Banyana matriarch satisfied with team's progress

28 April 2019 - 12:33
By Linda Kea Moreotsene
Refiloe Jane of Banyana Banyana.
Image: Sydney Mahlangu / BackpagePix Refiloe Jane of Banyana Banyana.

Fran Hilton-Smith is a content woman. Banyana Banyana are off to the 2019 Fifa Women's World Cup in Paris, France, from June 7-July 7, and neither the perennial back pain, five painful knee surgeries and the entire replacement of both her knees matter to Hilton-Smith.

It was all worth it. This moment fulfils her life's work, she said. The well-documented problems in establishing a functioning league or acknowledging women's football did not make her back down from working to see women's football weave its own bold thread in the rich tapestry of SA's unravelling story, post sports isolation and apartheid.

"I was over the moon when we qualified. I waited 25 years. For me personally, a dream came true," the 66-year-old said. Hilton-Smith has served her country as a player, coach, administrator and a member of Fifa.

She pauses and ponders a little when asked if she sees the success story of Banyana and the growth of women's football as one of the few success stories in SA.

Has it done its part in crafting a platform where all can live a life devoid of strife, poverty and with equal access to education and skill development?

"To be honest, I am just ecstatic for the girls, perhaps I will get a chance to reflect on the path later," she said

"Those days, right after readmission, people had never seen women play football and we faced scepticism.

"We had no sponsor, one set of kit, people were just not interested. They felt there were more important things to focus on. So for instance, we could not play any big international friendly match," she said.

Small, painstaking inroads followed as Hilton-Smith assumed the role of matriarch, following her appointment to Safa as administrator and then to Fifa.

Along the way avenues opened for SA female players to ply their trade abroad, from the days of Veronica Phewa and Portia Modise, to the emergence of lightning-rod Thembi Kgatlana, Refiloe Jane and Linda Motlhalo.

Former captain Amanda Dlamini is now a well-respected commentator.