World Cup chill was a moneymaker for poor grannies

SOWETO (Reuters Life!) - Hundreds of poor South African grandmothers made more money than they’d seen in their lives selling homemade scarves and hats to soccer fans who came unprepared for freezing conditions during the World Cup.

Street vendors sells flags and scarves ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, in Cape Town June 8, 2010. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Project Gogo (meaning grandmother in Zulu), which teaches knitting to elderly unemployed women in impoverished neighborhoods of Johannesburg, sold more than 20,000 scarves and hats in the month of the tournament that ended on Sunday.

Despite advance warnings, many fans arrived without proper clothing for the first winter World Cup since 1978, where temperatures dropped sharply at night especially in high altitude venues like Johannesburg and Bloemfontein.

“I’ve never earned a thousand rand ($132) since I was born, and I worked 30 years for the whites,” said 87 year-old Victoria Maseko, who was a housemaid during apartheid.

The grannies sold scarves in the colors of the competing teams, which took two days to knit, for 170 rand each.

FIFA banned informal traders at stadiums during the tournament, but the gogos sold their warm clothing outside unofficial fan parks and shopping malls.

Gladis Zangili was one the first to join Project Gogo and is now leader of a working group of 60 women.

Every second day, a group of 15 grandmothers meet outside her home in the township of Soweto, where they work together.

“In the morning I serve them tea or coffee. We don’t have lunch, I wish we could, but there’s no money,” Zangili said.

Led by Maseko, the ladies sing while red, white and blue wool dangles on the floor. Grandchildren play nearby.

Project Gogo was established in 2006 to create a sustainable business for unskilled South Africans in a country in which at least a quarter of the workforce is unemployed.

South African, Dutch and Mexican colors were the hot sellers but the grandmothers are worried because business will slump now the tournament is over.

The project is exploring possibilities to sell overseas or to South African retail outlets.

Reporting by Zaheer Cassim; Editing by Paul Casciato