BULAWAYO - Her road to reaching 100 caps with Banyana Banyana was never easy.
At age 12, Banyana defender Nothando "Vivo" Vilakazi, was already fending off naysayers who questioned whether she was a women or not.
This happened when she was just starting out, nurturing a gift that would one day take her to two back-to-back Olympic Games (2012 and 2016), with Walter Mokoena’s amateur side Walter Stars FC.
It reared again in the form of social media trolls when Banyana played to a 0-0 draw with hosts Brazil in their first group match of the 2016 Rio Olympics. The Banyana star was dubbed a “man” again after covering her nether regions with both hands during a set-piece.
But Vilakazi had a point of reference to handle the situation with grace in a tournament she describes as a dream she never wanted to wake up from.
“I remember when I was starting out, people would surround me in numbers (before or after the match) and interrogate me on whether I was a girl or not,” she recalls.
“It was a really tough thing to take in because, you know, (she was still a kid). Sometimes I would wonder to myself, ‘Why do I even bother if this is what I'm going to go through almost each and every single day when I get to play in a match?’ I was about 11 or 12 then.
“But now,” she adds, “I’m just glad that I didn’t quit.”
At Barbourfields Stadium here, where Banyana beat Namibia 3-1 on Friday to qualify for the Cosafa Cup semi-finals, Vilakazi left as the only woman with a bouquet of flowers in her hands.
That, along with the 100th jersey she received from the SA Football Association during the half-time break, served as a gesture of recognition from Safa to her commitment and contribution to the game. Her teammates both admired and envied her. She, not the win, was the centre of attention on the night.
She jokingly says she wants to play another 100 Banyana matches before she hangs up her boots.However, there’s only one thing that’s missing in what has been a fruitful career playing for Banyana. The 28-year-old wants to play in a Fifa Women’s World Cup before she retires.
“In retrospect, I just realised now that I’ve never been a quitter,” she says.
“I always fought for what I wanted and never gave in until I got it. I’ve always been like that. I believe that this World Cup dream of mine is also going to happen. I just have that belief.”
Meanwhile, Banyana’s interim coach Desiree Ellis expressed her delight after the national side secured their place in the semi-finals here after victories against Lesotho and Namibia in Group C.
Ellis said she might even give most of her key players a rest in Sunday's match-up against Botswana at Barbourfields Stadium (Kick-off 4.30pm) and give those who have not been playing a chance to impress for future inclusion in national squads.