“Faster, faster… Eish! Come support them,” Romeo Rikhotso’s voice carries across the soccer field. The coach, who at times despairs a tad but never fails to motivate and encourage his players, loves the ladies on the pitch like his biological grandmother. Romeo, a player himself, a lot more than half the age of the players, coaches Vakhengula Vakhengula, South Africa’s first and most famous Soccer Grannies twice a week. The intrepid grannies are based in Nkowankowa, 15km outside of Tzaneen, in Limpopo.
Coach Romeo discussing strategy with the soccer grannies
At the time
when community worker Beka Ntsanwisi established
South Africa’s first geriatric soccer team, most of the grannies (Vakhengula means grannies in Xitsonga), couldn't
even walk properly and if they did something in their free time they would be
knitting or sewing and sitting all the time.“Here they run, shout, fight with you... it keeps them
Goalie in action!
The grannies, a bubbly and
charming bunch of not that old and gracefully old ladies, aged between 40 something
and early 80s, arrive in long dresses, some donning ZCC badges on their
shirts and many with beaded cell phone pouches, carrying water bottles and
their soccer gear in plastic bags or small backpacks. All are excited, cheerful and
Today’s game takes place in the
stadium, where youngsters train and circle the field on the running track or run up and down stairs in the gallery. The contrast is extreme and beautiful... Once the teams are divided up, the
grannies pull out their shorts, socks, shorts and – most prized possession –
their soccer shoes with crampons out of their bags. After a quick warm-up, which
consists of jogging across the field twice and leaves some a little
short-breathed, all the players take their positions and the beautiful game
Soccer granny with her vuvuzela, soccer boots & kit.
The game between the two teams
starts slow, until Number 14, Beatrice Tshabalala, who coordinates the teams
with Mama Beka, pushes forward and adds momentum to the game.
Number 2 in the white shirt,
walks with difficulty, Number 15 is referred to as Maradona.
Number 11 generally struggles to
walk but without fail, has her eyes on the ball at all times and always tries moving
towards it. A foul from number 9 is followed by an explanation by Romeo in the
local language, Shangaan (Xitsonga) and then a free kick. Even swopping players
has to be done according to rules and is accompagnied by giggles. Throughout the
game, the gogos talk, laugh and move
and keep a steady but gentle pace.One of the players even attempts a head butt!
“Half-time, water break!” Romeo
calls after about 20 minutes. And promptly adds “Jog! Jog!”, which is headed by
some but mostly met with giggles and a slow stroll by his protégés.
Later in the game, when Number 15
aka Maradona falls and lies flat on the ground, three of the gogos sitting out on the sideline let
out a loud “Sorriiiiiiiiiiii”. Maradona slowly gets up, arms reach out to her
and dust her off, wipe her face and the game goes on.
The 40 women on the Vakhegula
Vakhegula squad range from 40 to over 80 years old. Over the years, Mama
Beka has established eight teams across the region. Her work has inspired other
communities to set up soccer grannie leagues. On 15 May, Vakhengula Vakhengula
will be playing against teams from Orange Farm, which were set up following a
programme on the grannies from Limpopo on TV.
Before or after the game - the soccer grannies are high spirited!
Asked how she felt today,
Angelina Hlophe responds: “Like a fish in the water!” After training, she pulls a few recent photographs out of her bag. The pictures are of her and her teammates, and some shot four years back, Angelina on crutches. “I suffered from arthritis, heart failure, gout and had to walk
with these crutches,” she says, pointing at one of the pictures where she does
look younger but less healthy. For many of the soccer grannies, soccer has
become more than just a game: it has increased their levels of fitness,
provided them with plenty of fun and good health.
The soccer grannies not only love
to play but love watching soccer, have adopted the names of great local and
international players (no women players…) and pray for Bafana Bafana to do well
in the World Cup. They also hope to be able to attend a game at the Peter
Mokaba stadium in Polokwane.
Beka’s biggest dream is to host a
Soccer Granny World Cup and to find the necessary funds to head an invitation Vakhengula Vakhengula have received to fly to Boston and play against some old American grannies…
For more information on the game
between Vakhengula Vakhengula and
Orange Farm, contact Beka on 072 785 7999
Soccer grannies watching a Soccer Cinema film on a very small screen ahead of the screening on 11 May 2010 at 2pm.
The killing of SACP Secretary General Chris Hani on 10 April 1993 was one of the most tragic events in recent South African history, robbing us of one of our greatest leaders, threatening to tear South Africa apart.
At his funeral, the late Peter Mokaba, then ANC Youth League president sang a song that has been making headlines in recent weeks: Kill the Boer, Kill the farmer.
The tune, picked up 17 years later, by another ANC Youth League president, Julius Malema, has been linked to the death of right-wing leader Eugene Terre'Blanche.
It is a bizarre irony that the two songs connect these two radically opposed men. A dignified leader, who fought for the new South Africa and paid with his life, a brutish leader who fought vehemently against the establishment of majority rule, going as far as leading an assault onto the World Trade Centre in Kempton Park, trying to derail the talks at CODESA during the fragile transition period.
Freedom songs played a crucial role in the fight against apartheid. They served to upkeep the morale of soldiers and comrades alike, were a medium through which ideas and ideologies could be transmitted. Struggle songs, according to Anne-Mary Gray based at UKZN, reveal a spectrum of communal perceptions and responses to the unfolding events that faced black South Africans between 1912 and 1994. Steve Biko as well as Miriam Makeba highlight this:
"Any suffering we experienced was made more real by song and rhythm which leads to a culture of defiance, self-assertion and group pride and solidarity. This is a culture that emanates from a situation of a common experience of oppression . . . and is responsible for the restoration of our faith in ourselves and offers a hope in the direction we are taking from here." (Biko, 1978, pp.57,60)
To convey the significance of the fight against HIV/Aids, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) choir, The Generics, changed the lyrics but kept the tunes of well known struggle songs. A change of tongue seems to be more conducive to building the new South Africa, than a broken record…
The education centre and our email printed out on the wall.
There is happiness in Peddie and it gushes from
Nokubonga. She does not um or ar when she speaks - she chuckles and
giggles. Spending a few hours with her to organise the screening was
blessed. And, we were stoked to see the Soccer Cinema email printed out
on the notice board!
When the ball appears everyone wants to play - smart, young and old.
Knysna, host city for Denmark & France is a lively, lovely, pretty town, ready and excited about the World Cup. Thanks to Thomas Paremoer and Brian Blaauw from the Municipality, Soccer Cinema will be hosting two screenings, one in the rural outskirts of Rheenendal and another one at Joodeskamp’s LoveLife Centre.
Buying cool drink at the spaza shop, I am once again called "mlungu"by small smiling kids trailing me. "Igamalam nguNathalie", I try, irritated and frustrated...