Zim nurse who became premiership club owner

By Chris Mponda

For the first time since injecting a little fortune into running a local football club, Harare businessman Thompson Dondo finally got a small dividend for his investment when Kiglon sold goalkeeper Tsungi Mudzamiri to FC Platinum.

While the amount realised from the sale is a small token, when compared with what has been sunk into the investment, Dondo still found reason to smile and hope this could be the start of better tidings. After all, he said, it’s better than the time he spent working in England, where he kept running into problems with the law, was arrested a number of times, before deciding to pack his bags and return home.

Thomson Dondo the Chief Executive of Kiglon FC
Thomson Dondo the Chief Executive of Kiglon FC

Now 37, and running a small group of companies that includes Kiglon Football Club, Dondo chose the occasion to celebrate his team’s first major player sale, and the money it brought into their coffers, to reflect on a personal journey, which took him from Hokonya to Torwood then to Middlesbrough in England, and back to Harare.

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A journey, which he wants to capture in a book that he is personally writing, which has seen him work in a laundry section of a Nursing Home in England, get arrested several times for violating that country’s immigration rules before the homecoming trip in 2006 that brought him firmly into the trenches of the domestic Premiership.

Dondo arrived in England in 1999 but, seven years down the line, he was back home for good.

“Life in England was not easy at all,” he said this week. “I had my first job in East Grinstead near Brighton. I was a laundry man at a Nursing Home. It was the most difficult job that I ever worked. I would wash clothes and linen for over 60 residents, iron them and pack them neatly in their respective owners’ rooms.

“I then worked as driver for two years at a Nursing Agency and later got promoted to work as a Recruitment Manager. I was the first black person to hold that position at that East London Company. It was a powerful but very challenging position.”

Dondo, born in a big family of 10, had trained as a nurse in Harare before leaving for England.

“I grew up in Torwood, Redcliff, and also did my secondary education there. I trained as a Nurse at Harare Central Hospital in 1996,” he said. “I never practised as a nurse, though, after training because my biggest passion was in business. My mother had actually forced me into nursing.

“I don’t regret it though because my nursing background later opened avenues for me in my life. I operated a private clinic in 1997 in Nyanga and later moved to the UK in 1999.” Having joined an agency that recruited workers for various jobs, Dondo and his colleague soon faced serious challenges.

“The challenge was about the way we were doing our recruitment. About 60 % of the staff were illegal workers from Zimbabwe,” he said. “A lot of the people were failed asylum seekers but would be obviously desperate and needing a job to survive.

“A lot of them would then forge papers to get employment. The system had several loopholes and the desperate Zimbabweans would take advantage of it. The company was owned by a black Zimbabwean man from Mhondoro. He was a great good man. The Home Office turned a blind eye into our practices and operations because they had massive human labour shortages then.

“We were arrested several times and would be released without any charges for engaging and employing illegal workers. The Immigration knew that a lot of foreigners were illegal immigrants but because they were desperate, they would always turn a blind eye.”

In 2004, Dondo moved to Teesside – Middlesbrough where, working in conjuction with a colleague, they set up a nursing agency. But, soon, the problems he had faced in the past, returned to haunt him.

“We again unfortunately faced the same problems that we had in London. A lot of the people who joined our Agency were illegal immigrants and they would always do anything possible to get the job,” said Dondo. “A lot of them had fake papers to support their stay in the UK. We were again arrested several times for employing these illegal foreign nationals in 2005.

“Because the UK had opened all their borders to their EU members there was massive influx of the EU nationals competing for the same menial jobs with Zimbabweans and Nigerians. The laws suddenly changed and a lot of foreign employers were targeted. We were in trouble several times with the Home Office and the Immigration after the formation of Frontex in 2004.

“Frontex’ mission was to help EU Member States implement EU rules on external and to coordinate operational cooperation between member states in the field of external border management. While it remained the task of each member state to control its own borders, the Agency was vested with the function to ensure that they all did so with the same high standard of efficiency.

“A lot of people from the EU then were allowed to enter the UK freely. People started to came in thousands by buses and trains to look for menial jobs from countries such as Turkey, Romania, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Malta, Latvia and Slovenia.” One by one, the recruitment agencies, especially the foreign-owned ones, began to collapse.

“A lot of foreign owned recruitment agencies collapsed in the process because we all relied on foreign nationals, especially Zimbabweans and Nigerians,” said Dondo. It became very difficult to conduct recruitment business in the UK and I decided to come back home. Of course, it wasn’t an easy decision then, but home is always best and so I came back with my family.

“I came back in 2006 and I ventured in a piggery project in Chivhu with my brother Alfred, who is sadly now late. We started with less that six pigs in 2006 but to date we are the biggest pig grower in the whole of Chikomba District. We now have over a thousand pigs.

“It’s called Takashinga Piggery Project. We were recently voted the Best Pig Grower 2010 and we will have celebrations at Hokonya village on 24th of August 2011.” Dondo has a passion about writing, contributing a number of articles to the media since his return, especially those related to football.

“I am into writing. I am currently writing a story about my life. The book will be out early 2012,” he said. “Apart from the Piggery Project and writing I also run a Car Rental Company, and Butcheries in Harare. I employ over 60 people in all the operations that I control put together.

“I’ve got a theory that if you give 100 percent all of the time in whatever you do, somehow things will work out in the end. Most of us can easily do two things at once. If a man is called a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Chimbetu composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry.

“He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’ My belief is to do the best in all that I do. If you feel you are down on your luck, check the level of your effort.” Sometimes, he says, he finds it hard to believe that Kiglon have grown to be an established member of the Premiership.

“We started the project in the Mbare Social league in 1999 with Arthur Chitunhu who is my brother – in- law ,” he said. “We played in Division Two for two years and another two years in Division One.

“We have been in the PSL for the past four years now. It hasn’t been easy but we have managed to compete with the best in those four years.” Which brings us to is family, his son who supports Dynamos, and his daughter who chose to remain in daddy’s stable at Kiglon.

“I have a lovely family and I’m married to Matirasa and we have a set of twins – a boy, Ngoni, who is a Dynamos supporter and a girl, Ruva, who supports Kiglon. They are 13 and doing Form One. They are the pillars who give me the strength and without them I wouldn’t have managed a quarter of what I have done.”