson and Ihlathi’s Clive Sibanda, Dumisani Dube of Pumula High and St Columbus’ Sere Chirenje and Sipho Tshuma were the ones I would be tasked with blocking with my teammates taking care of the rest,” said Abu Basuthu.
At first he was poached by Jairos Jackson Nyirenda to Blue Ribbons Raiders Volleyball Club where he played with the likes of Machokoto, Moses Chisale, Manickum, Ntokozo Mlilo and Bismark in 1987. “I enjoyed my brief stay with Raiders, inspired by the great Nyirenda who used to be the best tennis serve player. We won a national tournament in 1988,” said Abu Basuthu. Raiders folded at the end of 1989 and he moved to Unit Fairbridge.
“There was Patrick Ncube who hit the ball harder than anyone, Sidingilizwe Phakathi, Jeffrey Mlauzi, Jefias Gumbo, Mapuranga, Themba Moyo, Clive Sibanda and Dumisani Vundla, there were a great side. The collapse of Raiders left Fairbridge and Sparrows as the biggest clubs in Bulawayo. Every school boy wanted to be part of any of the two so I was not short of my age mates. Some of the guys we had played schools volleyball together and we knew each other.
Besides we did ball boy duties watching the great sides Raiders, Sparrows and Fairbridge,” he said.
Former Sparrows star Francis Moyo who was Highlanders Volleyball Club founding coach in 1989 had this to say about the schoolboy he saw in Itsanang: “Itsa was tactical and technically gifted. I used to ask him to come and join my club when he was still at school.” Trophies started flowing as the side would win tournaments home and away.
He was part of the history making Fairbridge side that won the 1993 Zone Six Championships. But the success came with a price. He was along with another new arrival at the club Herbert Mutisi and veteran power hitter Patrick Ncube invited to Black Rhinos by Martin Dururu.
“There were job prospects that we could not ignore though it did not work out as planned. I then decided to go to college and joined Highlanders in 1993 winning the Anniversary Trophy with Raerburn Ndebele, Qinisa Fuyana, Sikhumbuzo Gwala and Vulindlela Moyo,” said Abu Basuthu.
He played as an outside hitter, he was superb in defence and service reception. He was every coach’s dream player because of his versatility where at times he would be used as a decoy for fast attacks allowing the taller block to attack outside. If a fast attack set was given to him he would not disappoint. A key point about his play was that he was a thinking attacker, who would aim at evading the block and direct his spike beyond the reach of the opposition defence.
College and work commitments meant he would not be available for duty for the 1995 All-Africa Games as his Reliance Construction Company was working on the Victoria Falls Post Office project.
At the beginning of 1996 he joined the all conquering Bulawayo Raiders side coached by Vulindlela Moyo which had national team players Edson Gift Sibanda and Mutisi and backed on the experience of Sairota Banda, Mailos Ncube, Treasure Vundla, Michael Rusenza, Ndabezinhle Magutshwa, Inambawo Ndlovu, Msindo Ngwarati, Hudson Kaluwa and Garikayi Sibanda. “It was an exciting project of guys who we played together at school and boys who had played just after us.
We were a family with Banda a legend giving us guidance, Magutshwa a teacher also doing well on discipline, team spirit and overall administrative direction. We went to every tournament, organised events, shared sponsorship with the association and travelled to Botswana to play their national team and top clubs.
I enjoyed every bit of my volleyball at Rhinos, Fairbridge, the two Raiders, each one of the teams had its own flair and vibe. Rhinos became a household name during my time before the mid 1990s and stayed on to this day,” said Abu Basuthu. Abu Basuthu won over 30 titles as a player and dozens of awards like the best defender and receiver gongs. A cheerful player who was always encouraging his teammates, speaks of the 1996 Zimbabwe Open win over Rhinos as one of the best matches he played.
“We were new with each other having been assembled less than two months back. Up to then we had just done situational drills for attack and defence per position and without any six-a-side feel of things at training. With the Matabeleland Volleyball Association Pre-Season tournament under our belt, we shocked many at the ZMA Courts in Gweru when we beat highly fancied Black Rhinos in the final.
Another memorable match was in 1997 when as Bulawayo Raiders we beat the Botswana national Under-23 team a side assembled for future internationals and a coach brought from Cuba, but we showed character that despite the height deficiencies we were a force to reckon with,” said Abu Basuthu.
His partnership with another versatile player Edson Gift Sibanda is regarded among the best in the land as they were good in defence and tenacious in attack. Asked if there was a team he dreaded, Abu Basuthu said it was Wild Cats that had Gavin Alwanger, Kevin Nel, Terry Peters, Sajid Derrick Ibrahim and Chicco Mayhew. He said at Fairbridge they would be up to a challenging match.
Abu Basuthu said he is yet to see a very good player as the nation is not yet off the mark. He retired in 2009 as a Rhinos player having seen the army side fulfil a promise of his first years in the game. His first coaching job was with Kutama Old Boys Association and moved to Railstars with whom he won several pieces of silverware.
“I won the first national league with Railstars and went to Chikurubi Support Unit whom I won a lot of things with and the Zone Six title,” said Abu Basuthu who made it a double after winning the regional title as a player in 1993.
He now coaches Harare City who poached him from Support Unit. “I have been to four Zone Six (Region 5) Championships, now is the challenge to go higher may be to the continental championships. I hope after the Covid-19 situation we will be able to pick up the scraps,” said Abu Basuthu, adding that Railstars had made him the coach he is today.
Abu Basuthu holds the highest International Volleyball Federation Level Three diploma with Vulindlela and Artwell Gororo. Abu Basuthu said Edson Sibanda was something else a nucleus player who could play any position. His All-Time team would have Farai Masawi, Dumisani Vundla (Setter), Vulindlela Moyo, Patrick Ncube, Nsikelelo Mlauzi, Peter Chitashu, Ngoni Mutambirwa, Ford Mutate (Outside Hitters), Morgan Phiri, Sajid Derrick Ibrahim, Sere Chirenje, Wellington Mudzimu, Edson Sibanda (Centre).