Beka Ntsanwisi

Ashoka Fellow
South Africa
Fellow Since 2014


This profile was prepared when Beka Ntsanwisi was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.
The New Idea
It is very common in South Africa for people to migrate from rural areas to the cities to seek employment, leaving their families in the villages to be looked after by their mothers. This has left elderly women in the villages with significant responsibilities but without appropriate support structures to help them cope. As a result, they become physically, emotionally and even financially stressed. Beka developed a model of ensuring that elderly women in the villages are empowered to overcome physical and emotional challenges and are capable of living full lives and at the same time managing their responsibilities with ease. She realized that elderly women (Gogos in isiZulu) mostly suffer from diseases like hypertension, rheumatism and arthritis which are associated with old age, because of lack of physical fitness and regular exercises. This is why the model’s flagship program and entry point is sport. Beka recruits elderly women and organizes them into structured soccer teams according to the community where they come from and plans and manages tournaments, competitions and leagues to keep them motivated and interested to stay fit. Beka even has a national team which is called Vhakhegura Vhakhegura (which means “grannies” in Xitsonga, in reciprocal to the men’s national team, Bafana Bafana), which participates in international tournaments with other teams overseas. Beka chose soccer to challenge the Gogos and inspire them to have confidence and show the world that they can defy the odds and achieve beyond expectations. Through regular training and exercises, the Gogos are able to prevent and overcome lifestyle diseases that may otherwise have been fatal to them.

The model does not only revolve around soccer but also includes other programs to strategically stimulate the Gogos’ physical, emotional and financial abilities to overcome their challenges. The soccer teams also serve as clubs where each member contributes a minimal amount of money every month and the fund is used to lend out to those interested to start small income generating activities at their level. This helps them be financially capable to buy basic needs for the household and not rely 100 percent on remittances from their children working in the cities. The clubs also manage burial schemes from the funds to cover part of the funeral expenses for the Gogos and members of their families which is one of the things that stress people in the villages most. Further, the Gogos offer each other emotional support by providing counseling when members go through personal problems. Through this network, the Gogos are physically and emotionally empowered and no longer feel vulnerable and neglected but rather in control of their own lives and able to make positive contributions to their families beyond being mere child minders for the grandchildren. The model is specifically designed to create an all-round self-sustaining support system for a neglected and less exposed population (with little access to information and opportunities on health and wellness) to ensure that they improve their lives and that their role in the society is recognized within and beyond their communities. Beka’s ultimate objective is to change people’s perception of elderly people in the villages, create wide recognition of their capabilities and contributions and at the same time demystify the “myths” that normally surround elderly rural people and the strange diseases that come with old age.

Vhakhegura manages about 40 soccer teams for elderly women (and consequently the same number of social clubs) directly engaging more than 1,000 Gogos in Limpopo province. Beka is in the process of extending the model to benefit elderly men through another arm of Vhakhegura called Bakhalabzi. She currently has recruited more than 80 elderly men from different communities in Limpopo, organized into 4 soccer teams and is engaging with them through a similar model to develop a holistic all-round model of empowering elderly people in rural areas. Now, Beka has plans to engage with the South African Football Association (SAFA) to scale out to other provinces in South Africa.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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