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Khama Billiat: The tiny boy with magic in his feet

Khama Billiat might never have been discovered if a groundsman at his primary school had not caught him juggling a tennis ball in 1999.

Arifa Sumani, who doubled as a coach at Gwinyiro Primary School in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, was busy with his groundskeeping when he saw eight-year-old Billiat with the fluorescent yellow ball at his feet.

The would-be superstar was only in Grade Three then, but he looked like he had the making of an exceptional player. Something about the lad charmed Sumani to cast his demanding work aside briefly just to gaze at the kid.

With his tiny feet, the boy juggled a 2.70-inch ball meant to be smacked with a tennis racket with the poise and technique of a seasoned professional. He caressed it, taming an object that would have run wild on the feet of someone older than him.

On that fine day in 1999, Sumani had just stumbled upon Harare’s best-kept secret. “Billiat was a tiny, tiny boy but very talented. I remember the first day I saw him as he juggled a tennis ball during break time. His technique and composure were shocking. I engaged him instantly, and the next thing he was playing in our school’s first team,” Sumani told Sunday Mail.

Khama Billiat in Zimbabwe colours at AFCON
Khama Billiat

At that age, it was undeniable that the boy was something special. He was already a first-team key player by the time he was 10. Little Billiat was their lethal weapon, and because he was tiny, so much that the size of the soccer ball was almost half his height, the instruction to his teammates was to pass the ball into space. And each time they did, their diminutive man did justice.


It’s no surprise that Billiat has gone on to sparkle in his decade-long career in the PSL, winning almost every prize on offer in South African football. He won three Premier Soccer League titles with Mamelodi Sundowns, the Nedbank Cup, Telkom Knockout, a CAF Champions League and a CAF Super Cup.

Thousands have come to watch him lift those trophies into the air, knowing the role his magic feet played in the acquisition of that silverware.

Before he played in front of those fans in some of the most beautiful arenas in South Africa and the world, Billiat entertained the people of a high-density suburb called Mufakose, who grew to worship the ground he walked on.

“We all knew that Khama is special from an early age,” Memory Maphosa, a vendor who sells snacks outside Gwinyiro Primary School, tells FARPost. “As he played with a ball made from plastic paper on these potholed roads, the boy was just magic. At Gwinyiro, they put him in the school’s first team when he was very young, and the whole neighbourhood would go and watch the matches because, with Khama in the team, entertainment was guaranteed.”

With fame knocking on his door so early in his life, it was inevitable that Billiat’s schoolwork would suffer. All he wanted was a football at his feet, and the classroom became a distraction.

“It was a struggle to get him to read through a simple English sentence; he wasn’t very keen about his schoolwork,” says Billiat’s former tutor, Eunice Dembera.


Khama Billiat during his stint at Mamelodi Sundowns
Khama Billiat

Because of his stature, Billiat has been underestimated a lot in his life. In fact, when Lloyd Chitembwe was Caps United’s coach, he found it hard to convince his bosses to sign the pint-sized prodigy. It didn’t matter that the Harare giants had lost five senior players to PSL clubs.

“I first saw Khama Billiat in 2010 at a time when Caps United had lost several of its players to South African clubs. We had Nyasha Mushekwi, Method Mwanjali and Lionel Mtizwa going to Mamelodi Sundowns, while Oscar Machapa and Gilbert Mapemba went to Moroka Swallows.

“Khama was just so small that some of my bosses at Caps United did not understand why I said, ‘Look, I want this boy.’ I am so blessed to have had sight of the boy when he started. What I saw then was pure talent and amazing ability with the ball,” Chitembwe tells FARPost.

Billiat’s path from the dust of Mufakose to stardom has been an odd one. Unlike other great Zimbabwean gems exported to South Africa, he did not flourish in the Zimbabwe League before sides south of the Limpopo came knocking.

In fact, only a few weeks before Ajax Cape Town snatched him, local giants Caps United were reluctant to pay even USD$2,000 [R38,000] for his services. “Caps United bosses said no, we don’t have that kind of money. The asking fee was reduced to USD$1,000 [R19,000], and still, Caps United said no, we don’t have it. Then Khama begged one of the Aces directors, Nigel Munyati, to train and play for Caps United without any money changing hands.”


Khama Billiat during his Ajax Cape Town days
Khama Billiat

“And as fate would have it, the boy just played two games for us. Just before the start of the second game, the late Edzai Kasinauyo came to me and said Ajax Cape Town wanted Khama on trial. Two weeks later, we heard that the Urban Warriors had signed the boy,” says Chitembwe.

From such humble beginnings, Billiat has gone on to have one of the most decorated careers in the South African topflight. For the Urban Warriors, he played 92 games on his way to 23 goals and 24 assists. His next port of call was Chloorkop in 2013.

He featured in 140 games for Sundowns, grabbing 47 goals and 43 assists. In 2018, he moved to Kaizer Chiefs where he played 126 games, scoring 24 goals and 29 assists. At the end of his contract with Amakhosi in June 2023, the 30-year-old walked away from Naturena.

However, there was no concrete suitor for the next seven months, with rumoured interest here and there. The former Warriors star looks set to join a club in his homeland as he sets his sights on bouncing back strong.

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