Posted on June 23, 2010.
Guest post by Zukiswa Zimela, IPS Africa
Growing up as a little girl in rural Bizana in the Eastern Cape of South Africa I had no interest in soccer. I spent most of my time playing house, baking mud pies to nurture my stick children I had lovingly wrapped in plastic blankets. This was perfectly normal and acceptable because I learnt how to be a “proper girl” the traditional way.
The 2010 World Cup in South Africa gave me a chance to review my stand. Before the start of the World Cup, I was one of a few journalist invited by Oxfam GB to watch players from the English football team, Liverpool FC coach women’s football team in Soweto.
When I arrived in Meadowlands I was struck by the Soweto Ladies Football Club. The team has 32 players ranging from 10 to 23 years. Far from teaching the players to be “good girls” the team’s coach Fikile Sithole encourages the players to be disciplined and focused -both on and off the field. She also discourages the girls from getting involved in destructive behaviours. Sithole tells the players to focus on their education because that is one thing that will guarantee them success in life.
Before the start of the World Cup, Oxfam GB and the Fair Play coalition teamed up with Liverpool FC to promote a positive message to the South African youth about health issues like HIV and Aids and Xenophobia. The team travelled around South Africa to coach small soccer teams.
Nicole Johnston the Regional Media and Communications Coordinator for Oxfam GB said that it was important to use the impetus from the World Cup to promote development issues.
One of the players, 15 year old Prudence Kubayi, says that being a part of the team has taught her to be a better person. Before joining the team she admits to running wild in the township streets, smoking and gambling. Now she is no longer part of that group of friends and focuses all her energy in improving her soccer skills.
Sithole was very proud of the group of young women saying when most of the players join the team they were drinkers and smokers. Now, she boasts, not a single one of her players drink or smoke.
Johnston was very excited about the team because she believes that part of the coaching is building confidence and building self esteem in the players because women who are more confident and empowered are less likely to fall victims of crime and various other forms of abuses.
Soccer is a stretch from playing house and learning how to sweep my makeshift house under my grandmother’s acorn tree. It’s grittier and tougher and the lessons learnt from it prepare the players for tougher and grittier life situations. I do wish I had spent less time baking and more time kicking a ball.