UK: Zimbabwean London ‘gangster’, joins Swansea FC
THABO Khumalo was embedded in London gang culture and surrounded by violence and crime.
Living near the English capital and lacking direction, it took a moment of panic – his best friend being stabbed on their own doorstep – to change his life.
Now, after a move to Wales, he’s working for Swansea City FC while completing a degree in sports management, and this week was recognised with an award from the Prince’s Trust.
Born in Zimbabwe, Thabo and his family moved to the UK when he was nine to find a better life.
But hanging around city streets with his hood pulled up and without formal qualifications he described his time as “misguided” and soon found himself immersed by gang culture.
Here’s what life was like…
“I was involved in many incidents,” he said.
“Older people often wanted younger people to do bad things so they didn’t get in trouble themselves. I was one of those younger people.
“When you’re that young, you don’t realise what’s actually happening until you get more mature.
“By doing things for these people, I was getting into trouble myself.”
Then, something really bad happened
Lee Trundle with Thabo Khumalo at the awards
The situation reached a climax in 2012, when his best friend was stabbed on his own doorstep.
Thabo explained: “I hung around with him every single day.
“I had gone home just 45 minutes before that, then they just came at him, but he lives in a cul-de-sac, so he had nowhere to run.
“Luckily, he put his arm up so they stabbed right through his arm. If he hadn’t done that, it would have been a lot different.”
That was when it really hit home for Thabo
Thabo realised he had to take action.
“It was because it had happened to someone so close to me,” he explained.
“That was such a big moment for me. I thought ‘I have got to get out of there and away from that area’.
“I was afraid of associating with anyone around there as it dawned on me if you associate with the wrong people you get in trouble.
“I was shocked and scared. I knew it would be a matter of time before I was next. It shook me up a little bit.”
So he headed to Wales
Thabo escaped to Wales after enrolling at university, but struggled to improve his life, soon dropping out of his course and becoming isolated and disillusioned once more.
“It was a bit rushed and I was trying to focus on my work but kept having flashbacks to my past,” he said.
“I dropped out and signed up at the job centre, but there it was month after month after month of the same thing. It got to the point where I wouldn’t hear back from anywhere at all.
“All those thousands of people in the same city all applying for the same jobs – if you’re unemployed or have no experience, you haven’t got a chance.
“They all tell you that you need experience, but how can you get that if no one gives it to you?”
That’s when he found The Prince’s Trust
The local Jobcentre Plus eventually introduced him to The Prince’s Trust and he enrolled on a programme called Get Started with Football, designed to help unemployed young people gain confidence and new skills.
Thabo threw himself into every aspect of the programme, absorbing all the information he could about football coaching.
Encouraged by Swansea FC Community Trust trainers and The Trust, his confidence, self-esteem and employability skills improved dramatically, and Thabo saw his future as a football coach.
Things got better
“From that point on, everything changed for me,” he said.
“The Prince’s Trust had opened the door to the rest of my life and I just had to walk through it.”
Thabo took up volunteering coaching roles at Swansea Academy, impressing with his enthusiasm and perseverance, and was taken under the wing of head coach, Roy Thomas.
At the same time, he secured a permanent job in hospitality at The Liberty Stadium, where he is now recognised as a reliable and hard-working employee.
Thabo was then offered part-time work as a community coach, training local children and young adults on the Swansea Kicks project, which soon became a full-time role.
Now a young ambassador for the Trust, Thabo lives independently in his own flat, and is also juggling a sports management degree at University of Wales Trinity St Davids.
Now he’s philosophical
He looks back on his negative experiences as a “blessing in disguise”.
He added: “It took all that stuff for me to be the person I am today.
“In a way, I’m glad it happened and I’m not, at the same time.
“It took a very bad situation to know what I could do with it and move on from there.
“It took some maturing as a person. I am now calm and reserved person, whereas before I was a bit of a hothead.
And he has some advice…
“I’d like to tell the people that feel they are in the same situation as I was in to keep trying and you will get somewhere.
“Keep trying with jobs and applications and you will get something in the end.
“The Trust gave me a new outlook on life and it gave me the confidence, motivation and ambition to succeed.”
Thabo was awarded the Aventa Capital Rising Star prize at The Prince’s Trust Celebrate Success awards on November 15 at the National Museum, Cardiff.
The awards recognise the achievements of young people who have succeeded against the odds, improved their chances in life and had a positive impact on their local community, and he was presented the award by Swansea legend Lee Trundle.
This article is taken from WalesOnline.