The league of extraordinary grannies


Baking in the kitchen? Tending to their gardens? Knitting in front of the television? Not these grannies. They’ve got more pressing matters, like the game of soccer that’s about to kick off. As the whistles blows, one gogo thumps the ball to another. Wearing long shorts, even longer socks and traditional doeks, these women may not look like a typical soccer team. But in a township just outside of Tzaneen, they’re the real sporting heroes.

The Soccer Grannies Vakhegula Vakhegula is a team founded 15 years ago by Rebecca Ntsanwisi. The philanthropist had dedicated most of her life to helping her community. When she was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2003, nothing changed. If anything, the diagnosis showed her how precious life was, no matter the stage you’re at. “I started the team at a time in my life when I didn't think I had long to live,” Ntsanwisi says. Since its inception, the team has benefited its members beyond improving their health. Many of the women come from difficult backgrounds: poverty, abuse, the burden of looking after extended family. But on the pitch, they find relief from some of their stress. It’s a reminder of how capable they are beyond their circumstances. “In the moments of our weakness we are able to recognise our own strength,” Ntsanwisi says.

Between the ages of 55 and 84, none of the women are hindered by the years behind them. “In the face of ailment or age, it is possible to live with purpose,” Ntsanwisi says. The results of her initiative are proof. What started as one team has now spurred on over 40 more across the country, all full of elderly women inspiring their respective communities. If they can do so much at their age, what more can the younger generations achieve? In 2014, six of the Soccer Grannies travelled to Rio de Janeiro to watch two matches at the FIFA World Cup. Their goal is to one day have a league of their own. When they do, it’s bound to be an extraordinary one.