The gogos who play football

Vukani MaAfrika, an amateur Khayelitsha team made up mainly of pensioners, is a breath of fresh air in the beautiful game. The club’s players share the positive impact the game has had on their health.

Vukani MaAfrika is a force to be reckoned with. The women’s football club, made up mostly of pensioners, is a welcome sight in the beautiful game. Founder Mabel Zenani, 73, who plays as a winger and is an avid Kaizer Chiefs fan, says she formed the club leading up to the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

“There was soccer fever everywhere. So I decided to form this club to rejuvenate gogos [grandmothers]. I have established Velokhaya, soup kitchens, sewing projects and gardening projects over the years. After that announcement, I told myself I would establish a soccer team for gogos,” she said.

She went door-to-door pitching the idea of the club. “My neighbours did not disappoint. They showed interest. I got them out of clubs, their comfort zones, where they used to sit and read stories while eating. I told them about the benefits of training,” said Zenani.

Since then, they have been pacing up and down the streets of Khayelitsha and gracing the pitch on weekends. They start training as early as 6am, jogging 5km together from B Section to Lookout Hill.

As they are not part of an organised league, they keep fit by playing against other pensioners and have even absorbed some of the other teams in Khayelitsha to form a stronger and more organised unit under the umbrella of Vuka MaAfrika. 

The women who make up the team are fierce competitors, as was evident in the training session New Frame attended. Their most enterprising player is Zuzeka Titi, 59, a skillful winger who is entertaining to watch. In defence, Ntomboxolo Ndesi, 52, is tough as nails. 

Benefits of exercising 

The club has also recruited from younger generations. The exercises they do have helped rejuvenate 78-year-old Dora Mbanyana, who had a stroke in 2007. She has become more self-reliant and no longer depends on her grandchildren for everything.

“A trailer went over my ankle in 2007. I sat in a wheelchair. I was in and out of hospital. In 2008, I suffered a stroke as a result of that injury. I was mute. My mouth was skewed. I lost sight in my left eye,” she said.

Mbanyana said that after she joined the team in 2011, her health improved. “I am no longer using my walking sticks now. I can talk now. I clean, cook and do my own washing, unlike when I had to rely on my grandchildren.”

Nokwakha Msengana, 76, who was among the first club members to join in 2010, said her body no longer aches. “I feel young and energetic. I am used to training. I am encouraging other people my age to train. My blood level is low now, thanks to the training we do here.”

Mboxo Ndesi, 52, an Orlando Pirates supporter who joined the club this year, could not resist when she was recruited while training on her own at Lookout Hill. “This is very good, especially for old people. They suffer from chronic diseases. This helps them to increase their heart pulse. It’s a stress reliever. They have less chances of getting depression and suffer from stiff bodies,” she said.

Nandiwe Magadla, 46, decided to join the team in 2014 to inspire and encourage the more senior players. She said, “I organised a kit for them. I wanted them to see themselves as soccer players, not old women in a soccer team.”

Vukani MaAfrika players bemoaned their lack of support. If they had sponsors, they said, they would be playing in a competitive league and in other competitions.

“We still owe gogos from King Williams Town in the Eastern Cape a return match. They came here at the end of last year. We promised to return their match. But we are unable to go there because we have no [financial] support,” said Zenani.

14 August 2020: The club’s first practice in months because of the Covid-19 lockdown.
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