By Busisani Ncube
The game remains dominated by man but girls like Banele ‘Bunny’ Ndlovu are taking it by the scruff of its neck.
For her, the sight of young boys juggling a football dexterously ignited a passion that nothing else could quench. That enticing love for the world’s most beautiful game forced her to forego all the games a girl growing up in the dusty streets of Gwabalanda could chase after.
Forget about the dolls and all manner of games 10-year-old girls are keen on, Bunny just wanted to tackle the boys and score goals. Luckily, she was proficient at it and was easily accepted by her male opponents.
“The first two years I started off playing with the boys she played with the boys,” she says. She was 10 at the time.
Never mind that the boys were stronger and had been playing ball slightly longer, in Bunny they had found their match. The girl was unfazed – she instantly set her sights on turning her newfound passion into a career.
But she would not be distracted from pursuing her studies with equal zest. Even when her childhood club Highlanders came courting her to join the Bosso women’s team, she turned down that offer.
“I felt it would distract me because the demands at that level would clash with my study time,” says the prudent Bunny.
Her skills where honed at Amaqhawe FC where she spent three seasons. The environment there, she reveals, was flexible and allowed her to attend to her academic demands.
Undoubtedly, at least to her, her success thus far is all owed to tackling the boys. Thanks to football, Bunny is pursuing both her dreams at the Waldorf University in the United States of America. The 21-year-old is on a scholarship at Waldorf where she is studying Computer Science and Business Management, while also playing her cherished game of football.
“College football is quite competitive and the facilities here are excellent,” she explains.
The turning point for her, she says was when she featured in the Grassroots Soccer Tournament in Zimbabwe. Grassroot Soccer activities are commonly used to teach adolescents about HIV risk factors, but through football. It was then that she realised football was certainly a game-changer. The fact that this was a male dominated sport was obliterated from her mind – she was going all out to play this game.
“It was at that point (at Grassroot Soccer) that I was advised to pursue a scholarship to the US,” she adds.
A proponent of women’s football development, Bunny calls on football authorities to give more of football opportunities to ladies in the game. She believes the game can transform one’s life. She looks up to Refiloe Jane, a Banyana Banyana star, who signed for Italy AC Milan last year. Jane became the first South African woman to move to Italy where she turns out for the Italian Serie A Women’s League giants.
“There is no way that Refiloe’s life will remain the same playing for a club as big as AC Milan. So, football can transform lives,” she says.
According to Bunny most companies in her homeland prefer to invest in the male game. In America, Meagan Rapinoe is her biggest inspiration. She models her game around the OL Reign captain.
Real Madrid star Eden Hazard is another player she watches closely to learn a trick or two. The Manchester united supporter is resolute to play at the highest level. With her determination, even the sky cannot be the limit.