The first World Cup to be played on African soil opened Friday in Johannesburg. Not the least of the amazing things the competition has brought to light is a soccer team of 35 South African grandmothers, ages 49 to 84, called Vakhegula Vakhegula (Grannies Grannies).
The New York Times reported on the Grannies last week, after the team played an exhibition game.
From the team’s meager beginning [five years ago], Vakhegula Vakhegula have become well known in the region, and news of the team has spread to the United States. The team received an invitation to compete in the Veterans Cup, a tournament for teams with players 30 or older, next month in Lancaster, Mass…
The grandmothers will not be mistaken for a national team; they play at a deliberate but purposeful pace and with plenty of passion. They play on a modest park field, a world away from the new stadium, named after Mokaba, in nearby Polokwane, which is hosting four first-round World Cup games.
[Beka] Ntsanwisi’s decision to found the team came out of her own sense of personal challenge.
In 2003, she learned she had colon cancer; by 2005, she was using a wheelchair. In the process of her treatment, Ntsanwisi visited a number of public hospitals and was disturbed by the level of treatment of elderly patients, especially women. Many were despondent or confused. She thought that regular exercise would be beneficial. That exercise evolved into soccer.
The team’s center and the oldest member, 83-year-old Nora Makhubela, told an Al Jazeera reporter: “I have had stroke six times, before I started playing, I couldn’t walk properly, my legs used to ache a lot, now I feel better, I can even run faster than you!”
Other members of the Grannies told the Times that the team had become their family, helping them through difficult times. One had lost a husband; another, eight of her twelve children. [Beka] Ntsanwisi’s cancer is remission, “but even if I die, I just want to leave a legacy, something that people will remember me by,” she said. “Even if I’m not here, somebody will say, ‘Beka started this.’ ”
This video provides a glimpse of Vakhegula Vakhegula in action. (Now, here’s a subject they ought to make into a reality TV show about elders. Fat chance.)