The Bafana Bafana may be the stars of the World Cup, but another football team has also won the hearts of South Africans. The Vakhegula Vakhegula ("Grannies Grannies" in the local xitsonga language) are a team of spunky elderly ladies who are vying to play in a World Cup of their own.
The Vakhegula Vakhegula (also known as the "Gogos") counts about 40 players, all women aged between 49 and 84 from the province of Limpopo. They train on a dusty field in Nkowankowa township near Polokwane, about 600 kms away from Johannesburg.
For the Gogos, the most important thing about football is that it helps them stay fit and happy, and keeps their minds off various ailments linked to old age and disease. This year, however, the team has two new ambitions: participating in the Veterans Cup held in the United States and giving Nelson Mandela a special birthday present in July.
The Vakeghula Vakeghula in action
The Vakeghula Vakeghula plan to replay a major World Cup moment each week to raise funds to buy Nelson Mandela a present. Video posted on Youtube by Gogosformandela on June 14, 2010.
"Football helps these women forget about their illnesses"
Beka Ntsan'Wisi is a social worker in the Limpopo. She founded the Vakeghula Vakeghula football club five years ago to help elderly women overcome their diseases. Ntsan'Wisi has received many awards for her service to others and is nicknamed the "Mother Theresa of the Limpopo".I was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2003, and my doctors recommended that I exercise during my treatment. It really helped. As I was visiting other hospitals, I noticed that there were many sick elderly ladies in the wards. I decided to get them to exercise, too. Little by little, the simple workouts turned into football games.
Now we practice twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Saturday, we play against other teams from the region in local tournaments. I enjoy seeing these women happy, forgetting about their old age and various illnesses, like diabetes or arthritis.
We wanted to play in a gala game as part of the World Cup opening ceremonies, but the South African Football Association opposed the plan because only qualified professional teams are allowed to play. We were disappointed, but we’re still the Bafana Bafana’s No. 1 fans!
Our team now has a bit of a reputation. We were even invited to the Veteran's cup in the US,a tournament especially for senior citizens. The problem is that we don’t have enough money to travel there. We're trying to raise money for the trip, and also to get a nice birthday present for Nelson Mandela in July. He fought for us and we want to thank him somehow."