Thuto Ramafifi grew up in the populated Gaborone suburb of Ledumang. Like any girl in Botswana, there were lots of sporting codes to fall in love with. Football was not an option at the time.
At primary school, Ramafifi played netball. She was a shooter and sometimes deployed as a winger thanks to her height. She continued her education at Ledumang Senior School. It was a tough upbringing for the 28-year old who had to make the journey to school every day on foot, and also trying to break an existing norm which was against girls’ participation in sports.
“I still remember everything as if it was yesterday how I was described as unusual girl. All this was because I was a rare breed - the only girl - in a family dominated by boys, and wanted to do everything they were doing. I never wanted to be second best either in gardening or any other boys’ jobs, the USA-based player told CAFOnline.com.
Breaking the family hurdle
“We had two dogs and I will run around with them. My grandfather was against it as he viewed such games suited for boys. He wanted me to stick to women-like games and household chores.”
Like a biblical calling, her love for football surpassed that of all the popular traditional sports. Perhaps it was because she grew amongst a boy dominated family. At school, she played with her male counterparts. She loved it and always wanted to win.
To her disappointment, she enjoyed no family backing even from her mother, who was not in support of her playing with boys.
“My mother always yelled at me to stop playing with boys. However, the boys at school made it a habit to include me in their team. I was more of a lucky charm to them because my team won most of the duels.
“As time passed by, I missed several netball sessions as I was busy playing football. Some of my teachers tried to get me back to netball, but my mind was made on football,” Ramafifi said.
“Then came a time I found myself in a tight corner when my aunt wanted me to choose between my studies and football. Most parents at the time deemed football a waste of time. That was a very painful choice to make. I cried all day because I had to choose one which I didn’t. I couldn’t make a decision. My family believed I didn’t know how to balance the two and felt football was taking much of my time; but like a rare visionary I felt otherwise.”
With time, things started to change when her family suddenly switched to full backing of her football abilities. They even went out of their way to buy her boots and travel to watch her games.
“My family would surprise me and come watch me play. Sometimes, I could hear them chanting my name from the touch line. At first, their presence intimidated me. I fumbled at the initial stages but as I got used to that it really motivated me to play my heart out not just for my team but for them also,” the ever smiling Ramafifi added.
“When I was still in Junior Secondary School at 14 years in 2006, I was spotted by Double Action Football Club, a club that was participating in Schools League. I signed for them with the support my mother, and that is where I earned the nickname ‘Verah’.”
In 2009, at the age of 17, she made unlikely move to neighbouring Namibia, joining Okahandja Beauties, based in the capital, Windhoek. She netted 13 goals during her short stint before returning home the following year, and rejoined Double Action.
After some time in Botswana, offers abroad trickled in and Ramafifi opted for the United States of America.
Currently, she plays in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) with Albany State University in Georgia, whilst studying Business Information Systems. She also studied Human Resources Management at Salem University.
Despite not playing in a professional league, she is excited at the prospect of being able to support her family with allowances from the Botswana women’s national team, where she is a regular.
“I’m able to support my family. Though I do feel it is not enough, they do understand that am not playing in a professional league. Whenever I play with the national team, the appearance fee really helps a lot and is enough to put a smile on my mother’s face.”
Like any other footballer, there are many games to remember and cherish. Some will obviously be the ones that she wants to forget and erase in her memory.
“My best game that I will always cherish and remember and dedicate to my family was when I scored my very first goal for the senior national team against Namibia at the age of 15. Also, I have fond memories of our first win against South Africa in 2011 on their home soil (Polokwane). These are breath-taking moments and I can never compare them to anything.”
The Queen of Goals as she is fondly called by her teammates and peers has a dream of playing in a major European women’s league, to showcase her talent on the big stage.
“In the next five years, my hope is to play to play for Arsenal women’s football team,” Ramafifi concluded.
The journey to England will be no rosy and the forward is hoping to lead the Zebras to qualify for a major continental championship to rub shoulders with the big guns and announce her presence on the biggest stage of women’s football.
Botswana will face neighbours Namibia in the First Round of the qualifiers for the 2020 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations. Should the scale the Namibian hurdle, they will be up against either Gabon or Central African Republic for a ticket to the final tournament, which will have 12 teams for the first time.