In a Harare Suburb, Money Game Means Sharing Dreams, Earning $1


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Youths in the Mabvuku suburb of Harare, Zimbabwe, play the Money Game, in which five players on each team pay $1 to participate, and the winning team takes the losing team’s wager. Tatenda Kanengoni, GPJ Zimbabwe
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Youths in Harare put up $1 each to play a game of football they call the Money Game. It's entertaining and also a way for the unemployed to earn a bit of income, even it it just means adding an extra $1 to each winner's pocket.

HARARE, ZIMBABWE — Two five-member teams face off, then wrestle for the ball. Dust soars, and occasional groans are released as they dash to unguarded goalposts to score. This game has few rules, except that the team scoring the highest number of goals within the stipulated time wins a bit of money.

On any given day, two teams assemble at a makeshift football field, to take part in what they call the Money Game. One team wears shorts and shirts; the other plays without shirts — referred to locally as skinning. This is how the two teams are differentiated.

Each team member contributes $1 to the umpire, and the winning team takes the losing team’s wager. The objective for each player is to walk away $1 richer.

“Money Game is when we converge on the ground, and we do not play the sport for fun, but rather we play for money,” says Vusa Mpofu, a regular Money Game participant. “We take the losing team’s money, meaning we will have invested and made profit.”

A game typically lasts 10 minutes and takes place at least once a week.

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In Mabvuku, a suburb of Harare, Zimbabwe, youths play the Money Game, a football game in which each player wages $1.

Tatenda Kanengoni, GPJ Zimbabwe

For young people in Mabvuku, a high-density suburb in Harare, the Money Game is a source of quick income and a way for the unemployed to spend their extra time. True unemployment figures are unknown in Zimbabwe, with estimates ranging from 11 percent to 95 percent.

“As you know, there is a high rate of unemployment at the moment, and as boys we cannot just spend our days sitting around,” says Mike Mihlori, 19. “When we get hold of $2 or $3, we challenge each other to the Money Game. We sometimes sell our clothes to raise money for the game.”

Young people in high-density areas say they feel particularly disadvantaged. Data on unemployment in Zimbabwe varies widely but the loss of jobs in the nation during the last decade has many implications. For Money Game players Mpofu and Darlington Mbirimi, 20, who reached the advanced level in high school, it meant their parents cannot afford to pay the balance owed on their school fees, and as a result the young men have not been able to collect their examination results. Their annual school fees are about $285 each.

“We are victims of circumstance,” says Mbirimi, explaining that the tough economic situation is out of young people’s control, which he says makes them prone to unhealthy behavior, like drug use.

Football is an outlet. After the game, they talk about dreams. Mpofu says he wants to become a lawyer. “I want to stand up for every child in this ghetto, to give them a chance to express their views and for their voice to be heard,” he says.

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Vusa Mpofu (left), a regular participant in the Money Game, stands in the streets, where he says most youths spend their time. He and others started playing football in the street when they were about 8 years old, he says.

Tatenda Kanengoni, GPJ Zimbabwe

Tinodaishe Munjagu, 19, dreams of professional football. He was scouted while playing at church and says he ended up on his school team.

The youths grew up playing football in the streets from about the age of 8, and say it’s here they find refuge.

“When others in low-density areas say they are going out to fancy places, we cannot afford to go there,” Mpofu says. “So we step out of our gate and stand in the street and start talking to our friends.” And play football.

“The street is our best friend,” Mpofu says.


Tatenda Kanengoni, GPJ, translated some interviews from Shona.