The Story of South Africa’s Soccer Grannies
A team sport strengthens a marginalized community and puts the meaning back in life for a group of female seniors...
The Soccer Grannies of South Africa are a group of women between 55 and 84 years old who’ve recovered, in physical activity and team sport, specifically through football, their enthusiasm for life. They’ve found it in the breaking of all-too-common taboos, including the idea that older women are weak and inactive.
The story begins in 2003 when a social worker from Limpopo, Rebecca Ntsanwisi (known as “Mama Beka”), started a football team for older women, and called them, Vakhegula Vakhegula, which means “grannies grannies”. Inspired by her love for sport and a personal struggle with colon cancer, she began the project which proved popular and spread rapidly throughout South Africa. Today, the football league is composed of 40 teams around the country and is supported entirely through donations. The long-term goal is to establish an international soccer cup to include women from all over the world.
Admirable fighters, the players have learned to deal with the abuses of the past, poverty, and social rejection. Both physical exercise and the exercise of coexistence have become celebrations of living. When interviewed, the Soccer Grannies explain that the loneliness and pain of old age are held off by team play and by the closeness with the other women who share the same problems and sorrows.
Today’s societies often forcefully ignore older people. That’s not even to mention that in countries like South Africa, women are often subject to abuse and all kinds of injustice, and that’s what makes this important project so inspiring. The joy and resilience of the women reminds us that life doesn’t end with old age. Perhaps this stage of life could be the beginning of something else: youth is, in so many ways, a state of mind.
The trailer below is part of the award-winning documentary Alive & Kicking: The Soccer Grannies of South Africa, directed by Lara-Ann De Wet, an audiovisual celebration of the strength of these African women: