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Story Pick: Grannies playing soccer in S. Africa

In South Africa, host of this year's World Cup soccer tournament, the national men's soccer team is called Bafana Bafana, which means "boys boys" in Zulu. Elsewhere in South Africa, in a rural, conservative township, a slightly different soccer team is also jockeying for national attention: Vakhegula Vakhegula, or "grandmothers grandmothers" in Tsonga.

Profiled in today's Los Angelese Times by the paper's Johannesburg correspondent, Robyn Dixon, the soccer grandmoms in Nkowankowa are "quiet revolutionaries" that buck their township's traditional values. Men deride them, arguing that grandmothers clad in shorts is disrespectful and that they should be tending to their grandchildren.

The team was started in 2007 by a local radio personality who wanted to provide a healthy and sociable form of recreation -- something other than knitting -- for elderly South African women. Now, more than 40 women participate in practices, and rival teams were established in nearby villages. Matches are played in a local stadium. And the Vakhegula Vakhegula team just got invited to play next month in the United States Adult Soccer Association Veterans Cup in Lancaster, Mass.; so far, enough money has been raised for 15 players to attend.

One section of Dixon's story stood out, simply because it shows how even the most uplifting stories in South Africa are rooted in the nation's historical racial divide.

Nora Makhubele worked all her life as a domestic servant for a white family who treated her kindly but paid a pittance. The day she retired to be with her family about 30 years ago, when she was in her early 50s, she had no savings.

"I felt tired. I felt bad in my heart that I had worked for so long and didn't come home with anything. They were white and had money. What could I say to them?" With poverty, disadvantage and poor healthcare went illness and frailty. But now, the women's health and fitness have so improved through soccer training that some of their former critics are asking to join.

Dixon's story about the soccer grandmoms is a sweet antidote to the miserable stories about their younger African counterparts who keep losing and losing in the World Cup. Only one question remained after reading the story, though. Do fans come to the granny matches armed with those obscenely loud vuvuzela horns?

By Ian Shapira  | June 22, 2010; 8:30 AM ET
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The Veterans Cup tournament in Lancaster, MA is now 2 1/2 weeks away. If you would like more information about the effort to bring the Grannies Soccer Team to Massachusetts, please email We welcome your support!

Posted by: jeangduffy | June 26, 2010 7:22 AM | Report abuse

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