It was last year during the first round of the Mascom Premier League when many spectators left the game really mesmerised. They could not believe the mighty match saving saves, which had been produced by Prisons XI’s Burundian-born goalkeeper.
The game was a one-sided affair and Chiefs strikers fired one fierce shot after another but Khalid Niyondzima stood firm. He earned his team a valuable point as the game ended in a goalless draw.
After the game, many spectators even went to the extent of saying he could be the first choice goalkeeper for the national team if he was a Motswana.
“That was one of the many games that I played very well since joining Prisons XI six years ago. Many people, including Chiefs fans, came to me to congratulate me for the job well done. But at the end of the day everything is all about hard work,” he said.
Despite always performing to his utmost best, Niyonzima seems to have a mammoth challenge riddled by complexities ahead of him, to play professionally. He has been to several clubs in South Africa but he has always been unfortunate.
He revealed to Sunday Standard Sport that he never failed trials at all the clubs he has been to but certain logistical problems blocked his way.
In 2003 he tried his luck at the Premier League side, Amazulu, but after passing trials and with only a matter of time to put pen on the dotted line, tragedy struck him. The team coach who invited him for the trials was sent packing. When the new coach arrived Niyonzima found himself on the sidelines and he had to come back to Botswana, the place he currently calls his second home.
Niyonzima did not give up and after a year he tried his luck at a first division side, Winners Park. They offered him a contract, which he says did not satisfy him and turned it down. He adds that the team was open for negotiations but a few days were left before the transfer window closed. He had to come back to Prisons XI for the second time.
Before the beginning of this season he headed to Cape Town where he hoped to secure a contract with another first division side, Fidentia Rangers (formerly Manning Rangers). He says everything went well at Rangers and tragedy once again struck.
“I passed trials at Rangers and they even offered me a very good contract but communication problems between Prisons XI and Rangers stood in my way.
By the time I was attending the trials, a new committee at Prisons XI was voted in. The new committee was not aware of the deal I had with Rangers because everything was communicated to the old committee. I ended up coming back again to Prisons XI,” he says.
Niyonzima, however, vows that he will fight with all he could to play professionally because football is a short-term career and one needs to make a lot of money quickly. He does not take anything away from Prisons XI that has been kind to him for all the seasons he has been with them.
Niyonzima’s journey to Botswana was also full of unfortunate circumstances. When he left Burundi as an 18-year-old in 2000, he was not aware that he was coming to stay in Botswana. The person who recruited him said he would just stay temporarily before moving to South Africa or Europe. Later on, things were different and he found himself as Prisons XI’s saviour.
By the time he arrived, Prisons XI were already condemned to the first division with only five games remaining. He ended up agreeing to a short contract to keep himself in shape before moving out.
After completing the five games, which the team did not lose, he still found himself playing for the team in the dusty first division grounds the following season. Nevertheless, he helped the team to bounce back as they only stayed for a season.
“The person who brought me to Prisons XI was supposed to market me abroad. But he ended up having personal problems. Instead of marketing me he attended to his problems. I then thought of going back home but the civil war back home had reached a boiling point and I had to stay in Botswana for security reasons,” he says.
The war in Burundi was an ethnic bloodshed between the tribes of Tutsis and Hutus and left thousands of people dead. Niyondzima would not reveal whether he is a Hutu or Tutsi but says the war had a little effect on his family. He emphasises that none of his family members were killed but most of his friends perished.
He attributes football for having played a crucial role in saving his life.
He is however bitter because the war affected sports development in the country, and believes if it was not for that, Burundi could be further ahead.
On the other hand, Niyonzima’s talent has not gone unnoticed by the national selectors of his home country. Although he has not played a single game, he has been the reserve goalkeeper of the senior team for several games. Since age is still on his side he hopes one day he would be the country’s first choice goalkeeper and replace Aime Kitenge who is based in South Africa.
Many people in Botswana are also wondering why Niyonzima is playing for a less fancied Prisons XI instead of going for popular ones to market himself.
“It would be good for me to play for teams that have a huge following and always win the league championships. But I have never been formally approached by any official of this country’s big teams,” he concluded.